For those who still believe in ‘sanity’ in Christianity.

 

Benedict XIV: Papal Infallibility to Moral Frailty  

Sandhya Jain

31 Mar 2010

 

The Promised Land is a far horizon; what beckons is a treacherous infamy. The imperious Pope Benedict XIV, once the awesome Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (read Inquisition, 1981-2005), is at the receiving end of an Inquisitorial Flock demanding his Shepherd’s baton.

Perhaps the alleged Nostradamus Prophecy is coming true, and the end of the Catholic Church is nigh.

And not a day too soon, in my opinion, as the wrack and ruin accompanying the rise and spread of the Roman Catholic Church over two millennia in Europe, the Americas, Canada, Australia, Africa, is now creeping dangerously into the Asian landmass, home to the world’s great ancient and living civilisations.

Given the intimate relationship between church, empire/kingdom and trade/monopoly, the historical timing of the demand for the Pope’s resignation (read virtual defrock by outraged public opinion) is apt.

It accompanies the decline of American post-Second World War global hegemony, the irreversible economic decline of the West despite all manoeuvres to stave off the coming collapse, and America’s military inability to control a Stone Age people like the Afghans despite its shock and awe armoury. [The Fall seems likely to adversely affect all of Abraham’s offspring, their being too inextricably intertwined with each other to disengage safely, but that need not detain us here].

 

Cannibals of the Creation

In just the last two decades, the Catholic Church’s (and other church denominations) history of sexual abuse of men, women, minor boys, minor girls, married women, youth, even the physically challenged, have been spilling out of the cupboard, shattering its carefully constructed visage as an army of Christ dedicated to the mission of taking the Word and the Light to the dark corners of the world (read Asia).

As every continent and country, virtually every parish, shudders with anguished screams of victims of priestly lust, what has unravelled is an edifice of Apostolic continuity in perpetuating crime and cover-up. At the epicenter of the conspiracy of silence is the Vatican itself, and its crimes are millennia-old. The Soviet Gulags may look like a teddy bear’s picnic once Vatican Archives are opened for public scrutiny; that may happen in this very century. Bliss will it be in that dawn to be alive…  

It’s ironic but apt that the Abrahamic Civilisation – where the God of the Creation made everything in creation a consumable for Man’s enjoyment, and forgot to forbid Man from eating his own kind like some of the lower animals – is falling prey to its own cannibalistic tendency! Priests and Bishops with ‘power’ over their flock literally feasted on the lambs, using their minds and bodies as consumable delicacies and raping, abusing, sodomising with impunity any and all who took their fancy. The institution of Confession – far from aiding the spiritual evolution of the faithful, proved a potent instrument of blackmail of the isolated and atomized individual, and perpetuated the most horrendous traumas a religion can impose upon its own folk – and for no real or imagined crime(s).

With hindsight, it is easy to see why Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychology, viewed every psychological problem of his patients as evidence of a repressed sexual fantasy. What he meant but could not openly say in that era, was that they were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those they dared not accuse in public. He must have helped them come to terms with the abuse and have closure or at least some solace in their personal lives.

That Western psychology has more or less stuck to this path with minor modifications vindicates my view that Freud invented psychology as a method of helping Church victims of sexual abuse to speak to non-priests about their traumas. It is not surprising that when victims of the church began to go public about their anguish in recent decades, the method by which they established their claims in court was via the psychiatric clinic – through childhood regression, hypnosis, counselling, and so on.

What a denouement – the church is the Original Revolution that has devoured its own children! Her other victims she cares little about, but now, with Biblical precision, her own children shall rise and call her wretched, the flesh-devouring witch of a childhood tale…

 

The Pope must go

Pope Benedict is up to his holy ears in the sex scam hush-up policy; hence the rising chorus for his resignation. The scandal gets murkier by the day. Even the rape of the patriarch Noah by his own son, or the rape of Lot by his own daughters, indigestible as those Biblical truths were, cannot match the dimensions of the current problem.

