CHURCHES should establish well-defined reporting structures that deal with abuse of congregants by their leaders, Methodist Church in Zimbabwe gender justice officer Mrs Lilian Chikara has said.
She said this at a convention organised by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches last week.
Mrs Chikara noted: “We are worried by the rate at which church leaders are appearing in courts facing rape charges and other forms of abuse. The clergy has dominated newspaper headlines for the wrong reasons.
“The very people who should be guiding the congregants are turning against them. Issues to do with abuse in the church must be looked into as a matter of urgency.”
Mrs Chikara said some church leaders abused their positions in churches and society, hence the need for establishment of clear reporting structures.
“The modern-day church has lost value recently and this is because church leaders are abusing their positions, taking advantage of the congregants who come to them in time of need.
“As churches, we should therefore establish clear reporting structures so that the congregants know the boundary between the church and the law,” she said.
According to Mrs Chikara, many cases involving abuse in churches went unreported.
“Very few victims will gather the courage to report sexual abuse and other forms of abuse. Out of fear, some victims end up reporting late or will elect to remain mum.
“We are saying each church should, henceforth, establish a clear reporting channel or victim friendly department so that congregants know who they should report to when they have been abused and then the department should assist the victim by taking them to the law enforcement officers.”
Mrs Chikara said victims of abuse were often blackmailed or threatened by their abusers, and errant church leaders must be brought to book.
“It must be made clear to the congregants that church leaders are answerable to the law like anyone else. Congregants should not be blackmailed, they should make use of the set reporting channels and if the leaders are the perpetrators, the law should deal with them.
“We are tired of leaders who claim to work for the kingdom but are dragging the name of the church into the mud. The church should be a safe place for the society and not a place that harbors rapists.”
Bishop Reverend Regina Katsande of the Christian Marching Church said while Government had fully embraced the progressive role of churches in national development, some church leaders had been found wanting.
“The Government has always acknowledged the right to freedom of worship as enshrined in the constitution and as we can see there continues to be an increase in the number of churches of various religious groupings and denominations.
“It is sad how most of these churches have deviated from the Great Commission as the Bible instructed by becoming rapists and other abusers,” she said.
Rev Katsande said courts should review rape sentences and church leaders caught on the wrong side of the law must be severely punished.
“In light of the position that has always been given to church leaders both by the society and the government, the courts should give a heavier sentence to church leaders who stray.
“The sentences should serve as an example to others out there and only when the tide changes will the church take its rightful position and become the mouthpiece of God’s will once again.”
She added: “We have a lot of young girls and boys who are abused and the culprits are still taking active roles in churches. This should be brought to an end.”
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