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Did married Liberian Catholic Priest Father Gabriel Sawyer speak truth about being sexually abused?

LAGOS, Nigeria – A Liberian Catholic priest, Father Gabriel Sawyer currently seeking an opportunity to stay in the United States, wrote the Holy Father Pope Francis, accusing the archbishop of Monrovia Lewis Zeigler and the bishop of Cape Palmas Andrew Jagaye Karnley of sexual harassment because both Catholic prelates allegedly disciplined him for unpriestly behavior including not assigning him to lucrative Catholic parishes where parishioners donate sufficient amount of financial offerings and tithes.

According to reliable investigative sources, Father Sawyer who had been dating and sponsoring a young Liberian woman (who he later on married in a spectacular Church ceremony) in college while still a Catholic priest accused both Catholic leaders of wanting to sexually abuse him simply because they did not assign him to financially lucrative parishes and/or allow him to undertake meaningful socio-economic project activities.

The Structure of the Catholic Church in Liberia

Liberia has two dioceses (the Diocese of Gbarnga in Central Liberia and the Diocese of Cape Palmas in South Eastern Liberia) and one Archdiocese (the Archdiocese of Monrovia) which includes the metropolitan area and the southern region of the country.  It is important to note that the Archdiocese of Monrovia is a separate religious domain from the Diocese of Cape Palmas and the Diocese of Gbarnga.  

The Archdiocese of Monrovia covers the country’s capital Monrovia as well as Montserrado County, Bomi County, Grand Cape Mount County, Margibi County, Grand Bassa County, and River Cess County.  The Diocese of Gbarnga covers Lofa County, Nimba County, Gbarpolu County, and Bong County. The Diocese of Cape Palmas covers Maryland County, Sinoe County, River Gee County, Grand Kru County, and Grand Gedeh County.

Father Sawyer is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Monrovia under Archbishop Lewis Zeigler who turns 75 years old soon and is expected to retire probably by the end of 2019.  In addition, Father Sawyer has not said that he was or had been sexually abused or molested by either Catholic leader in any form and shape. He, however, claims that he suspects that both men wanted to sexually abused him that is why he had been disciplined or “punished’ by them.

Moreover, besides Father Sawyer, no other Liberian Catholic priest or layperson in and outside of Liberia has experienced any such thing from neither Archbishop Lewis Zeigler nor Bishop Andrew J. Karmley.  No lay Catholic man, woman, boy or girl supports Father Sawyer’s accusation against both Church leaders directly or indirectly.

Yet, Father Sawyer opted to communicate with Pope Francis and the Vatican ambassador to Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, Archbishop Dagoberto Campos Salas via email regarding his presumptive claims.  Below is Father Sawyer’s email addressed to Pope Francis (in which he copied others) regarding his presumptive allegation of sexual abuse.

 From: Gabriel Sawyer <kantin8@yahoo.com>
Date: Sun, Nov 18, 2018 at 7:31 AM
Subject: My Testimony – Special Founding Members and VIPs Update
To: Pope Francis <av@pccs.va>

Dear Most Holy Father,

On August 15, 2018 I delivered my testimony of serious crimes to your representative. In addition, yesterday the attached letter was delivered to Archbishop Dagoberto Campos Salas.

I could not be more disappointed in the failure of the Church to help me and most of all the suffering children in my country. I am heartbroken that your subordinates have worked against a non-profit serving orphans in their effort to push me out of the priesthood.

God may require me and other whistleblowers to follow the examples of the first martyrs to end the homosexual heresy in the Church.

I have copied the key people involved because they deserve to know the truth.

Yours truly, Rev. Fr. Gabriel M.M.K. Sawyer

Based on an ongoing inquiry, it would appear that Father Sawyer was never sexually abused or molested by the archbishop and the bishop.  The fact is, and based on Father Sawyer’s own assertion, he believes both men may have wanted to sexually abuse him since he was being disciplined as a priest for conduct the Church hierarchy may have viewed as unbecoming of a Catholic priest.

Left to right, Bishop Borwah, Bishop Karnley and Archbishop Zeigler surrounded by Liberian Catholic priests

Ongoing investigations also point to the fact that Father Sawyer was actually ignored and disciplined by the Church such that he may have felt bad.  Part of the discipline may have included not giving him lucrative priestly assignments and perhaps verbally challenging him on important disciplinary matters with the aim that he would improve in expectations.  But again, disciplining subordinates is part of the duties of leaders.

Although the investigation continues, so far, it seems the accusation of sexual abuse alleged by Father Sawyer may not apply in the context of the Catholic Church in Liberia judging from the events under consideration.  So, why is Father Sawyer alleging sexual abuse against the Catholic Church of Liberia? What is the motive or intent? 

Investigation continues!

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.

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