Only last week, three separate stories suggested Benedict’s direct role in the conspiracy of silence. Father Lawrence Murphy of Wisconsin abused nearly 200 boys at a Milwaukee school for the deaf. Arthur Budzinski, a victim, went public with accusations against the pontiff. His daughter Gigi, said: “The pope knew about this. He was the one who handled the sex abuse cases. So, I think he should be accountable, because he did nothing” [Mike Whitney, http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25101.htm, March 29, 2010]

For years now, reams have been written about how the Vatican moved sexual predators from parish to parish, refusing to call the police and give justice to the victims, refusing the defrock the guilty and spare the innocent, and using its doctrinal superiority to perpetuate what must be the worst mass crime in history. It’s a fit case for the Criminal Tribunal at The Hague – if it can be persuaded to prosecute white Christians, that is.

Throughout its long history of sexual abuse, the prime concern of church authorities has been to avoid litigation, specifically, to avoid paying for its crimes by handing over the guilty to the law and giving compensation and therapy to its victims.

In 2009, 67 former students of the Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf in Verona signed a statement describing the sexual abuse, pedophilia and corporal punishment they suffered from the 1950s to the 1980s – yes, 30 years, a lifetime! They named 24 priests, brothers and lay religious men. (“Sex abuse scandal in US, Italy taints papacy,” Nicole Winfield, AP)

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of the escalating crisis, and his response was to silence priests who might talk. He wrote to the Bishops in 2001 to keep sexual abuse allegations secret under threat of excommunication of both the accused priests and the victims of sex crimes; he demanded “a perpetual silence.” (Washington Post)

[Is this is the Cross – or dagger – that he wants to plant in Asia?!]

Benedict has been implicated in the case of Munich priest Father Peter Hullermann, who was suspended in 1979 and rehabilitated in 1980 ‘without restrictions’ even after a psychiatrist described him as a potential danger [the Pope was then the Archbishop of Munich!]. In 1986, Hullermann was convicted of molesting boys in Bavaria.Recently the Pope apologised to Catholics in Ireland for decades of cruelty and abuse. But the fact is that Benedict knew about the abuse, and let it happen. Worse, even as Vatican faces the gravest crises of its modern history, he declared he would not be intimidated by critics, petty gossip, or dominant opinion, and shrugged off calls for his resignation.

An anguished Barbara Blaine, president, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), asserted: we are men, women and children who are in deep pain, having been raped, sodomized and assaulted by Catholic clergy and often betrayed by Catholic officials. Our trauma – past and present – should never be trivialized by anyone, much less by those who profess to be caring shepherds.

Talk of ‘petty gossip’ really hurt because it came from the Pope himself. She said the thousands of victims were doing a public service by courageously speaking out and thus making the church, and society, safer for children by exposing predators and long-hidden secrets and corruption. The Catholic hierarchy can’t pretend to care about victims and also attack them. http://www.snapnetwork.org/snap_statements/2010_statements/032810_pope_talks_today_of_petty_gossip
_clergy_sex_victims_are_hurt_insulted.htm

 

Undaunted Church

Many demand the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Irish Church. The stories of child abuse by priests are particularly ghastly, with accounts about victims bashed up for pleasure who later simply ‘disappeared.’ The religion itself protects these sadistic priestly perverts, charges Eamonn McCann [Belfast Telegraph, 25 March 2010. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/eamon-mccann/its-religion-itself-that-protects-these-sadistic-priestly-perverts-14739959.html]

The complete dimensions of the scandal are unknown. Cardinal Sean Brady personally knew of the abuse of at least two children and instead of calling the police, forced the victims to keep quiet about the crime [standard church protocol]. His predecessor, Cahal Daly, was informed in writing about the horrific abuse of an 8-year-old girl, who lost her mind because of the trauma; his response was to promise to pray for the family, and that’s it.

The religion of love!!!

Truly unforgivable is the fact that the night before the rapist arrived in the parish, a senior official of the diocese visited the parochial house where he was to stay and warned the priests there to ‘keep an eye on him’ and try to ensure he never visited homes with children alone. In other words, his history was known (to at least two Bishops), and yet children were wantonly endangered.

