MOSHI, Tanzania (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Tanzanian priest caught sodomizing children preparing for their First Holy Communion and confirmation appeared before two different courts Monday.
Police arrested Fr. Sostenes Bahati Soka last Tuesday after parents complained that the priest serving the parish of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in the diocese of Moshi had raped and sexually assaulted at least 10 boys.
The victims, whose identities are being protected, are pupils in Standard Six (age 12) and Form One (age 13) who were attending the priest's catechism classes in preparation for First Holy Communion and confirmation.
The 41-year-old clergyman reportedly gave the children between 3,000 ($1.28) and 5,000 ($2.14) Tanzanian shillings after sexually assaulting them.
Parents complained to the police and Church authorities in Moshi after they discovered the sexual abuse, Tanzanian media reported. Kilimanjaro regional commissioner Nurdin Babu confirmed the series of sodomite assaults, calling them "disgraceful."
Police only stepped in to arrest the predator priest after parents of the victims and Catholics in the diocese, alarmed by the scale of the abuse, threatened to organize a protest march to the office of Tanzania's prime minister, Kassim Majaliwa.
Locals said parents planned the demonstration "because the authorities had developed cold feet to arrest the 'man of God,' who had become a community threat."
Kilimanjaro regional police commander Simon Maigwa earlier refused to confirm or deny the arrest of the priest "because these are allegations that are being levied against a church leader." Police were nevertheless investigating the allegations, Maigwa said.
Father Soka was charged on Monday with three crimes of sodomite rape in both the Moshi Resident Magistrate's Court and the Moshi District Court. The priest allegedly raped a child as recently as August. Government prosecutors Kambarage Samson and Veridiana Mlenza said they had completed the investigation against the priest.
Church Militant contacted the bishop of Moshi, Ludovick Joseph Minde, but did not receive a response as of press time. The diocese of Moshi is located in northeastern Tanzania and covers the arable land of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.
Church Militant reported Monday about Slovenian priest Fr. Jože Šöemen, who is accused of raping at least 50 altar boys in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while serving as a pastor in St. Emile's Church, Mooto, Mbandaka–Bikoro archdiocese, 1992–2001.
According to email correspondence, police reports and testimony Church Militant obtained from a victim's father, 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 his 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.
Several African bishops who have not implemented practices to protect minors and vulnerable adults continue to maintain that clerical sex abuse is primarily a Western problem.
During the 2019 Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse, Ghanaian archbishop Philip Naameh insisted the problem was "very, very, very minimal" in Africa.
"Issues such as child abuse as it happens in Europe or America are not really that much of an issue [here]," Naameh, the archbishop of Tamale, told Crux, "because children are generally looked at as a great gift from God."
Even though African prelates comprised the majority of bishops at the Vatican conference, there will be no specific "African contribution" to the summit, he added.
However, a 2021 peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Religion and Health noted that local media reports continued to show "worrying trends" of clergy-perpetrated sex abuse.
Kenyan priest Fr. Joachim Omolo Ouko of the Kisumu archdiocese agreed that clergy members had committed sexual abuses in Africa, but few were reported because "the cover-up is very strong."
In 2013, Ugandan priest Anthony Musaala, himself a victim of clerical rape, was suspended by Kampala archbishop Cyprian Lwanga for pointing out how sex abuse in the Catholic Church is a problem in Africa as well as in Western Europe and North America.
"Wherever you go, people know about this," Fr. Mussala said. "It's like an open secret. People know. Nothing is ever done. The Vatican turns a blind eye because it doesn't want to be embarrassed about this blooming church. But I think it's time we had the truth."