MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is being accused of bungling an investigation and threatening a reporter after exonerating a Slovenian priest accused of raping at least 50 altar boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Father Jože Šöemen, currently parish priest of the Church of the Nativity in the archdiocese of Maribor, Slovenia, is reported to have preyed on his victims from 1992 to 2001, while serving as pastor in St. Emile's Church, Mooto, Mbandaka–Bikoro archdiocese.
According to email correspondence, police reports, as well as testimony from the father of one of the victims obtained by Church Militant, several victims died after Šöemen allegedly abused them.
Šöemen, who was working with the Congregation of the Mission, was allowed to flee the DRC because the then-superior, Fr. Dominique Iyolo, "used his influence as a close friend of the former president of our country," according to a letter from the victims.
Church Militant obtained the names of 19 of the victims from a letter to Coping International (an organization for marginalized children fathered by Catholic priests and religious). France24 confirmed on Monday that it had spoken to a number of the victims.
"He would call me in. He would hold my hand, open the fly of his trousers and take out his penis. He would start touching himself, masturbating, and when he was about to ejaculate, he would tell me to hold out my hands," Mpia Bobola, an altar boy abused when he was 14, told France24.
Bobola's name is not on the list obtained by Church Militant. Another victim, whose name is also not on the list and who requested anonymity, sent this apostolate a copy of his complaint to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now renamed as a dicastery).
The victim told he CDF he was sodomized by Fr. Šöemen, who gave him "money and gifts with false promises" and "promised me to study [sic] at the University of Liege in Belgium to join my father." The complaint was also sent to Abp. José Rodríguez Carballo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
"Consequently, I had health problems because of this forced sodomy orchestrated by this 'man of God,'" the former altar boy wrote. "I confronted him in 2001 in Mooto to force him to compensate me. Unfortunately, the former vice provincial of the Lazarists of Bikoro (2001–2009) had me arrested. He saw fit to smuggle him back to Slovenia without doing me justice."
Vincent Doyle, founder of Coping International, told Church Militant that he reported these "criminal allegations, as I am legally obliged to under Irish law," to Carballo's office, but "the Church's response was to immediately become offensive."
"Both the Congregation for Consecrated Life and the diocese of Maribor threatened me in my capacity as a mandated reporter," Doyle said. "Such threats and deceptive declarations of innocence combine to expose a clericalist beating heart."
Doyle, who revealed how the Vatican failed to interview most of the victims, elaborated:
The Catholic Church should not — ethically speaking — keep uttering the words "zero tolerance" in relation to the protection of minors and vulnerable adults when out of the other side of Her mouth, She threatens mandated reporters and falsely proclaims the innocence of alleged predators, innocence founded on incomplete canonical investigations.
In a police complaint, Mboyo Yoka Claudine reported that Šöemen, "who was homosexual," used her older brother Bokuta Yoka Jose "as his wife." According to Claudine's testimony, Jose "died as a result of this kind of practice" but "denounced it before he died."
The complaint also contains testimony from Mpia Mpia Guy, who describes how "the White priest," Jože Šöemen, "started to take me as his wife by practicing homosexuality with me."
"Before that, he had won my mind by the way he framed me. ... We didn't understand this disaster until some of our friends started to die. That was the moment when we denounced him. But no action was taken because of his social status," Guy added.
A police report to the High Court of Mbandaka confirmed that Šöemen was "responsible for the facts attributed to him" and "destroyed the life of many young people in Mooto by the practice of this kind."
"Our further investigations prove even the case of loss of human life caused by this arsenal [sic] and even further from the lives of some victims stolen victims today," the report noted, stating that "we retain the charge of homosexuality against the aforementioned priest."
France24 cited a police report that stated the allegations against the priest "are founded insofar as he has special relationships with these young people outside the community" and "his contacts with them, either by mail or by phone, show how closely he is linked to these young people, whom he uses as prostitutes."
Mbandaka Bikoro diocese said that it carried out an investigation "under the supervision of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith" but "at the conclusion of the investigation, and after reviewing all the evidence, it has been considered that there are no elements that imply the guilt of the accused."
The Congregation of the Mission told France24 that Fr. Šöemen was never a member of the order and denied knowing anything about him.
In 2021, Maribor archdiocese turned the accusations against Šöemen to the police and the prosecutor's office, who dismissed the complaint because the statute of limitations had expired.
Father Janez Cerar, priest and coordinator of Dovolj.je, an organization aiding victims of clerical sex abuse, reviewed the documentation, correspondence and testimonies of the Congolese altar boys and found the allegations to be credible.
Cerar is considered the first Slovenian priest to publicly reveal that he was once a victim of sex abuse.
Šöemen is currently serving under the Jesuit Alojzij Cvikl, appointed by Pope Francis as metropolitan archbishop of Maribor in 2015.
Church Militant contacted Fr. Šöemen, Abp. Alojzij Cvikl and the CDF for comment, but received no response as of press time.