In Ontario, Canada, pedophile priest Monsignor Bernard Prince was appointed secretary general of Vatican’s Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1991, despite knowledge of the allegations against him. He retired in 2004. In 2008, he was convicted of molesting 13 young boys between 1964 and 1984; he was defrocked in 2009. http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/786550–vatican-knew-of-allegations-against-ontario-priest-victim

Such stories are now coming out of every parish across the globe. Within India, Dr. Sister Jesme Raphael shattered the conspiracy of silence by speaking out against the sexual abuse and moral depravity in the Kerala Catholic church. In an autobiographical account of her own knowledge and experiences, “Amen” [Malayalam], Sister Jesme bore witness to what happened to her and to other nuns who entered the church in good faith, expecting to lead lives of virtue and service to god and society. What happened behind closed convent doors was rampant exploitation of nuns by priests and same sex relations [Mote and the beam, Sandhya Jain, 3 March 2009, www.vijayvaani.com]

Her story confirmed allegations that church authorities made use of a notorious institution called the Divine Life institution to declare recalcitrant nuns insane. Her frontal assault upon the misdeeds of the church closely followed the arrest of two nuns in the Sister Abhaya rapecum-murder case, which the Catholic Church struggled to suppress for 16 long years; the suicide of Sister Anupama Mary in Kollam and the allegations by Mary’s father of sex abuse by convent superiors.

The History

Whether or not Sex is Man’s Original Sin, it seems to be the oldest and most chronic activity encountered, and forbidden, by the Catholic Church – that too, in vain. This is the suppressed truth of the church, scrupulously documented by three priests in “Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes. The Catholic Church’s 2000-year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse,” [Thomas P. Doyle, A.W. Richard Sipe and Patrick J. Wall, Volt Press, Los Angeles, 2006].

Written after scandals and lawsuits began to rock America, the book demonstrates that sexual abuse of minor boys, girls, women, by priests can be traced back to the time records were kept! A conspiracy of silence was institutionalized, and this allowed the sexual abuse to prosper. Only the recent pressure of exorbitant lawsuits and settlements that endangered church assets triggered church concern about rampaging sexual predators in its ranks. 

–        The oldest known instruction to Church officials, the Didache, dates from the second century AD and commands, ‘Thou shalt not seduce young boys’. [What an interesting Commandment]

–        The Council of Elvira, 309 AD, the earliest recorded gathering of bishops, spelt out 81 Canons; 38 dealt with sex. It excluded from receiving communion ‘bishops, presbyters, and deacons committing a sexual sin’, ‘those who sexually abuse boys’, and ‘people who bring charges against bishops and presbyters without proving their cases’.  

–        St. Peter Damian’s Book of Gomorrah (1051 AD) attacked the sexual immorality of the clergy of his time and the lax superiors who failed to curb it. He condemned priests who defiled men or boys coming for confession, and priests who gave the sacrament of penance to their own victims. He urged Pope Leo IX to act to redress the damage caused by offending clerics – the response was a model of inaction, a prelude to the experience of our own era.

–        Why would the early Church mention such things if they were not rampant?

–        After his elevation as Pope, the first US prelate granted a personal audience with Benedict was Cardinal Bernard Law, who three years previously had resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston following revelations that he had systematically moved predator priests from parish to parish, never alerting parents to the danger in which their children were being put. Yet Benedict chose to honour him just 12 days into his papacy.

–        The same attitude was on display in his response to the report three years ago on abuse of children in Ferns, Wexford. In a 271-page document, retired US Supreme Court judge Frank Murphy identified more than 100 allegations against 26 priests. The judge found that the diocese was silencing the victims and protecting the abusers from the law in conformity to standard instructions from Rome. Benedict claimed horror at the behaviour of the priests but made no comment, or apology, at the finding against the Vatican.

 If an institution is found by its own people to protect and nurture rotten apples, can it be permitted to function with impunity in the public domain? With what face does the church talk of the Spirit when the sons of the church are smitten with the sins of the flesh? How can any country permit church officials to operate freely amongst potential victims? The public debate on the future of the church must be truly international for a correct picture to emerge.

