Paedophilia in the Catholic Church: Investigation into a €10,000 rape in Congo

By Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Wednesday, 28 December 2022 11:05

Our investigation has revealed the existence of a Belgian Catholic Church protocol detailing the criteria to financially compensate minors who have been sexually abused ©JA montage

Is the Catholic Church about to face a new paedophilia scandal linked to Africa? From Makoua to Namur, we investigated the charges of the alleged rape of a teenager in Congo-Brazzaville by a Belgian priest. 

  • We have investigated the rape of a Congolese teenager in the late 1990s in Makoua, Congo-Brazzaville. 
  • This sexual abuse – similar to the cases we denounced in Gabon – were allegedly committed by a Belgian priest, now working in the diocese of Namur, Belgium, and whose canonical trial could begin soon.  
  • The facts also bring to light the practices of the Belgian Church, which has a very official price list – ranging from €2,500 to €25,000 – for making financial agreements with victims.  

Joseph* has trembling hands and tears in his eyes. Two decades after the events, he has not told his story to anyone close to him. His family knows nothing. Nor do his neighbours. His colleagues even less. He doesn’t think they would understand. Joseph is a career soldier in Congo-Brazzaville.

Working for the army, known for its code of silence – especially in such a Catholic country – he could not take on the responsibility of being the one who spoke out and denounced the Church and one of its shepherds, a white priest to boot.

So Joseph kept quiet. For a long time. 

But then he made up his mind. After the publication of a Jeune Afrique investigation into cases of sexual abuse by priests in Gabon, he started writing to us in early October.

His story was hesitant, written with obvious and pent-up emotion. Joseph was thirsty for justice and spoke of a “pain” and an “anguish” that he held “deep in his gut”.

From behind his screen, he described having felt “the worst” and having experienced “hell”. 

‘The man was a god, even worse, a white man’ 

Let’s go back to Makoua, 600km from Brazzaville, in 1999. Joseph, 15 years old, had just been admitted to the tenth grade.

The teenager, a fervent Christian, had decided to spend part of his weekends at the town’s Community of the Beatitudes.

This community shared its small chapel with a local mission of the Fraternity of St. Pius X and the minor seminary where the Congolese priest Victor Abagna Mossa, today Archbishop of Owando, officiated at the time.

Behind the gates, several buildings housed the priests and sisters, not far from the refectory and a small football pitch. 

The former chapel of the Saint Pius X seminary in Makoua ©Archdiocese of Owando

In the afternoons, Joseph would play there, after having had lunch, washed the dishes and taken a nap.

This was the weekend routine. But one Saturday in 1999, Joseph spoke up at the table. He asked Father L.** if he could, after the meal and the washing up, “Come and take a nap with you”.

The Belgian priest answered in the affirmative, “with pleasure”. “I felt a stab of joy, like any son in the hands of his father,” he recalls. “Alas, I was throwing myself into the lion’s paws.” Once the dishes were done, Joseph went to the prelate’s room. 

The latter asked him to take a shower in the small adjoining bathroom. The teenager complied, and watched, intrigued, as the Belgian priest washed the underpants he had just taken off.

“When I came out, he covered me with a towel. Then he started to defile me,” Joseph testifies.

“He threw me on his bed. I was shaking like a leaf. He started to caress me everywhere, especially my penis. He inserted fingers into my anus. It went on for a really long time,” he says.

The young teenager remained “speechless”, and “overcome by fear”. For Joseph, “The man was a god, even worse, a white man”. 

A ‘naive child’ 

How long did the rape last? Joseph only remembers a knock at the door, after a long time. It was a sister from the Community of the Beatitudes asking for Father L. and putting an end to the ordeal, probably involuntarily.

Joseph managed to recover his clothes. His underwear was still soaking wet. Father L. handed him one of his own pairs, dry and “white”. The Congolese teenager was then able to return to the room he shared on weekends with another resident from Burundi. 

 Faced with a god, I couldn’t act or cry out.

The next day, he returned to the family home in silence. In shock, he said nothing. The weight of the ecclesiastical institution, the symbol of the white father, the victim’s shame. Plus the incomprehension.

But Joseph would return to the Community of the Beatitudes.

Another weekend, another meal, the same routine: “Father L. asked me to come and take a nap with him again”. The teenager didn’t have the strength to say no.

“I was a naive child,” he says. “Faced with a god, I couldn’t act or cry out. “He then sucked my penis and penetrated me through my anus,” Joseph recounts. 

This second rape was to be his last. Sometime later, Joseph stopped visiting the community. Father L. was angry with him, he recalls.

“He learned that I had a girlfriend and that she was pregnant with my child. He was furious,” says Joseph. The story ended on that astonishing note.

