“Grateful to organizers”: Spiritan Priests in Kenya on Gains of Safeguarding Conference

Participants during the two-day conference of Spiritans in Kenya on “Safeguarding and Care of Self” held at St. Austin’s Msongari Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese 14-15 February 2023. Credit: ACI Africa

Members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) who participated in a two-day safeguarding conference in Nairobi, Kenya, have lauded the program, noting that it is eye-opening for them in how they interact with minors and vulnerable groups.

In a Wednesday, February 15 interview with ACI Africa at the conclusion of the conference that brought together some 36 Spiritan Priests ministering in Kenya as well as some Seminarian on Pastoral Experience program, Fr. Simon Lobon said the workshop had given him confidence to handle safeguarding issues “professionally”. 

“I’m really grateful to the organizers of this conference. My greatest take away is now I feel like a professional,” Fr. Lobon, a formator of Spiritan Postulants in Kenya, said.

Fr. Simon Lobon. Credit: ACI Africa

He added, “I realize that issues about safeguarding relate to all of us. It is no longer just about Europe. This is right here with us. But at least, am confident, and if anything happens, I will be able to handle it professionally.”


The Kenyan-born Spiritan Priest said the conference had given insight to his formation apostolate, drawing inspiration from the December 2005 Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), as well as the recent Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.

Credit: ACI Africa

“As Pope Benedict gave us his Encyclical Letter, God is love, it’s now in practice,” Fr. Lobon said underscoring the gains from the safeguarding conference on the need to witness the love of God among the people of God under one’s pastoral care.

Pope Francis has also been very active in witnessing the love of God, the native of Kenya’s Maralal Diocese told ACI Africa, and explained, “When he was in DR Congo, he met with the most vulnerable; he met with the disadvantaged, and this is where we begin” in witnessing the love of God for humanity.

Credit: ACI Africa

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“From where I am right now, I’m very grateful that this has come to us,” he said in reference to the safeguarding conference that Br. Brendan Geary, a member of the Marist Brothers (FMS) from Scotland, and Fr. Barry O'Sullivan, a Diocesan Priest from Manchester, facilitated. 

“We are there to work with the vulnerable, for the marginalized and those who need our help because the Church is known for what we do for the most needy, the neglected and all those who need our help,” Fr. Lobon told ACI Africa February 15.

Fr. Ernest Ekene Ahanotu, a Spiritan Priest ministering in Kenya’s Archdiocese of Nairobi admitted that he had been taking a lot for granted in his Priestly ministry and that the safeguarding conference had equipped him with knowledge of how to handle minors and vulnerable adults.

“To me, this is more of a self-awareness program, much as it is a safeguarding training. It has opened my eyes to some of the things I do, and things I used to take for granted. I have now realized that nothing should be taken for granted because one can land in trouble unknowingly,” Fr. Ernest said. 

Credit: ACI Africa


The native of Nigeria who ministers at St. John the Evangelist Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese added, “We are living in a society whereby the abused person lives with trauma thinking that they have done something wrong. This program has given me the skills to counsel and journey with them, and to let them know that an abused person is not guilty.”

Fr. Ernest said that with the gains from the conference, he had become more skilled in helping victims of abuse to be more vocal about their experiences, and not to suffer silently following abuse.

The 36 Spiritans serving in Kenya who participated in the training workshop were warned that certain actions in their Priestly ministry could also easily be interpreted as abuse.

Fr. Dominic Gathurithu, the Superior of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, said that the training was aimed at helping, especially, those in the houses of formation, “to be able to deal with a situation in which they are accused falsely of abuse.”

Fr. Gathirithu told ACI Africa that false accusations are usually likely to happen when actions of those in religious life are misinterpreted “and they end up being accused of abusing children.”

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Facilitators of the conference that was organized under the theme, “Safeguarding and Care of Self” said that the sessions were aimed at raising awareness on issues related to safeguarding behavior in ministry “and also how Priests need to care for themselves as part of their work.”

Br. Geary and Fr. O’Sullivan who have facilitated safeguarding conferences for the last 25 years highlighted some commonalities in such conferences. 

“One of the things that struck me amongst the priests and the religious is that there is a common fear amongst the priests throughout the world where we have been facilitating workshops. There's a common fear about false allegations, there's a lack of confidence about institutional handling of the crisis of child sexual abuse,” Br. Geary said.

Br. Geary, however, noted that of reported cases of abuse involving Priests and the Religious, only 5 percent emerge as false accusations. The rest, he said, are unfortunately true.

“The number of false allegations is very small. Every one of them is painful. It's a pity that happens, but 95 percent are true. So that's the first thing to reassure Priests that the likelihood (of false allegations) is very, very small,” the Marist Brother said during the February 15 interview.

Br. Geary and Fr. O’Sullivan told ACI Africa that they have already conducted safeguarding workshops in the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Spain.

In Africa, they have been to six countries, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. 

“We are hoping over the next few years to expand that to other parts. We're going to do some work, hopefully, in India and Pakistan,” Br. Geary said.

Highlighting the impact of the safeguarding conference for the Spiritans in Kenya, Fr. O’Sullivan said, “One of the things that I find reassuring and gives me hope for the future is how well this has been received from the men and the women who've been present at the workshops.”

Those who had participated in the workshops before, the Catholic Priest from Manchester said, had been receptive and responsive.

Credit: ACI Africa

In another February 15 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Philip Akansighe acknowledged that Priesthood involves taking a lot of risks.

The Ghanaian-born Spiritan Priest said that with the training from the conference, he had learned about the need to observe boundaries when dealing with minors and vulnerable groups.

“This training has told us that although we are in a world of increasing secularization, we are equipped as Priests to be able to enforce and practice our ministry even with the increase of risks involved in it,” Fr. Akansighe said.

The Parish Priest of Sultan Hamud Parish of Kenya’s Machakos Diocese added, “We have learned that we are vulnerable but we should remain resilient and also know the boundaries of those who are vulnerable to know how to engage them in ministry.”

On his part, Fr. Respicius Kweyamba reiterated his confreres’ observations, saying, “I have learned to be careful in my ministry in how I deal with different groups of the people of God.”

Credit: ACI Africa

The Tanzanian-born Spiritan Priest ministering in Kenya’s Malindi Diocese said that he had participated in another safeguarding workshop in Arusha in his native country, and that from the two workshops, he had gained skills to know his limits in interacting with people and in helping victims of abuse to ensure that justice is served.

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