 The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

 

Also read

Vatican, Pope and Child Abuse

Catholic Church, Witchcraft and Child Abuse

Goa Inquisition: an example of Christian Terrorism

 

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Looks like things are not going right for the harvestors of souls.

 

Vatican officials defend pope on abuse

By FRANCES D’EMILIO
The Associated Press

Saturday, March 13,VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to drag Pope Benedict XVI into the spreading scandals of pedophile priests in his German homeland. It also insisted that church confidentiality doesn’t prevent bishops from reporting abuse to police.

The Vatican’s campaign to defend the pope’s reputation and resolve in combatting clergy abuse of minors followed acknowledgment by the Munich archdiocese that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.

Benedict is also under fire for a 2001 church directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.

Germany’s justice minister has blamed the directive for what she called a “wall of silence” preventing prosecution.

Skeptical about the Vatican’s handling of abuse, a U.S.-based advocacy group for abuse victims, Survivors Network of those Abused for Priests, urged faithful to bring candles and childhood photos to vigils outside churches, cathedrals and German consulates across the U.S. this weekend to remind people to “call police, not bishops” in cases of suspected abuse.

But the Holy See’s so-called prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases, providing some of the first statistics about his office’s handling of allegations, decried what he called “false and defamatory” contentions that Benedict had promoted a “policy of cover up.”

At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were “never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna told Italian bishops conference daily Avvenire.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean they shouldn’t go to police. And victims’ lawyers in the U.S. say the document shows the church tried to obstruct justice.

Scicluna contended that in countries that do not oblige bishops to go to authorities with allegations of abuse, “we encourage them to invite the victims to report these priests.”

The Maltese prelate said the pope had taken on the “painful responsibility” of personally deciding to remove those priests involved in “particularly grave cases with heavy proof.”

Those cases amounted to about 10 percent of some 3,000 cases handled by the Vatican in the last decade, what Scicluna described as a small fraction of the 400,000 priests worldwide, and cover crimes committed over the last 50 years.

Clergy in another 10 percent of the cases were defrocked upon their own request, said Scicluna, adding that among them were priests in possession of pedophilia-pornography or with criminal convictions.

Meanwhile, the scandal swirling around Benedict’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, escalated with the first public allegations of abuse of choirboys during some of the 30 years he ran the boys’ choir in Regensburg. Thomas Mayer told Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly that he had been sexually and physically abused while a member of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir through 1992.

The pontiff’s brother led the group from 1964 to 1994. Previously reported cases of sexual abuse date back to the late 1950s.

Mayer charged in Spiegel that he had been raped by older pupils. Spiegel quoted him as saying that pupils were forced to have anal sex with one another in the apartment of a prefect at the church-run boarding school attached to the choir. The Regensburg diocese has refused to comment on the report.

The Vatican spokesman, speaking to Vatican Radio and Associated Press Television News, defended Benedict.

“It’s rather clear that in the last days, there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

“For any objective observer, it’s clear that these efforts have failed,” Lombardi said, reiterating his statement a day earlier noting the Munich diocese has insisted that Benedict wasn’t involved in the decision while archbishop there to transfer the suspected child abuser.

Lombardi told The AP that “there hasn’t been in the least bit any policy of silence.”

“The pope is a person whose stand on clarity, on transparency and whose decision to face these problems is above discussion,” Lombardi said, citing the comments by Scicluna, who works in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which was long headed by Benedict before his election as pontiff.

“To accuse the current pope of hiding (cases) is false and defamatory,” Scicluna said.

As Vatican cardinal in charge of the policy on sex abuse, the future pope “showed wisdom and firmness in handling these cases,” Scicluna said.

He said in the first years after the 2001 directive, most of the 3,000 cases came from the U.S., where dioceses across the nation were rocked by allegations by priests and systematic cover-ups by hierarchy and drained by hefty lawsuits by victims.

