Karnley told Front Page Africa, “I challenge Father Sawyer in the name of God to take me to any court and prove it, not only him but any man living or dead.”
News reports cited a leaked email to Sawyer from Bishop Borwah, dated Dec. 4, 2018, that appears to show Borwah asking Sawyer to “please keep things away from the media, public and the court.”
The bishop, who was ordained a priest of the Monrovia archdiocese in 1996, appeared to want the priest’s side heard.
“You have the right to be listened to and protected by the Church,” said the bishop, who pledged his help to bring the process to a successful conclusion “as much as I can with God’s help.”
Sawyer has supporters and detractors.
One lay Catholic, Aaron Weah, told Front Page Africa he supported “a strong and impartial investigation.”
“I believe that if they are verified to be lies it will help the Church. If these acts are actually happening in the Church and they can be verified and authenticated it will also help our faith,” Weah said.
Others were critical of the accuser.
“I think it is misinformation,” Solo Otto Gaye, a journalist and a Catholic who volunteers with the Cape Palmas diocese, said of Sawyer’s claims. “This is hard to believe because (the) bishop is an African man from the village. I run his social media page. I have gone from village to village with him. We even sleep together. If he is gay I would know.”
Some reactions came from the pulpit.
“What you are hearing is because an individual is hurt and decided to smear the image of the church,” Sacred Heart Cathedral’s administrator, Father Alphonsus Momoh, said to a Sunday congregation in Monrovia. “One day the truth will be told by the one who told the lie. Some believe it, some don’t and some are standing firm.”
He attributed the controversy to greed and a desire for money, saying, “Nobody wants to go through the proper channel. You will go and tarnish the name of the institution you belong to. There is no trust. We find in our midst- pulling down each other.”
A division of the Catholic fraternity Knights of St. John International, based at the same cathedral, expelled a member who spoke to the press about the matter and criticized the Church.
Sawyer said harassment continued after his ordination, though indirectly. He charged that Karnley and his allies conspired to oust him from his parish assignment, leaving him destitute and forced to beg for money at times.
His letter objected that the bishop’s office provided him insufficient funds to secure a visa to the U.K. for studies, and provided insufficient funds to support him while studying in the U.K., which similarly forced him to beg.
Upon his return, he was assigned to pastors who failed to provide his basic material needs. Sawyer contended his assignment as an associate priest after having served as pastor was non-canonical and a “total abuse of ecclesiastical power.”
A pastor he served under, he said, called the bishop and falsely reported that Sawyer threatened to kill the pastor “with a cutlass.” Sawyer also claimed that Karnley falsely accused him of having affairs with women, because of his refusal of sexual advances.
Sawyer claimed that his refusal of Zeigler’s alleged sexual advances meant that the bishop would listen to gossip about him rather than fairly investigate the accusations and unjustly kicked the priest out of his assignments. He claimed that the archbishop showed insufficient empathy to the priest and did not pay sufficient respect to his family after his father’s death. The priest’s letter speculated on whether this apparent inaction was due to an Ebola outbreak.
Both bishops ignored canon law, the priest charged.
The series on the Liberian bishops was produced by New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. It acknowledges funding from the Australian government agency Australian Aid, with the disclaimer that the funder had no say in the content.
The New Narratives project’s international partners are the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the U.K.-based charitable arm of the news network, and Chime for Change, founded by the Italian luxury fashion company Gucci in 2013. The Chime for Change campaign on its website describes as an effort “to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality.”