Written by 17:05 World

Angry Catholics Wanted to Burn the Church. He Came to Save It.

The Rev. Gérard Tsatselam boarded the ferryboat and settled in his usual place, on a reclining seat, at the back of a cold, unlit room that would have been packed in summer. Uneasy, he sat shrouded in his large, black coat as high winter winds delayed the boat’s arrival in the village where he was trying to save the church.

Except for a quick stopover for a funeral, he had not visited his parish — in Unamen Shipu, an Indigenous reserve on the frigid, isolated coast of northeastern Quebec — in months. Mold had invaded the presbytery and left him scrambling for lodging on each visit.

Another reason behind his unease was the enduring fallout from the accusations of sexual and other abuse by a predecessor, a Belgian priest. Though the transgressions dated back decades, during what Father Gérard called the Roman Catholic Church’s “colonial” era, dealing with the parishioners’ anger and distrust had fallen to him — a priest and missionary from the Central African nation of Cameroon.

Father Gérard had been Unamen Shipu’s priest for four years, and his predecessor long dead, when the accusations were leveled in 2017.

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Last modified: 15 June 2024
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