Nigerian bishops: Catholic schools should form and protect all children

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Bishops and lawmakers in Nigeria gathered Oct. 15-18 to discuss the educational needs of children in the country in light of revelations of sexual abuse around the world.

More than 600 attendees were at the four-day summit on Catholic education, which took place at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria Resource Centre in the capital city of Abuja. Bishops from around the country attended as well as government officials involved in education.

Bishop Peter Kayode Odetoyinbo of the diocese of Abeokuta delivered the opening address of the conference. The bishop reiterated the Church's commitment to the provision of quality education for the holistic formation of Nigerian children, irrespective of their ethnic, religious or social status backgrounds. He encouraged the conference attendees to offer ideas for ways to keep Nigerian children safe.

"Catholic education should and must always protect the right and sexuality of the child," Bishop Odetoyinbo said.

"The summit therefore is apt at this period of time when children are most hit by deprivation, abuses and ignorance...At the backdrop of the very recent spate of abuses especially sexual atrocities against minors, it is salient to have a discourse that would evoke the consciousness of all stakeholders in the Church's commitments to the values and rights of the human person and teachings on human sexuality."

Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, celebrated the opening Mass for the conference and said during his homily that Catholic schools should be places of holistic formation of the human person, calling for teachers to be "sound in the faith," and decrying the proliferation of internet pornography.

"When you listen to some of the testimonies of the victims or survivors of sexual abuse, one is greatly moved to tears. The trusts of the people were betrayed." Archbishop Akubeze said in his homily.

"There is no doubt that this crisis is creating credibility problem for the Church."

Despite this, he encouraged Catholics to remember that there are many priests in Nigeria who are faithfully living out their vow of celibacy.

He also called on the government to support private schools in the country. The religious makeup of the country is almost equal between Muslims and Christians, at about 49% of the total population each, according to Pew Research Center.

Nigeria is preparing for a general election set for February 2019. The country's Catholic bishops have repeatedly called for free and fair elections, urging citizen to reject illegal voting practices, namely buying and selling votes.

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