Congolese and foreign activists on Monday (Jan. 30) called on Pope Francis to sanction a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor in the Democratic Republic of Congo where he is to arrive this Tuesday (Jan. 31).
A girl identified as Marie recounted to reporters via video conference how she was raped nearly two years ago by a priest from the Tshumbe diocese in the centre of the country, when, at the age of 14, she was "aspiring" to become a consecrated religious.
Marie said she informed church authorities in DR Congo at the time.
Since then, she claimed she was "not living in safety, everyone around me is under threat."
"It’s a serious case," Tim Law, founder of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), told a press conference in Kinshasa, where his NGO is seeking to give a voice to victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
"It’s your duty to protect the children" from "the lies of pastors", he said alongside members of Come, a Congolese association fighting sexual abuse.
"Pope Francis, the youth are counting on you because living in poverty, they are at the mercy of predators," Law said. Victims had to be respected, not punished, he added.
A church source told AFP "the Holy See sent investigators, the priest (facing the allegations) has been suspended and the case brought before Congolese justice."
The Vatican probe found no evidence and the justice system "exonerated" the priest who was "rehabilitated" the source added.
Marie’s lawyer Come Musuluku said she had fled to Gabon, but intended to appeal the Kinshasa court decision.
Victims are progressively coming to the foreground to denounced crimes they suffered at the hands of consecrated and lay Catholics.
In recent years, the Catholic church has been rocked by thousands of reports of sexual abuse around the world and accusations of cover-ups by senior clergy.
If more and more voices call out predators and file lawsuits in North America or in Europe, regions of the world still lag behind.
In Africa, sexual violence especially by religious figures remains taboo in many countries. Togolese religious sister and psychotherapist Mary Lembo is among many advocating for a greater accountability of alleged abusers and a better protection of victims.
Pope Francis vowed an "all-out battle" against sexual exploitation crimes against children within the Church in 2019.
He aims to convince those who know about sex abuse to report it to their superiors. Among other measures, he streamlined the Vatican office that processes complaints.
Pope Francis embarks on his fifth visit to Africa on Tuesday (Jan. 31), flying to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then on to South Sudan, carrying a plea for peace.