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Liberia’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference Issued Statement Against a Smear Campaign Implicating the Church and its Leadership

LAGOS, Nigeria – The Catholic Bishop Conference of Liberia (CABICOL)  on Monday issued a strong statement in relations to an alleged sexual harassment allegation and conspiracy against two officials of the Church, Archbishop Lewis Ziegler of the Archdiocese of Monrovia and Bishop Andrew Karnley of the Diocese of Gbarnga. 

The Church’s position comes in the wake of what appears to be an unfounded but calculated attempt to smear the Church’s leadership in Liberia and the universal church by some individuals.

A few months ago, a married Catholic priest, Father Gabriel Sawyer of the Archdiocese of Monrovia accused two prominent leaders of the Catholic Church of Liberia of maltreating him as a priest by not giving him lucrative pastoral assignments because he “refused sexual advances” from both prelates. 

Father Sawyer and his wife at their marriage ceremony in Liberia

According reliable sources and people associated with some of the facts, Father Sawyer accused the two prelates of denying he and one of his foreign friends who had sought a collaboration with the Catholic Church of Liberia to operate a relief organization for Liberia children even though the church’s leadership said they had no detailed information about the individual and therefore could not give him any authority to raise funds internationally under the guise of supporting kids in Liberia in partnership with the church.  In addition, Father Sawyer had tied the knots with his long-time fierce while still a priest, an action seriously opposed and condemned by the bishops and for which he was warned and subjected to possible suspension prior to his departure for the United States.

Before leaving for the U.S., Father Sawyer allegedly contacted a leading local Liberian daily, FrontPage Africa to publish a story accusing the two Catholic priests of sexual harassment on grounds that even though he was not directly sexually molested, the fact that he was disciplined by the leadership of the church, especially the two prelates, Archbishop Ziegler, and Bishop Karnley implied they wanted to romance him sexually.

Since then, a wider international conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the church using Father Sawyer’s unsubstantiated testimonies and stories as tools for some individuals desirous of writing and marketing books against the church have surfaced.   Also, church officials say some local Liberian dailies, without any proof or facts, have joined the conspiracy in publishing misleading stories against the two prelates and the church because of financial benefits from individuals and entities believed to be behind the conspiracy.

The CABICOL, in a release signed by its Secretary-General Reverend Father Dennis Cephas Nimine, said, “The Bishops wilt not, however, input unsavory motives to individuals determined to impugn the integrity of the Church but will urge those making claims to take advantage of procedures duly established worldwide and within the Episcopate to seek redress for any wrong allegedly committed by any Religious and/or individuals within the Church.”

L-R: Bishop Borwah, Bishop Karnley and Archbishop Zeigler

Adding, “In addition, all Religious so accused are under a duty to seek redress for grievances within the framework of the Church and other means available to deal with such allegations. In this regard, the Church in Liberia cautions the authors and publishers of these allegations to be mindful of the rights of those accused and guard against defaming their character and reputation. The accused Religious  persons have denied the allegations and are all willing to avail themselves to whatever investigation and inquiry deemed necessary by the Church and the state.”

Some legal analysts say the church in Liberia has options for legal actions to ascertain the facts and motives behind the allegations.  Some prominent and leading Catholic lawyers at home and abroad are seriously concerned about these allegations and what appears to be  a ‘misleading  campaign’ targeted at the universal church and two of its respected prelates on mere hearsay.

Although there is no pending legal action, a source says prominent Catholic lawyers in the United States and Liberia are not ruling out such possibilities.

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Dave Okonjie

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

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