Only about 10 percent of the case dealt with “acts of true pedophilia,” Scicluna said, while 60 percent of the cases involved priests who were sexually attracted to male adolescents. Some 30 percent of cases dealt with heterosexual abuse, he said.

How the Vatican has handled the cases since the 2001 directive provides “a very important signal to all the bishops of the church to face these problems with the required seriousness, clarity, rapidity and efficiency,” Lombardi said.

The Catholic church in Switzerland has become swept up in the scandals. Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung quoted a Benedictine abbot, Martin Werlen, as saying that the Swiss bishops conference and various dioceses are investigating allegations after 60 people came forward to say they were victims of abuse by priests.

Shortly before becoming pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger denounced what he called “filth” in the priesthood, but so far hasn’t directly commented on the cases in his homeland.

He has promised to write a letter soon to faithful in Ireland about decades of systematic abuse in church-run schools, orphanages and other institutions in that predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Benedict served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982, says that a working group, established last month after allegations of abuse in a church-run school, would be expanded to include an external, independent legal office.

Associated Press writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin and Eliane Engeler in Geneva contributed to this report.

Also read

Catholic Church, Witchcraft and Child Abuse.

Pope Benedict XVI has recently recalled the dangers faced by the Catholic missionaries  around the world, while giving “a strong call to strive to bring the testimony of the Gospel to all, in particular to those who are not yet acquainted with it”.

A few days earlier, a group of Hindus and Jews were shocked by one of the Pope’s numerous message in which he encouraged his followers to “make disciples of all peoples” and “to lead all people to Christ, the salvation of the world”  – calls that remind one the history of the Crusades.

The Pope may believe in “the goal of the Church’s mission is to illumine all peoples with the light of the Gospel” and may have “a longing and a passion to illumine all peoples with the light of Christ” but there are others who will continue to reject these limited options for their spiritual upliftment and rather opt for different sources of enlightenment that are far more tolerant, receptive, inclusive and time tested.  

His almost political desire “that all nations may become the People of God”  masqueraded as a message that “Christ calls, justifies, sanctifies and sends his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God” has lead to misery of mankind for centuries in the past and is still continuing, as the article below depicts.

 

Churches involved in torture, murder of thousands of African children denounced as witches

 

KATHARINE HOURELD

Associated Press Writer

EKET, Nigeria (AP) — The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall. His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

“It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.

For their part, the families are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed. Poverty, conflict and poor education lay the foundation for accusations, which are then triggered by the death of a relative, the loss of a job or the denunciation of a pastor on the make, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“When communities come under pressure, they look for scapegoats,” he said. “It plays into traditional beliefs that someone is responsible for a negative change … and children are defenseless.”

The idea of witchcraft is hardly new, but it has taken on new life recently partly because of a rapid growth in evangelical Christianity. Campaigners against the practice say around 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire. Nigeria is one of the heartlands of abuse, but hardly the only one: the United Nations Children’s Fund says tens of thousands of children have been targeted throughout Africa.

Church signs sprout around every twist of the road snaking through the jungle between Uyo, the capital of the southern Akwa Ibom state where Nwanaokwo lay, and Eket, home to many more rejected “witch children.” Churches outnumber schools, clinics and banks put together. Many promise to solve parishioner’s material worries as well as spiritual ones — eight out of ten Nigerians struggle by on less than $2 a day.

“Poverty must catch fire,” insists the Born 2 Rule Crusade on one of Uyo’s main streets.

“Where little shots become big shots in a short time,” promises the Winner’s Chapel down the road.

“Pray your way to riches,” advises Embassy of Christ a few blocks away.

It’s hard for churches to carve out a congregation with so much competition. So some pastors establish their credentials by accusing children of witchcraft.

Nwanaokwo said he knew the pastor who accused him only as Pastor King. Mount Zion Lighthouse in Nigeria at first confirmed that a Pastor King worked for them, then denied that they knew any such person.

Bishop A.D. Ayakndue, the head of the church in Nigeria, said pastors were encouraged to pray about witchcraft, but not to abuse children. “We pray over that problem (of witchcraft) very powerfully,” he said. “But we can never hurt a child.”

