27 February 2011

Kenya: Sex Abuse Bishop Was Quietly Retired

Nairobi — A Missionary order has pledged to cooperate with the authorities in investigations into a bishop who left Kenya after being accused of sexual abuse.

Responding to questions by the Nation into the circumstances surrounding the retirement and departure of Ngong Catholic Bishop Cornelius Schilder, the General Superior of the St Joseph's Missionary Society Rev Anthony Chantry replied:

"With regard to recent allegations that have been made in the Kenyan Press, our Society will cooperate with any civil enquiry which may be initiated in the best interests of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults."

The Archbishop of Nairobi John Cardinal Njue, who has been directly responsible for administering the Ngong Diocese since Bishop Schilder left, said he did not know the reasons behind the 2009 departure.

The Cardinal said he only knows that the bishop was allowed by the Vatican to retire early on health grounds. He also said he was not the Archbishop of Nairobi at the time.

During the period that claims against Bishop Schilder were investigated, the Catholic church was under Archibishop Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki. Efforts to reach Archbishop Ndingi were not successful as staff at his office said he was ill and could not talk to the press.

Since taking over the Ngong diocese, Cardinal Njue said, no issues about the conduct of the former bishop had been brought to his attention; and therefore he would not comment. The Cardinal asked why the issue was being raised long after it was concluded and Bishop Schilder left the country.

However, there is credible information that a church inquiry initiated locally and then referred to the Vatican had found the allegations against Bishop Schilder, a Dutchman affiliated with the Mill Hill missionaries, as credible. The alleged offences were committed when he served as a priest in Ngong diocese before taking over as Bishop in November 2003.

The Ngong diocese comprises Kajiado, Transmara and Narok districts with 29 parishes with an estimated 101,870 Catholics out of a population of 960,303. That Bishop Schilder faced such accusations was confirmed by Fr Alphons Eppink, who was the Superior of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Kenya between 2005 and 2008 during the period of investigations.

Reached in Oosterbeek, Netherlands, where he is now based, Fr Alphons confirmed that there were investigations against Bishop Schilder.

However he said the matter was finalised at the Vatican and therefore he was not in a position to give any information. "I was in Kenya during the investigations but I don't want to comment, really," he concluded, "I am afraid I cannot comment because the case was handled by Rome".

Fr Alphons however confirmed that Bishop Schilder was no longer allowed to publicly celebrate Mass, an indication that he left the pulpit in disgrace rather than by ordinary retirement.

Approached by the Nation, Javier Herrera Corona, Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature-- the Vatican representative office--in Nairobi, denied any knowledge that Bishop Schilder was edged out because of unacceptable activities. However, he insisted that the activities of one individual should not be used to besmirch the church.

"We have to distinguish the public life of a person and the private side. What a person does in private should be left to him to answer and not drag a whole community to answer on his behalf," said Fr Javier.

Fr Javier would neither confirm nor deny that Bishop Schilder faced such accusations, but asked that the matter be left alone. "It is not the right time to bring this matter to the public," he said. The Vatican envoy however defended the Nunciature from any blame, explaining that there is little it can do where a member of the clergy is accused of sexual abuse.

The Vatican representative said that church rules require that a priest found engaging in sex abuse should face secular law. However, this did not happen in the case of Bishop Schilder. It was never reported to the police according to Ngong DC Hiram Kahiro.

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