NZ priest trying to halt sorcery deaths in PNG

A New Zealand born Catholic priest, Philip Gibbs, has been actively involved in trying to halt sorcery deaths in Papua New Guinea.

Based in Mt Hagen, Gibbs, 65, said it was hard to work out what to say to congregations which included people who would have taken part in burning alleged witches.

“If as an expat you tell people they are longlong (crazy) to believe such superstition, many will just close down,” he said.

Witch doctors are paid well to identify witches.

“Divination is a lucrative job, and there is also the temptation to accuse others falsely just to get one’s hands on the money,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs, who marked 40 years as a priest in PNG last December, advised the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission which last year reported that it was commonly believed that sanguma – sorcery – was the cause of sickness and early deaths, and that the Act was not working.

“When people die, especially men, people start asking ‘who’s behind it?’, not ‘what’s behind it?’,” he told the commission.

Gibbs said sanguma or puripuri (also meaning sorcery) attacks have become much more brutal.

Issues of old beliefs and Christianity, which in part still preached of demons, was part of the growing increase in violence, he said.

“As a Catholic I try to introduce more modern and scientific concepts, such as asking a medical doctor the cause of death,” Gibbs said.

He believed more than just changing the law needed to happen. He said even the well-educated were not quite sure about witchcraft.

Gibbs says he wishes to take a constructive approach developing what Bishop Anton Bal has been doing in Simbu

(1) Helping people broaden their understanding of the causes of illness and death

(2) Early intervention before or during a funeral,

(3) Promoting law and order in communities,

(4) Fostering faith to influence attitudes and emotions

(5) Immediate family members taking ownership of the death of a family member

He wants to look at the effectiveness of this as a strategy and examine how it might be revised and promoted elsewhere.

Medical authorities needed to be more open about causes of death and in a country that often had no death certificate system, he wanted one introduced.

In Papua New Guinea the Catholic Church has banned the sacraments and any role in church life to anyone who has accused others of being witches and who were involved in abusing, torturing or killing.





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News category: Asia Pacific.

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