Nuncio Urges Faith Communities in Southern Africa to Take Lead in Tackling Gender Violence

Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, Apostolic Nuncio to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The representative of the Holy Father in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa has urged faith communities in the Southern African region to be on “the forefront of tackling gender violence”.

In an interview with ACI Africa about his diplomatic mission in Southern Africa, Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells highlighted the youth and the challenges they face in the region, such as gender violence, unemployment, and mental health issues.

In the Monday, October 3 interview Archbishop Wells urged “faith communities, first and foremost among all other communities” to be “on the cutting edge and on the forefront of tackling gender violence.”

“We are all aware that the gender abuse issue has become a front-page issue in this part of the world in recent years. It is a pandemic in itself, and it's certainly one that we see in this area. I think there's a major problem in the area. Am glad that the conversation is moving forward and we're talking a lot more about it in everyday life here in Southern Africa, however, I don't see a lot of solutions, and I do worry about that”, he said.

The South Africa-based Apostolic Nuncio said that unemployment is a contributing factor of gender abuse as people stay in abusive relationships out of dependency. 


He said, “It is a complicated issue, especially when you have people who don't feel empowered, especially because they have no job, they have no future. They tend to become dependent on what are very toxic relationships, toxic situations. They don't know how to get out of it because their self-esteem is so low.”

The American-born Vatican diplomat lauded efforts by the Catholic Church in tackling “abuse of minors and adults” as well as gender violence in the region, saying, “I think we've put in very good programs to address this when it happens; however, we need to do a little better … We need to put a lot more emphasis on safety and prevention, safeguarding. There's a lot more that we need to do.”

“I see in some areas that have great safeguarding policies in place, they are usually places that have a lot more resources at their disposal such as money or trained personnel,” he said.

The 59-year-old representative of the Holy Father in the five Southern African countries encouraged the Catholic Church in the region to seek funds from the international community to help poor communities in addressing issues related to abuse.

“One of the problems we have is that rural areas in particular, or very small Dioceses that are very poor do not have those resources; they don't have trained personnel, nor do they have the money to send people off to study and get the type of formation they need to set up really effective safeguarding practices in place”, said Archbishop Wells.

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He added, “This is where I think the Universal Church can be of great assistance, and we've already seen some of this. There are lots of places like Misereor, a number of these programs throughout the international community that are related with the Church, which offer funding, and they're now focusing a lot of funding on helping people get formed, on prevention of abuse, safeguarding policies, et cetera.”

He further said, “It needs to be developed much more, but if we can do that and get those things in place, we could then in turn offer to assist the civil community around us and also putting those things in place, and I think that can be a real contribution to civil society in the future in this area.”

In the October 3 interview, Archbishop Wells also spoke about the impact of mental health on young people and urged community members in the Southern African region to “get rid of the stigma that having a problem with your mental health somehow makes you less than others.”

“The mental health question is not just here, it's everywhere. I mean, look at what's going on in the Western world right now, we have a mental health crisis across the board as far as I'm concerned,” Archbishop Wells said.

He continued, “We even have a mental health crisis within the Church. Part of what we, I think, see with the struggles of many Priests and Religious today are mental health concerns, mental health problems.”


“I think the first and foremost thing that we must do is we must get rid of the stigma. There is still such a stigma that people are afraid to talk about it. They're afraid to go and seek help because they don’t want people to think they're crazy, that’s the problem,” the Apostolic Nuncio further said. 

He added, “As a church, we should be on the forefront of telling people mental health is a very important component of who we are. It's no different than getting a sore throat treated. We need to get the stigma taken away.”

Archbishop Wells who started serving as Apostolic Nuncio in the five Southern African nation in 2016 also underlined the need to make sure that there is access to mental health care, “not only at the level of our Church institutions, but also civilly.”

“If you have a mental health problem and have to go see a professional it can cost you thousands and thousands of Rand an hour just to talk to somebody. There's something wrong with this. We need to make that accessible because people need professionals that they can go to and not have to worry about breaking the bank because they need to talk to somebody about some of the challenges that they are having”, he said.

“The other thing is, as we know, until we address these issues, we're going to continue to have problems with alcohol, drug abuse, immoral sexual behavior because people are medicating themselves and we are stimulating that self-medication but not offering viable options for them to address these issues,” the Apostolic Nuncio lamented.

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Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.