Today, June 3, the Church commemorates Charles Lwanga and his 26 companions, martyrs in Uganda during the late 19th century. Lwanga, a catechist, was burned to death for protecting the king’s male pages from giving in to his sexual demands. Every year, I wait for church leaders to use this occasion to issue a strong statement on the clergy sex abuse crisis.
In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did note the feast day in its statement opposing homosexual unions. Apparently from their perspective, it was the homosexuality that was the more serious problem, not the Ugandan leader’s abuse of his power for his own gratification.
If the Vatican and the USCCB have yet to make the connection between the Ugandan martyrs and the clergy sex abuse crisis, a few individuals have done so.
Fr. Roger Landry, of the Fall River Diocese in Massachusetts, has an extensive biography of these martyrs in his column for The Anchor from June 5, 2009. He writes:
Since the time I re-read their story of their martyrdom in 2002, I have prayed to them as intercessors to help all Catholics in our country — bishops, priests and lay people — imitate their courage, fidelity to Christ, and total refusal to allow sexual sins to be perpetrated against the young.
At the Restorative Justice Initiative conference at Marquette University in April 2011, Capuchin John Celichowski also proposed the Ugandan martyrs as patrons of the church’s need to right the wrong that has been done:
The church, for example, might consider adopting a patron saint for victims and survivors of sexual abuse. St. Charles Lwanga and companions, the 19th century Ugandan martyrs, were young men and boys who were killed by their king in large part because they resisted his abuse, claiming that their Christian faith would not allow them to consent to it.
The Ugandan martyrs were relatively new to the Christian faith, on fire with their love for God and the gospel message. What must they think of a church in which long-established leaders chose (and continue to choose) protection of reputations and assets over protection of innocent victims?
Fr. Landry writes: “All of these martyrs could have easily chosen another path. They were among the few chosen ones in the king’s service. Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga could have simply looked the other way when King Mwanga was going after the pages, become even more powerful in the kingdom, and saved their lives.” What must those martyrs think of a cardinal who did in fact look the other way and ended up being promoted?
Charles Lwanga, pray for those who stand with the victims of clergy sex abuse. Pray for those who work every day to ensure that children today and tomorrow will be protected from such abuse. And pray as well for those who fail to do so.