The Nigerian church is a branch of a Californian church by the same name. But the California church says it lost touch with its Nigerian offshoots several years ago. “I had no idea,” said church elder Carrie King by phone from Tracy, Calif. “I knew people believed in witchcraft over there but we believe in the power of prayer, not physically harming people.”

The Mount Zion Lighthouse — also named by three other families as the accuser of their children — is part of the powerful Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. The Fellowship’s president, Ayo Oritsejafor, said the Fellowship was the fastest-growing religious group in Nigeria, with more than 30 million members. “We have grown so much in the past few years we cannot keep an eye on everybody,” he explained.

But Foxcroft, the head of Stepping Stones, said if the organization was able to collect membership fees, it could also police its members better. He had already written to the organization twice to alert it to the abuse, he said. He suggested the fellowship ask members to sign forms denouncing abuse or hold meetings to educate pastors about the new child rights law in the state of Akwa Ibom, which makes it illegal to denounce children as witches. Similar laws and education were needed in other states, he said.

Sam Itauma of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network said it is the most vulnerable children — the orphaned, sick, disabled or poor — who are most often denounced. In Nwanaokwo’s case, his poor father and dead mother made him an easy target.

“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition,” said Itauma. “They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”

That’s what Margaret Eyekang did when her 8-year-old daughter Abigail was accused by a “prophet” from the Apostolic Church, because the girl liked to sleep outside on hot nights — interpreted as meaning she might be flying off to join a coven. A series of exorcisms cost Eyekang eight months’ wages, or US$270. The payments bankrupted her. Neighbors also attacked her daughter. “They beat her with sticks and asked me why I was bringing them a witch child,” she said. A relative offered Eyekang floor space but Abigail was not welcome and had to sleep in the streets.

Members of two other families said pastors from the Apostolic Church had accused their children of witchcraft, but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Nigeria Apostolic Church refused repeated requests made by phone, e-mail and in person for comment. 

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about the laughing, grubby kids playing hopscotch or reading from a tattered Dick and Jane book by the graffiti-scrawled cinderblock house. But this is where children like Abigail end up after being labeled witches by churches and abandoned or tortured by their families. 
 
There’s a scar above Jane’s shy smile: her mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and repeated exorcisms costing a total of $60 didn’t cure her of witchcraft. Mary, 15, is just beginning to think about boys and how they will look at the scar tissue on her face caused when her mother doused her in caustic soda. Twelve-year-old Rachel dreamed of being a banker but instead was chained up by her pastor, starved and beaten with sticks repeatedly; her uncle paid him $60 for the exorcism. Israel’s cousin tried to bury him alive, Nwaekwa’s father drove a nail through her head, and sweet-tempered Jerry — all knees, elbows and toothy grin — was beaten by his pastor, starved, made to eat cement and then set on fire by his father as his pastor’s wife cheered it on.

The children at the home run by Itauma’s organization have been mutilated as casually as the praying mantises they play with. Home officials asked for the children’s last names not to be used to protect them from retaliation. The home was founded in 2003 with seven children; it now has 120 to 200 at any given time as children are reconciled with their families and new victims arrive.

Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar, where Nwanaokwo used to live. Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man’s eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft.

In an interview with the AP, Ukpabio is accompanied by her lawyer, church officials and personal film crew. “Witchcraft is real,” Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for free and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials. “I don’t know about that,” she declared.

However, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl’s jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.

After activists publicly identified Liberty Gospel as denouncing “child witches,” armed police arrived at Itauma’s home accompanied by a church lawyer. Three children were injured in the fracas. Itauma asked that other churches identified by children not be named to protect their victims. “We cannot afford to make enemies of all the churches around here,” he said. “But we know the vast majority of them are involved in the abuse even if their headquarters aren’t aware.”

Just mentioning the name of a church is enough to frighten a group of bubbly children at the home. “Please stop the pastors who hurt us,” said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. “I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch.”

 

(Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.)