, 21 February, 2020 / 5:17 AM
In an effort to respond to Pope Francis’ call that all local churches across the globe set working systems to address sexual crimes committed by clerics and religious, the Institute of Canon Law at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) has expanded admissions into its Canon Law training.
The Kenya-based institution of higher learning owned by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) is calling on dioceses and Church institutions within the region and beyond to send more clerics, religious and select lay persons to the training in their quest for “a holy and fulfilled life”.
The university’s initiative is consistent with new norms of ensuring the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, which Pope Francis’ established in his May 2019 Apostolic Letter, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (You are the light of the world).
At the closing of the February 21-24, 2019 Vatican sex abuse summit, Pope Francis outlined some eight points toward an “all-out battle” against the sexual abuse of minors in view of turning “this evil into an opportunity for purification.”
The guidelines the Pontiff outlined include a “change of mentality” that focuses on the protection of children instead of “protecting the institution”; recognizing that the sexual abuse “sins and crimes of consecrated persons” are of “impeccable seriousness”; and a genuine purification that begins with “self-accusation”.
The Holy further also instructed about the need to: underline the virtue of chastity in the formation of the candidates to the priesthood; review guidelines by Bishops’ conferences across the globe and reaffirming the need for “rules”; accompany the victims of abuse with emphasis to listening; ensure that seminarians and clergy are not exposed to pornography; and combat sexual tourism around the globe.
Just over two months later, on May 9, the Holy Father promulgated his Apostolic Letter “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” in which he introduced norms regarding sexual abuse to the effect that Bishops and Religious Superiors are held accountable for their actions. The document has norms, which apply to the Catholic Church across the globe.
The initiative by the Institute of Canon Law at CUEA, according to a communiqué sent to ACI Africa Wednesday, February 19, seeks to foster the Holy Father’s May 2019 directives so that Church personnel have a “correct understanding of the new Apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi and to set working systems to address sexual crimes committed by clerics and religious.”
The Kenya-based institute of higher learning is seeking to train members of the clergy, men and women religious, and lay persons in relevant Canon laws “with utmost urgency to ensure that the matter is fully treated,” the Director of the Institute of Canon Law at CUEA, Fr. Owor John Martin stated in the statement sent to ACI Africa.
“It is of paramount importance to enhance the knowledge of canon law especially in the African continent to respond to the various aspects of preparedness at the level of the Conferences of Bishops, Ecclesiastical provinces, parishes, religious institutions so that orderliness is observed within the ecclesiastical structures, in the life of clerics, religious, the Christian faithful and in all activities,” Fr. Owor states.
He appeals, “It is therefore urgent for Diocesan bishops and religious Superiors to send more clerics, sisters and laity to The Institute of Canon Law of the Catholic University of Eastern African for these studies.”
Admissions for Canon Law studies at CUEA are ongoing and the Academic semester starts in September every year, the Kenyan cleric says.
According to Fr. Owor, to study Canon Law “is very crucial in contemporary times, because the crises the Church faces is not solely limited to progressive spiritual sluggishness but rather from a deep lack of knowledge of Canon Law.”
“Ecclesiastical law is a highly valuable instrument and in fact indispensable for secure pursuit of the salvation of souls,” the Kenyan priest says and adds, “At the end of the day this is what we all strive toward in our earthly pilgrimage. The search for a holy and fulfilled life is elusive and practically impossible without proper guidance through the magisterium of the Church and her laws.”
CUEA’s Institute of Canon Law awards Pontifical degrees for Licentiate in Canon Law and also a Diploma in Matrimonial and Procedural Law.
According to Fr. Owor, these qualifications have been approved by the Apostolic Signature, a tribunal of the Church, to allow dioceses to have skilled personnel in the diocesan Tribunals and curia.
He says having skilled personnel in the diocesan Tribunals and curia is especially important because, “practically all vital organs of the dioceses need at least a trained canonist to guarantee effectiveness by giving good canonical counsel and guidance required by the Church.”
Meanwhile, responding to the Pontiff’s call to ensure the safeguarding of children, AMECEA presented a set of recommendations to the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) last October, urging the religious leaders to organize mandatory sessions for priests on children safety in Zambia.
In a meeting that was held in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, AMECEA recommended that “Bishops be close to their priests as their immediate collaborators, making it easier for priests to confide in them as their fathers; Bishops consider the appointment of the Diocesan Child Protection Officers and Committees as urgent.”
Additionally, it was recommended that Zambia “restructure offices and confessionals in churches and institutions into glassware establishments.”
“Bishops should establish a confidential reporting mechanism that allows for anonymous reporting as well as protection of the whistleblower,” the Lusaka meeting recommended.
Other African countries have followed suit in responding to the Pope’s call for safeguarding children, with Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) organizing a conference to sensitize Christians on the matter.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa