Sunday, June 27, 2010

Family cries out for justice over girl raped by Catholic priest

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Family cries out for justice over girl raped by Catholic priest

St Elizabeth Gekano health centre where the mother of a 16-year-old schoolgirl was admitted while a Catholic priest reportedly raped the girl in his house in November last year. Photo/TOM OTIENO

Posted Saturday, June 26 2010 at 18:48

A Catholic priest has been accused of raping a schoolgirl only minutes after giving her bananas and oranges for her sick mother in hospital and praying for her.

The priest, who was serving at Gekano Parish in Kisii Diocese in November last year when the incident reportedly occurred, then tried to swear the 16-year-old girl to secrecy with a promise of education.

A senior administrator in the diocese, also a priest, confirmed that a complaint had reached the bishop’s office over the matter, and said investigations were ongoing.

But the girl’s family suspects a cover-up plot, citing the fact that the accused priest has since been moved from the diocese and the conduct of another priest who later visited their home to collect the clothes worn by the girl at the time she was allegedly raped.

The family has also accused the police of inaction even though they reported the matter to the Keroka police station.

The Class Seven girl is said to have gone to the priest’s house to return the plastic bag in which she carried the fruit to her mother who was at St Elizabeth Gekano health centre about 70 metres from where he lived.

The woman had been admitted with malaria on November 23 last year, and her daughter was taking care of her.

The priest visited the sick woman to pray with her between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. the following day.

“After praying he asked me if I had taken any food, but I said that I had no appetite. He asked me if I would take some bananas and oranges.

“He said that he had some fruits in his house which he wished to give to me. I accepted. But the priest instructed my daughter to make sure that she returned the plastic bag,” the mother told the Sunday Nation this week.

“Within a short time the girl had brought a bunch of bananas and two oranges. I ate one and gave one to the nurse,” she said.

The mother of six said that after removing the fruit her daughter returned the bag to the priest’s house as instructed.

“She stayed there for long, and I started getting worried where she was. She was supposed to go home and prepare lunch for her siblings, and yet the keys for the house were on my bed,” the mother said.

“She did not come back and instead went straight home. In the evening I decided to leave hospital and go home and asked her why she returned without taking the keys, but she kept quiet.”

She said the following day her daughter opened up and told her what had happened.

“While in the house he asked me why my parents were always fighting, but I kept quiet,” the girls said. “He then asked me to allow him touch my breast, but I declined again as I got frightened.”

Warned her

She said the priest forced himself on her, tore her clothes and then defiled her. The girl said the priest then promised to assist her to pursue her education and warned her not to disclose to any person what happened as people would laugh at him.

Veronica Ogato, a nurse at the health centre, said she, too, suspected that something bad had happened. She recalled that when the priest came she was attending to the mother of the victim.

“He came in, greeted us all and prayed, then he left with the girl,” she said. The nurse said she grew worried when the girl stayed for long in the priest’s house as the mother was complaining.

“I later saw the girl seated next to the fence of the church in tattered clothes, using her sweater to cover her torn clothes. I sensed that something must have gone wrong,” Ms Ogato said.

“She looked depressed and stressed, but I did not tell the sick mother,” she said. “At 4 p.m. I passed by her parents’ place and asked to be allowed to talk to her. I came with her to my house and persuaded her to tell me what happened. She opened up and narrated to me what had happened.”

She said the girl told her that a “bad man” had torn her clothes off and defiled her. The priest then gave her Sh100 as a bribe to silence, her but she refused to take it.

“As a nurse, the following day I decided to give her an injection so that she did not conceive as it was three days after her monthly period,” Ms Ogato said.

The family said the girl at one time even attempted suicide after her schoolmates began to tease her. The parents moved her to a different school. The family has also become the laughing stock of the village, mocked by villagers who accuse them of “exchanging their daughter for a bunch of bananas and two oranges”. The mother said that a day after the rape, the suspected priest visited her home, prayed for her and gave her the sacrament.

On November 26, the girl’s mother claimed that Father Zachary Bikeri, the priest in charge of Gekano Parish, visited their home to purportedly ask for forgiveness over the incident on behalf of the priest.

“We prayed together, and after prayers he had a written statement which he asked my husband, daughter and me to append our signature to. The statement said the church was going to act on the allegations, and so we obliged.

“He then took the clothes that my daughter had worn when the incident occurred to take to the bishop so appropriate action could be taken against the priest,” the mother said.

Delayed to report

She said they believed that justice would be done and that was why they did not report the matter to police.

The girl’s mother said when she threatened to raise the alarm, her daughter’s clothes were returned to her on April 12, but they had been cleaned.

The Sunday Nation made several attempts to obtain a comment by phone from the accused priest on June 11 but without success. “I am on the road and will call you back ... I will call you back please,” he said and then switched off his phone.

Fr Bikeri told the Sunday Nation that he could only talk to the girl’s father.

“As you can see I am attending to another visitor, and you will have to wait or else you come another day,” Fr Bikeri said and then went back to his house.

Father Jeremiah Nyakundi, the administrator who is third in line in the Kisii Catholic Diocese, admitted that the complaint had reached the bishop’s office.

“We received the complaint about the defilement in December last year, and it was that time that the priest was moved in order to allow for investigations to go on,” Fr Nyakundi said.

However, Father Nyakundi said only the Kisii Catholic Diocese Bishop Joseph Mairura was in a position to tell how far the investigations had gone.

“What I can confirm is that the priest is not in Kisii diocese as he was moved, and it is my hope that the case will be completed, but at the moment it is still an allegation,” Fr Nyakundi said.

The bishop was out of office when we tried to contact him. The victim’s father says he unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Bishop Mairura in January.

“On January 18, 2010, I went to see him but he did not meet me. I was told that he was busy, and I had to leave,” the father said. Keroka police boss Ramson Lolmodoni said they did not know about the incident.

“I have tried to search for the case in our occurrence books, but I am unable to get it; even if he had reported, it was too late as we could not act,” Mr Lolmodoni said.

The girl’s father is bitter about the leadership of the church which he accuses of abandoning his daughter and protecting the priest.

“She was tormented, and we have not been able to get her professional counselling services due to lack of resources. This is the question I have been asking the leadership of the church: why are they doing this to us?” he said.

On March 11 this year, the victim’s father went to local chief Jane Matara to report the incident. She advised him to report it to the police.

He said he went to Keroka police station on March 29 to report the matter, but the area OCS told him that it was too late to act on the case. “He (the accused priest) has been calling us and promising that he would pay for the education of our daughter in a boarding school provided we did not report the matter.”

“And at the same time, we were to tell the bishop that all the allegations against him were lies so that he could compensate us, which we have declined,” the victim’s father said.

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