A recent investigation in Spain revealed more than 200,000 endured sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy. The 700-page report, ordered by Spain's Congress, unveils the “devastating impact” on victims, criticizing the Church for its inaction and attempts to conceal or deny the abuse. Is the situation different in Africa? Child Safety Investigator Philip E. Morrison says no.
Originally from the US, Morrison has lived in Kenya since 1992. He received training as a child safety investigator with the Child Safety and Protection Network in 2014 and went on to research this topic for his Doctor of Ministry. In 2017, he published For Our Children! For Our Church! Addressing the Issue of Child Safety in the African Church, a book based on his doctoral thesis. He also lectures on Child Safety Awareness (CSA) because he believes implementing proactive child protection policies in places of worship is pivotal.
The focus of Morrison’s research was on Africa Inland Church-Kenya (AIC-K) congregations in seven counties in Kenya. He said that 78 percent of respondents in his study knew of incidents of child sexual abuse, and nearly 60 percent of offenders were identified as leaders in the church.
In a presentation on his research, Morrison described meeting a pastor whose daughter had been sexually abused. He said, “…he [the pastor] and his family were getting little support, especially from the police, but he told me, ‘We are still pursuing.’ And he said, ‘My daughter is now focused on becoming a lawyer to help women who have suffered like her.’”
Across the continent, more sexual abuse cases in the church are becoming public. In February 2023, activists and sexual abuse victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) demonstrated across the street from where Pope Francis was meeting with clergy. They demanded the Pope's intervention in addressing sexual abuse victims.
A 2019 investigation exposed accusations of child sexual abuse against a priest serving in Central African Republic. At that time, he was assigned to an order established to protect children. He was previously convicted of sexually abusing children in Europe.
The Catholic News Service also reported in 2019 that while sexual abuse cases in Africa receive less attention than other places, the church is still affected. Father Chrisantus Ndaga of the Tanzanian Diocese of Bukoba said, “Some case may be similar to those in other parts of the world, but here it is seen as a societal and a family problem. When it occurs, some families may not want it to go public.”
Child protection finds its roots deeply embedded in the scriptural narrative, echoing the Old Testament's emphasis on the value of children as an intentional part of God's design (Genesis 1:28, Psalms 127:3). The Church's historical commitment to protecting children is evident, from placing them in fortified cities for safety to early Christian leaders condemning practices that endangered infants.
In her work, The Child in the Bible, Marcia J. Bunge articulates that children, as bearers of God’s image, deserve elevated dignity and respect transcending cultural boundaries. The theological foundation rests in the incarnation, highlighting the vulnerability of Jesus and, by extension, all children. Acts that compromise children's safety stand in direct contradiction to biblical orthodoxy.
Morrison emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive child safety policies and procedures in congregations in his book and lectures. He encourages a “theology of intervention” compelling the Church to prophetically challenge cultural perspectives on the value of all beings, with a specific focus on rescuing, speaking for, defending, and administering justice for children at risk. These practical recommendations can guide the Church in fulfilling its mission to protect and empower children as cherished bearers of God's image.