For two decades, the young Congolese man remained silent. Father L. returned to Belgium. It was only in December 2021 that Joseph decided to bring up his memories, thus starting a curious discussion with the Congolese and Belgian ecclesiastical authorities. 

 Father L. ‘acknowledges the facts’ 

On 12 December 2021, the Congolese soldier decided to write a message to the Community of the Beatitudes, via their Facebook page.

He mentioned the sexual abuse of which he had been a victim and supplied the name of Father L., who now works in the diocese of Namur.

A little more than a month later, his story and complaint were forwarded to the Belgian Catholic Church, which has a “contact point” responsible for linking victims with Church authorities.

In the capital of Wallonia, Joseph’s story gathered attention to the point of alerting the bishop, Monsignor Pierre Warin. 

But Joseph wanted to do everything he could. On 19 April 2022, while the Namur diocese was studying his case, he tried to lodge a complaint with the Belgian public prosecutor. In vain.

On 7 July, he was informed that Belgium “does not have jurisdiction, as the events took place in Congo”.

As for Congolese justice, Joseph had little faith in it, not trusting the authorities in his country, especially as the abuses he had suffered were subject to a statute of limitations.

Joseph, therefore, insisted that the Church and its Belgian representatives report to Pierre Warin. 

The latter gradually took the case in hand and decided to entrust it to Father Juan Carlos Conde Cid, a doctor of canon law and a specialist – among other issues – in cases of sexual abuse in the Church.

On 5 July, the lawyer contacted Father L., who acknowledged the facts and, according to his interlocutor, expressed “repentance” and said he “would like to personally ask for forgiveness”.

In a letter to Joseph, Father Cid added: “We have made the decision to severely limit his ministry so that similar events cannot occur again.” 

Rome is overwhelmed with similar cases

Above all, the Namur diocese stated that it had sent the case of Joseph and Father L. to the Vatican tribunal The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This means a canonical trial should be scheduled, although no date has been given, as Rome is overwhelmed with similar cases.

In a letter to Joseph, Juan Carlos Conde Cid wrote: “Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer [prefect of the Congregation] explained that his tribunal was handling too many cases for the moment (…) but he promised that he would take care of them. When contacted by us, he confirmed the existence of “an ongoing procedure”, but did not wish to give any further information. 

Bishop Warin went further, however. According to a document in our possession, he proposed a financial arrangement to Joseph “as a final settlement between the two parties”.

The prelate, apologising “for currently known facts, which should never have taken place”, proposed that the Church pay the Congolese man the sum of €10,000 as a “fixed and one-time financial compensation”.

In exchange, Joseph would consider the payment “a definitive end to the dispute” and would renounce “any other claim for compensation (…), which would be implemented in a discreet and confidential manner”, reads the document, dated 29 August. 

Copy of the fee scale of the “financial intervention criteria determined in the arbitration regulations” proposed by the Belgian Catholic Church

Why this amount? The answer is contained in a Belgian Church protocol that we obtained and which details the criteria for financial intervention.

Four categories of abuse of minors are listed in black and white: indecent assault without violence (maximum compensation of  €2,500); indecent assault with violence or threats (up to €5,000); rape with penetration (up to €10,000); rape with penetration and special circumstances of gravity (up to€ 25,000). Raped twice, Joseph was to receive €10,000 within three months. 

Archbishop Mossa strangely silent 

But this settlement agreement was not actually applied. Proposed by the bishop of Namur and accepted by the victim, it was never paid.

Indeed, the diocese eventually decided to wait for the outcome of Father L.’s canonical trial – still yet to be scheduled – even though the priest, in the words of Juan Carlos Conde Cid, had acknowledged the facts of which he is accused.

In the meantime, Joseph has been waiting, impatiently. He has even turned to another high-level prelate, Congo’s Victor Abagna Mossa, Archbishop of Owando.  

Having managed to obtain the archbishop’s contact information, he was able to relate his story, in writing, and even speak to him on the phone.

After listening to Joseph, Archbishop Mossa said that he knew Father L. and advised Joseph to seek psychological support.

Since then, he has ignored his calls. Is the Congolese archbishop embarrassed by this case? At the time of the events, he was the head of the minor seminary of Makoua, neighbouring the local Community of the Beatitudes where Father L. was working.

The future archbishop then left the Congo to work in Belgium, in Namur. 

 I want and I demand justice.

Archbishop Mossa did not respond to our requests for comment. Joseph’s fate is now in the hands of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the tribunal whose judges have included French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who recently earned notoriety after confessing to past sexual abuse of minors.

“I want and I demand justice,” says Joseph. “I will only make peace with myself when the trial is over”. 

Pope Francis receives members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, 21 January 2022 ©Vatican Media/ZUMA/REA

*Joseph’s name has been changed at his request  

**We have chosen to preserve the anonymity of Father L., whose canonical trial may begin soon. 

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