Parishioners protest against priest

Joan Scholtz and Alice Bugan allege that their parish priest pushed them.

About 20 parishioners and former parishioners protested outside St Timothy’s Catholic Church in Tafelsig on Sunday, calling for the removal of the parish priest.

The protest follows the laying of common assault charges by a 61-year-old parishioner, who does not want to be named, against Father Kizito Gugah, 48, and further allegations by two more women that he pushed them.

According to Mitchell’s Plain police, a common assault case was opened in connection with an incident involving a priest and a woman, 61, that occurred last year on Sunday December 2, at St Timothy’s Catholic Church. The priest’s last court appearance was on Thursday August 8, this year and the case has been withdrawn.

Mitchell’s Plain police spokesperson, Sergeant Jerome Voegt, said the priest was ordered to do community service after the court called for diversion instead of a conviction for a charge of common assault.

He was sentenced to do community service on Monday September 2 this year at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court.

The charge of common assault was withdrawn against him after he made admissions in order to be rehabilitated, said Sergeant Voegt.

Another parishioner Joan Scholtz, 64, from Tafelsig claimed on Friday March 23, 2018, Mr Gugah took her by the shoulder, told her to leave and pushed her out the door after a meeting was called on appointing an usher, as she resigned as an usher after 11 years. She did not lay a charge against the priest but she emailed the Justice of Peace, a department within the church, stating her story. Fellow parishioner, Alice Bugan, 63, from Eastridge, also alleges she was pushed by the priest, but did not lay a charge against him.

“It’s almost impossible explaining the fear and humiliation I felt. For a priest who has made a commitment to serve and be a spiritual leader, I can’t understand how he could do this,” said Ms Scholtz.

Ms Bugan said Mr Gugah called a meeting with her and wanted to see her about the Saint Vincent Paul (SVP) group in church that sees to the needs of the poor.

“As I left, he walked behind me and gestured for me to leave and then pushed me in the direction of the burglar bar gate. If I didn’t use my hands to stop myself from falling, my face would have been shoved into the gate,” she said.

Sulyman Stellenboom, chairperson and founder of Mitchell’s Village Civic Association in Tafelsig, said the parishioners and former parishioners had approached the organisation for assistance. He said he is against woman and child abuse.

Fadiel Adams from Gatvol Capetonian supported the protest and called on the community to do the same.

“We are here for the truth. The community needs to know what’s going on. If the church is silent about this then the church is okay with abuse against women. You strike a woman, you strike a whole nation,” he said.

Archbishop Stephen Brislin, the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town, said he is aware of criminal charges having been laid against Mr Gugah.

“The criminal proceedings against Mr Gugah were diverted which, to the best of my understanding, does not involve a conviction of guilt on the charges brought against him.”

Once a criminal legal process has begun, the church does not conduct its own investigation and will only do so once the criminal proceedings are concluded, said Archbishop Brislin.

Following the finalisation of the criminal proceedings against Mr Gugah on Monday September 2, he was granted compassionate home leave since his mother was ill. On his return, a church investigation was initiated on Tuesday October 8 and is proceeding at the moment, the archbishop said.

“I am not aware of any other criminal charges being brought against this particular priest by other women. It is imperative that if any woman has been assaulted by a priest that the matter be referred to the police and charges laid,” he said.

“The church is deeply concerned about all forms of violence, especially violence against the vulnerable. No form of gender violence is acceptable and, should any priest be found guilty of such violence, appropriate action will be taken against him,” said Archbishop Brislin.

Mr Stellenboom said on Sunday November 3, parishioners will have another protest at the church.