By Lucie Sarr
Manel Sales Castellà, a Spanish former member of the Catholic Order of the Pious Schools, otherwise known as “Piarists” has been accused of sexually abusing young people in Senegal from 1980 to 2005.
The Holy See in Rome relieved him of his clerical state in 2019 but it wasn’t until last month that it acknowledged that, for the past 18 years, they have been covering up acts of sexual abuse that Sales committed against “a significant number” of youths in Senegal.
According to the Catholic media outfit La Croix, the religious order has said it acknowledges “publicly and takes responsibility for everything he [Manel Sales] has done wrong in the past and denounces actions that are totally unacceptable”.
They said they have been aware of Sale’s abusive behaviour since 2005 and that the provincial superior at the time took no action “either civilly or ecclesiastically” because he wanted to “protect the institution”.
It wasn’t until 2018, after a French woman filed a complaint that the order asked Sales for explanations, and he acknowledged the facts and mentioned some of the people who had suffered abuse. A canonical procedure to expel Sales from the order and the priesthood was then initiated culminating in his definitive dismissal in March 2019.
An open secret
Manel Sales worked for 25 years in Senegal, particularly in the south where he was on mission in Oussouye and Mlomp for many years. There, he ran a school for the congregation where hundreds of children from underprivileged families received schooling thanks to the help of Western sponsors.
“The abuse committed by this priest was an open secret,” said a former member of a Catholic movement in southern Senegal.
“I’m sure the victims number in the hundreds,” he claimed. “I knew a number of people who were victims. But nobody wanted to denounce it. At the time, it was taboo to talk about sex, even more so about a priest who abuses boys,” the man, a Senegalese, said.
The Piarists have asked for “forgiveness from all the victims, their families … for the harm caused by this former member of the community and by Piarist leaders who did not denounce the abuses in Senegal and Catalonia”.
The order’s provincial superiors, accompanied by a representative of the order’s headquarters in Rome, went to Senegal this past June 5-16 to meet the victims.
The Order of the Pious Schools was founded by Saint Joseph de Calasanz. Put under the motto “piety and letters”, it is the Catholic Church’s oldest religious congregation dedicated exclusively to education. Senegal was the first African country to welcome the Piarists in 1963. The order has built many schools there.
Additional reporting by Charles Senghor in Dakar