On Wednesday 20th April 2016, in Accra’s Juvenile Court, a Catholic priest stands accused of abandoning his six-month-old son. The plaintiff is a twenty-four-year woman and beneficiary of the Father’s good mercies. According to this young woman, the priest started making sexual advances at her after he funded her education in one of Ghana’s tertiary educational institutions. This case would have been a pretty mundane one if the man at the centre of it all hadn’t been a priest. Men run away from their paternal responsibilities every day, and in every part of the world; no surprises there. But when a man, who has taken an oath to chastity, and to charity, gallops all over those promises, society has a cause to be concerned.
This particular report is one amongst the hundreds of sexual abuse and manipulation by men of God. Stories of women who have been abused by priests, prophets and other ‘men of God’ abound in the Ghanaian society. It is often easy for people to judge such victims of such ‘priestly abuse’; they are called wanton and in some cases, stupid. In fact, I have even heard some people say that most of these victims throw themselves at these reverend ‘men of God’. If I remember correctly, the missus of one such ‘man of God’ did say that it was the women who liked her husband, not the other way round. After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to all that anointing, not to talk of the greasy perm and the multi-colored suit?
A segment of the population who are compassionate enough not to judge these victims still can’t help but question their choices. For them, if these victims had been careful enough they could have avoided getting trapped in the snares of such predators. We ask ‘Didn’t they know that these men were quacks? What is it at that women need that leave them open to such attacks?’ Most of the questions we ask, and the accusations we make, often suggest that there is a weakness in these women, a desperation of a sort, that leaves them open to the ploys of charlatans. But desperation is desperation, irrespective of gender. If you have ever been pushed into a hard place, you will understand that it took a lot of will-power, and solid social support network, to extricate yourselves from the grips of anxiety.
Not all people are built to withstand pressure, and the manipulative abilities of these ‘men of God’ are phenomenal. When it comes to manipulation, especially in the name of religion, the complexity of the matter goes beyond the stupidity or desperation of the victims.
In November 1978, nine hundred and eighteen (918) members of the congregation of Peoples Temple, in Jamestown USA, under the pastoral leadership of James Warren Jones committed mass suicide. Jones convinced the entire congregation to ingest cyanide, leading to their deaths. The congregation was made up of men, women and children. These people had been manipulated by the charismatic and wily reverend man of God, Jones. Stupidity wasn’t the strongest factor at play; it was the manipulative powers of one warped individual. Jones had been described as “a really weird kid…obsessed with religion…obsessed with death”
Whenever the issue of abuse is mentioned, we should not be hasty to judge the victim; oftentimes they have been through hell and back. When next you see a sister following a really strange ‘man of God’, don’t wait till their ‘stupidity’ wears off. Do what you would have done if you saw a hyena trying to devour your sister as you drove by in a race car: snatch her out of the grips of the hyena’s tooth, and drive off with her. She isn’t stupid, or desperate, she is just in the focal point of a predator.
By Dede Williams
Photo credit: alamy.com