Lessons to Learn From Fake Priest
We must be alarmed at how easy it was for a conman to pose as a priest, even to the point of violating the sacrament of Reconciliation.
As we report this week, a Congolese citizen by the name of Emmanuel Kalenda Bukasa produced forged documents to give him access to the altar and to ministry in a parish in the archdiocese of Durban.
When his fraud was eventually discovered, the fake priest disappeared.
There’s not much blame to go around, other than that which must be directed at Mr Bukasa.
The conman had all the seemingly right papers, presented in what appeared to be the proper manner.
Presumably he possesses the requisite knowledge of the sacerdotal ministry by which to impersonate a priest convincingly. He duped even men as experienced as Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba — at least up to a point; it was the intervention of the latter which revealed Mr Bukasa to be a fraud.
The conman has now moved on, leaving in his trail a traumatised parish and much broken trust. The violence which this man has visited on people who welcomed him cannot be measured in material terms. There is a particular cruelty in his hearing the confession of at least one person.
There is little comfort in knowing that by the act of violating the sacrament of Reconciliation and by impersonating a priest in the liturgy, Mr Bukasa has incurred a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication.
Indeed, instead of letting anger or despair be our reaction, we may take our cue from Fr Georges Bidzogo, one of Mr Bukasa’s victims, who has called on the faithful to pray for the fraudster’s conversion.
Fr Bidzogo also rightly calls for steps to be implemented in the Church to reduce the risk of parishes and dioceses falling victim to dishonest people like Mr Bukasa.
The archdiocese of Durban is by no means the only community to be deceived by a fake priest or religious.
Last year, a woman from Ghana who had presented herself as a religious Sister and raised funds throughout South Africa was uncovered. Along the way, she even manipulated senior Church officials to delay action against her.
Also last year, the Church in Spain uncovered a fake priest who had worked in ministry in that country and Colombia for a total of 18 years.
With his forged documents, that man succeeded where Mr Bukasa failed: to be incardinated and be allowed to run a parish.
Even the Vatican has been duped: In 2008, a fake priest was found to be hearing confessions in St Peter’s basilica.
The awful experience of Mr Bukasa’s fraud must not deter us from giving visiting priests a warm welcome. And it must not cast a shadow over the exemplary character of the many priests from other countries who are selflessly serving our local Church.
At the same time, it is necessary that the Church become more guarded in accepting the legitimacy of visiting priests.
In this age of diverse instant communication methods, it should be possible to ascertain the bona fides of a visiting priest or religious without much delay.
When an unknown priest presents himself in a diocese, his name might be searched on the Internet. If that fails to provide clear information or clarity, his diocese should be phoned.
It should also be possible for the Vatican’s department responsible for clergy, in cooperation with national bishops’ conferences, to set up a database of the world’s 420000 priests. Should then an individual such as Mr Bukasa present himself in Durban as a priest from Tanzania, then his absence from such a database would alert us that something may be amiss.
Cases like the fake priest of 2019 or the fake nun of 2018 are by their nature upsetting. They chip away at the trust the faithful have for their priests and religious. Still, we may be grateful that such cases are so few.
As for Mr Bukasa, wherever he might have disappeared to, may we follow Fr Bidzogo’s advice to pray for his conversion, and for God’s mercy on him.