PNG Church gets tough on violence against sorcerers

Papua New Guinea Bishop Henk te Maarssen has warned that Catholics who unjustly accuse, beat, torture or murder people suspected of sorcery will be excluded from the sacraments.

The PNG National reports that the Bishop from Kundiawa diocese has taken the tough stand to combat escalating violence directed at innocent and defenceless people accused of following age-old religious practices.

It is the strongest stand taken by the Catholic church in PNG in recent times, the paper says, on a par with a similar edict against polygamy.

The ban also covers those who destroy property belonging to sorcery suspects, chase them from their homes and even those who approve of those activities.

Bishop te Maarrsen said the ban was lifted only after those involved make peace with the victims, restore their good name and pay some compensation.

Speaking to the National, Bishop te Maarssen highlighted once case where he visited a village where a trial was in progress and found the accused tied to a tree.

"I tried to ease the wires around his arms. As I touched him, one of his accusers hit out and cut the arm of the man. His blood was all over me. He kept bleeding heavily," he told the National.

The Bishop was informed that the injured man would be killed on the spot if anyone tried to move him to hospital.

"Several more people had been saved by the presence and active intervention of church workers," Bishop te Maarssen said, adding that priests were involved in mediation to address the problems in their parishes.

In a second case, a woman accused of practising sorcery was released from a six-month jail term upon his intervention, only to be murdered six months later in another village, where she had fled for safety.

Bishop te Maarssen recalled that the victim was tried by the village court which awarded a pig as compensation but the woman was unable to pay the fine so was jailed.

Because of the severity of the sentence, Bishop te Maarssen intervened and the woman fled to another village for safety, only to be murdered in her new home after she was again accused to using sorcery to kill another person there.

In another case, compensation was paid to a woman accused of sorcery and she left for her own village.

A month later, her daughter was gang raped by the same cousins who had tortured her mother.

Bishop te Maarssen said the church also sheltered sorcery victims; educate people about causes of illness and run meetings and courses on sorcery.

He noted that people did not report sorcery cases and murders to police and when reported, police often did not act upon the reports.

"We are in a position to report objectively and monitor cases to make sure the police pursue the cases.

"We also may have to lean on the magistrates and coroners."

Catholic church warns against sorcery violence (The National, 22/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishop Henk te Maarssen (Oceania Bishops)
Bishop Henk te Maarssen (Catholic-Hierarchy)

Melbourne Catholic official speaks out against lifting of witch ban (CathNews, 3/7/02)

24 Oct 2006