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Cameroon: Archbishop, Roman Catholic Church Come Under Fire for Abandoning Priest to Die in Jail

By April 1, 2023No Comments
Archbishop Joseph Atanga

A Catholic Priest in Cameroon’s East region has blasted the Catholic Church as well as the Archbishop of Bertoua, Mgr. Joseph Atanga for abandoning a Priest to die in prison custody “on the basis of a rumor.”

Father Emilien Messina died March 15, according to a release by the Archbishop of Bertoua, Mgr. Joseph Atanga.

The Archbishop’s communique says the priest died “as a result of illness at the regional hospital in Bertoua”.

“The Archbishop expresses his condolences to his family” and invites “the people of God (…) to prayer,” the release reads.

The 48-year-old Parish Priest of the Holy Spirit parish in the Chateau-Npoklota-Bertoua neighborhood in eastern Cameroon, Fr. Emilien Messina was placed under preventive detention in the central prison of Bertoua in May 2022.

He was accused of rape of a minor, corruption of youth and of passing on to the teenager an infectious disease.

The teenager was just 14 years when the man in cassock allegedly started a sexual relationship with her, which by Cameroon’s law amounts to rape if the girl had not reached 18 years.

The girl’s parents had filed a complaint against the Reverend, accusing him not only of raping their daughter, but also of infecting her with HIV/AIDS.

Following those accusations, the Archbishop of Bertoua summoned the Priest for an explanation. The reverend denied the accusations and claimed that he had been “taking care” of the girl whom he described as “psychologically unstable.”

Still, Archbishop Joseph Atanga took action. On May 18, 2022, the Archbishop and the chancellor of the Diocese, Jean Crépin Menguina Nama co-signed a decree forbidding Fr. Emilien Messina from exercising his priestly ministry.

The Archbishop explained that the decision to suspend the priest from all eucharistic celebrations was taken “after having examined the facts currently in our possession” concerning the accusations of rape, abuse of a minor and the transmission of HIV AIDS.

But the accusation doesn’t go down well with Reverend Father Armel Bisi, a lecturer of philosophy at the Catholic University of Bertoua. He has in an opinion piece shared with Timescape Magazine, accused the Church and the Archbishop of abandoning the priest in his moment of grief.

“Father Emilien Messina died while being deprived of his freedom. He was never judged in Cameroon’s Courts. He was presumed innocent that the Church, unfortunately condemned,” he writes.

“Even before the issues he was accused of were being examined by the competent legal institutions, Fr. Messina was let down by the same Church to which he had given his life,” Fr. Bisi writes.

He said such behavior from the Church casts the priest as someone “whose body can be so cruelly bitten by the world,” while the Church maintains a chilling silence, perhaps indifference.

“That is what happened in Bertoua. When all is well, the priest forms part of the family [of God, the Church]. In times of grief, it is only the family of the priest that comes to his rescue, in effect, Fr. Messina in his moment of grief, had only his poor brothers and sisters coming to his rescue. He never died in the hands of this Church to whom he pledged loyalty. The priest has become he upon whom the darkest intrigues of the world thrive, with no one doubting whatever rumors are directed against him.”

He qualified Fr. Messina as “a good priest of this Church” who had gained the confidence of his bishop. Yet, both the bishop and the Church let him down.

“…on the basis of rumors without any proof, Fr. Messina was treated as a criminal. Does the priest merit such cruelty? What do his brother [priests] do when all goes bad? Why does his Bishop show so much indifference whereas the Priest had always had his ear?”

“Are we so badly treated because we are black priests? Pedophile [priests] from other countries are protected and sent back to their home countries, as was once the case in Messina’s Diocese,” he said-a veiled dig at Archbishop Joseph Atanga who admitted to having exfiltrated to France some priests accused of Pedophilia.

On March 21, 2017, French TV channel, France 2 broadcast an investigation entitled “Pedophilia in the Church: the power of silence.”

Archbishop Joseph Atanga who featured in the investigation was at pains explaining a June 2, 2015, letter in which he admitted to covering up for [foreign] priests accused of sexual assault on teenagers.

The Prelate affirmed in the said letter that he had “thrown all his weight behind the issue” to prevent “the accused brothers from being brought before the courts, for fear of tarnishing the image of the Church. The priests under suspicion had, therefore, been exfiltrated to France…”

When challenged to explain whether he was covering up for priests who had violated their vows of perpetual chastity, the Archbishop simply told the investigative journalist: “That letter should not be there [in your hands]”.

Father Bisi suggests that such double standards perpetuated by Church hierarchy smacks of racism, albeit carried out by blacks against blacks.

“Because we have black skins, even before our superiors who are also black, we have been reduced to garbage: dung in which one doesn’t soak his hand,” he complained.

“We aren’t a true Church. We left a priest to die. We sold him off to his slanderers. We threw him out to a world that thirsts for the blood of priests whom the Church doesn’t even protect. In the name of my faith in Christ and my priestly conviction, I condemn the death of Fr. Messina and ask that light should be shone on the issue on which he was reduced to simple garbage to the point of not even benefiting from the support of his Church,” Bisi writes.

It’s highly unlikely that with the death of Fr. Emilien Messina, the case will be prosecuted any further.

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