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Full text of the statement of major superiors in Nigeria

In Nigeria, major superiors released the following statement in late April:

We, men and women members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Nigeria are concerned, worried and disappointed by the report of sexual abuse of Religious by the clergy in Africa as carried by the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) of 16th March 2001. We are concerned because the integrity, generosity and fidelity of all African consecrated religious are led into question.

We are worried because the article is so sweeping that African members of the clergy and religious are made to appear as hypocrites. We acknowledge that humans often fail in incarnating their ideals. This fact is not a uniquely and exclusively African experience. To make such isolated failing normal for Africans is totally unacceptable. We are disappointed because the reporter made no attempt to crosscheck his sources by visiting Africa.

This form of reporting continues today the racial prejudice against Africans already evident in European attitudes including their philosophers like Hegel. In his Philosophy of History and basing his sources in the stories of some missionaries who were sourcing for funds in Europe and of some adventurers whose expeditions were meant to discover in Africa where there were no moral laws, (cf. Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness), he concluded that Africans have no history.

The reports recognized that this phenomenon (of sexual abuse of nuns by clergy) existed worldwide yet they concentrated their stories exclusively on Africa thus continuing the racial bastardization of the so-called ‘Dark Continent.’ This is all the more painful when we recognize that their sources are missionaries who were supposed to bring the Good News to Africans. The missionaries meant well, namely to correct abuses. But the effect of the media exposure could be devastating. The fact that the article appeared in a magazine not read in Africa leads one to suspect a blackmailing of the church in Africa.

Moral depravity is not inherent to African culture. For instance in history, when their adventurers recognized the moral probity of our ancestors, they termed us ‘noble savages.’

We acknowledge that our church is the church of saints and sinners and that we all stand in need of God’s mercy. Contrary to what the reporters would like the world to believe, African women are neither dumb nor helpless. We know of the Amazons; history records the part played by women in crushing colonial powers. And today African women stand with unbowed heads alongside their men in practically all aspects of human endeavors.

It is enlightening to remind the writers that we in Nigeria have been actively engaged in ransoming women from European sex-shops where unscrupulous traffickers have imprisoned them.

For us, no amount of negative publicity by the Western media will separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.

We are resolved to still follow Him more closely and celebrate our call to celibacy with typical African joie de vivre. So help us God.

Signed: Sister of St. Louis Patricia Ebegbulem and Vincentian Fr. Urban Osuji, president and vice president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Nigeria.

National Catholic Reporter, May 4, 2001