Togo’s bishops begin implementing protocols on sex abuse

La Croix International [France]

July 14, 2023

By Charles Ayetan (in Lomé) | Togo

The Catholic bishops’ conference in the West African nation of Togo affirms its commitment to combat all forms of Church-related sexual aggression

The Catholic bishops of Togo, whose national episcopal conference recently submitted protocols for dealing with sex abuse to the Vatican, are beginning to make a more concerted effort to fight the scourge that has plunged the Church into crisis in many parts of the world.

There is an “urgent need to combat sexual abuse in the Church”, said Archbishop Nicodème Barrigah-Bénissan of Lomé on July 7 as he formally closed the 2022-2023 pastoral year before the summer break. His chancellor, Father Séverin Gakpe, confirmed that “all priests in the archdiocese of Lomé have already signed the code of conduct for protection against abuse”, a process that is underway at the level of religious institutes.

As the abuse crisis continues to manifest itself, the Vatican has reaffirmed zero tolerance against such sexual violence and has demanded that all local Churches take the appropriate steps to denounce and punish these assaults on children or vulnerable adults.

A protocol for protection against abuse

The Episcopal Conference of Togo sent the Holy See its national protocols for the protection of minors last February. And during the conference’s June 13-16 plenary assembly in the capital Lomé 9, 2023 the papal nuncio, Archbishop Mark Miles, congratulated and thanked the bishops for their efforts to deal more systematically with Church-related abuse.

The new protocols are the fruit of the work of the Episcopal Service for the Protection of Children in Togo. This body is responsible for coordinating all issues relating to the protection of minors, handling complaints, raising awareness and training pastoral agents. It also is responsible for evaluating the implementation of the protocols.

Father Pierre Marie Chanel Affognon, national director for Catholic education in Togo, was involved in drawing up the protocols. He said they “provide for a code of good conduct that each pastoral agent is obliged to sign as a commitment to be observed”. That includes bishops, priests, consecrated persons, leaders of institutions, associations, movements in charge of children or those working with children.

There is also a commitment by those in charge of legal affairs, and a self-assessment grid to be completed periodically.

“These protocols for the protection of minors are a major step forward in the pastoral care of children,” said Bruno Haden, general secretary of Christian Actions for the Abolition of Torture (Acat-Togo),

Cases of sexual violence in Togo

Several months before the bishops’ conference drafted its norms, Catholic schools in Togo had already published Protocols for the Protection of Children against Sexual Abuse.

“These protocols are already being applied in Catholic schools since the start of the 2022-2023 academic year,” confirmed a teacher.

Crépin Assignon, a catechist at one of the parishes in Lomé, received training on the system of protection against sexual abuse in 2022.

“Awareness-raising and training on abuse continue in parishes,” he said.

“Abuse issues are a reality within the education system in Togo, including in Catholic education, in its multiple forms,” said Affognon, the national director of Catholic education.

The priest said he first became aware of abuse cases in schools about ten years ago when he was diocesan director of education.

“At that time, at least three cases were brought forward and the perpetrators sentenced to prison terms,” he recalled. He said “cases of abuse committed by teachers have been brought forward” in several dioceses in Togo in recent years.

He point out that, although it is rare, “it can be a case of false accusations of sexual abuse with the intention of causing harm”, as happened recently at a secondary school.