By Eliaser Ndeyanale| 11 June 2021
A MAN who was allegedly sexually abused by an Anglican priest said the police lost the statement he gave them in March this year concerning the incident.
The Anglican Church in Namibia has been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal that attracted the attention of the top leadership of the church. Anglican bishop Luke Pato issued a letter to all Namibian Anglican branches last month, informing them about an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse.
“Sexual abuse is a shameful and shocking violation of our core values, as a church, as well as the rights and dignity of the victims of such an offence,” he said.
The bishop, who confirmed the letter to The Namibian, wrote a four-page memo, warning that the church will not shield sexual abusers. He said the church’s tribunal was investigating a priest on sexual abuse allegations. This action came after relatives of one victim wrote two letters to the bishop about the allegations.
Informanté reported last month that church insiders said there are at least four victims who reported cases against the same priest. The priest, who is now suspended, allegedly tried to resign but the church refused to accept his resignation. The church opted to discipline him before he jumped ship. One of the victims approached the police at Oshakati while the church is investigating the case.
The victim, who cannot be named to protect his identity, told The Namibian yesterday that he was sexually abused by the priest early this year in Windhoek. The accused cannot be named until he appears in court. The victim told The Namibian that he opened a case against the priest in March this year at the Oshakati Police Station.
He was, however, told by the police that they would instead take his statement and send it to Windhoek so that the case could be registered there. The victim was reportedly later told that the case was not opened.
Oshana police spokesperson inspector Thomas Aiyambo said he does not remember a case opened about the priest, saying the victim should contact the office of the investigators to follow up on his case. Bishop Pato, who is a South African national, came to Namibia in 2016 for the purpose of preparing the church for the election of a new Namibian bishop.
However, such elections never took place.
Several pastors have since been involved in a power struggle with Pato with some shown the door for questioning the bishop’s legitimacy.
This latest incident adds to a list of priests who have been accused of misconduct, including sexual abuse, in the last decade. At least, nine church leaders from various congregations in Namibia have been accused of sexual violence since 2013.
General secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia Ludwig Beukes said rape cases are not common in churches.
“We only hear here and there. Every church has its own way of handling it. It is discussed in their code of ethics. Congregants are encouraged to report any immoral behaviour,” Beukes said.
Pato wrote to fellow church leaders last month updating them about the priest accused of sexual assault. He said the church has rules on how to deal with sexual abuse cases. Even though there are allegedly four victims so far from the same accused priest, the bishop only referred to one which was reported to his office by a priest on the instruction of the victim in January 2021. He said he has established a panel to investigate the sexual assault allegations. Efforts to get comment from the bishop this week for an update on the case were unsuccessful.
The accused priest was suspended from all duties and opted to jump ship.
“This resignation by the priest was not accepted by the bishop,” Pato said in his letter. He said he appointed a preliminary board of inquiry and interviews were conducted with the victim and a family member, and the accused priest. Reports were submitted to the office of the bishop. Pato promised that the church will investigate all cases of sexual assault reported to the office of the bishop.
“The diocese continues to strive and to work on improving methods of investigating and responding to victims and to the allegations and concerns they bring forward,” Pato said.
He urged congregants to report sexual abuse and protect children and vulnerable people.
“Sexual abuse is a crime and the church adopts a zero-tolerance approach. No protection for abusers and no cover ups,” Pato said.
He stressed that anyone accused of a serious offence has a right to know the allegations made against him/her and to be granted an opportunity to refute or challenge such allegations.
“It must be noted that if a victim of sexual assault by a priest reports the allegations directly to the police, the diocese can take no action in order to ensure that on the part of the church, the church does not influence or [is not] perceived to influence or compromise the police investigation.”
Pato said the church does not have to conclude first that the accused poses a risk to children or other vulnerable people before it acts, but as guided by the rules and other legal instruments, the church should act without delay. He said church sanctions are not a substitute for criminal prosecution and imprisonment, or other penalties imposed by courts.
“The church will take full responsibility within the church when cases are reported and the church will take the appropriate measures and action to deal with such reported cases without fear or favour,” he added.
Pato instructed archdeacons to report back on September 2021 on the way forward about the issue of sexual abuse in congregations.
Church leaders have in the past continued to face allegations such as sexual abuse. In 2013 a self-proclaimed pastor of a church at Olululongo village in Oshana region, Edward Immanuel (28) was accused of raping a congregant. He denied the allegations. However, evidence submitted in court indicated messages were sent from Immanuel’s phone to the victim on the night of the incident. The victim and other congregants were at Immanuel’s house for prayers. Immanuel claimed the condoms found at the scene were planted by someone who wanted to incriminate him. He was found not guilty in the Oshakati Magistrate’s Court in September 2020.
In September 2016, a pastor from Groot Aub settlement was accused of raping a teenage girl from his congregation. The pastor denied the allegations. Pastor Pedro Marcelino Moussongela was sent to prison in 2016 for nine years on charges of fraud and forgery. He was also slapped with a fine of N$16 000. He was also accused of rape and incest.
Another church leader at St John’s Apostolic Faith Mission Church appeared in Katutura Magistrate’s Court for allegedly raping a 16-year-old boy.
In 2019, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (Elcin) pastor from a parish in Ohangwena region was arrested and charged for allegedly raping a Grade 8 pupil who was 17 years old at the time.
At the coast, Paulus Sakeus Panduleni of the Burning Fire Ministry Church at Swakopmund was accused of assaulting, kidnapping and raping congregants in 2019. Panduleni allegedly locked up one of his victims in his room where he assaulted her with a belt and threatened her for three weeks.
In 2019, another pastor from the coast, Marvin Damaseb (39) of Holy Ghost Fire Ministry was arrested for allegedly kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl from Walvis Bay.
In 2019, a pastor from Okahandja was arrested on charges of incest and rape. He was accused of impregnating his daughter.