Child abuse by Catholic priests has seriously dented the trust of the faithful in the Church. Charles Evers, who was abused by a priest, converted to Islam and now is called Yusuf. “Catholicism is a nasty faith,” Yusuf says.
There’s something wrong here. Wasn´t it Islam that was known for its cruelty? Marec’s cartoon in Belgian newspaper De Standaard turns the cliché upside down, confronting the Catholic community with an uncomfortable contention. The television shows a bishop as the incarnation of all the hushed-up abuse scandals. Sitting on the couch in front of the TV set a Muslim couple concludes Christianity really is cruel.
Off to Mook
Equally confounded, Yusuf Charles Evers follows the paedophilia scandals that have been rocking the Church. “What’s happening is horrible. But that something is wrong with Catholicism is a conclusion I reached years ago.”
When he was twelve, his parents sent him to the Gabriel College, run by Catholic fathers, in Mook, in the province of Limburg. He currently lives in Dubai, where he runs a company which sells traditional Islamic clothes. He converted to Islam in 1992 and took the name of Yusuf. This is the first time he talks about his experiences in Mook.
“The father who taught Latin one day asked me to help him carry some books. We went to the storage space. When we were inside, the father closed the door. I found that strange. I had no idea what sex was.”
“A little later he tells me ‘come here, come here’. He takes my hand and puts it on his prick. Then I felt something slimy on my hand, it was extremely unpleasant. When I left the room, there were a number of boys waiting. They were laughing: “So today it was your turn.”
Yusuf Evers’ testimony is unique in the debate about clerical child abuse in that the Muslim community had avoided it so far. But wouldn’t it make sense to listen to that voice, too? Isn’t that the hidden message of Marec’s cartoon?
Populist anti-Islam parties propound the idea of a society rooted in Christian truths, with no place for Islam. Haven’t all the scandals dented that confidence in Christianity?
“Better have no illusions about that”, says Professor Sami Zemni, an expert on political Islam at the University of Ghent. “When clergy cause scandals, it is the institution that fails. Christianity goes scot-free. Conversely, when Muslims commit crimes, islamophobes blame Islam as a whole and call for the Qur’an to be burnt.”
Professor Zemni doesn’t expect the child abuse scandals will alter the image of cruel Muslims and civilised Christians. “I suspect the debate will come to an end once blame is apportioned. The Church will manage that problem and fend off the attacks—as it always has.”
“What is happening in the Catholic Church is highly regrettable, but we do not wish to be associated with that in any possible way,” a well-known Belgian imam says to explain why he does not want to be interviewed for this article. Young men and women who converted to Islam after a Catholic, Flemish youth are refusing to talk. There are a few exceptions.
“What do you people call someone like that again?” asks a Moroccan youth in a street in Brussels when we show him Marec’s cartoon. “Oh, yes, a bishop”. A friend of his says: “Your pope has been sent by Satan. He has the face of the devil.”
The reticence within the Muslim community “is logical”, argues Abdelkhalak Chrayah, a member of the Brussels Association for the Development and Emancipation of Muslims (VOEM). He is shocked by the paedophilia scandals. “I’m a dad myself. Just thinking of those abused children makes me sick. I can’t stand it. But I’ll say this: every religion has its cruelties, its weaknesses.”
One day, visiting family in Holland, Yusuf Evers drove past his old school in Mook. “I had dreamt so often of setting it on fire. But the building had been demolished. Only the front is still standing. ”
“I´d like that knock that down, too.” He never told his parents about the abuse. “They would never have listened.”
He was left alone to cope with his traumas. “I remember vividly I had to report to the superior, the head of all the fathers. I went in without knocking and saw the superior with legs spread wide on the desk while a father, kneeling in front of him, was giving him a blowjob.”
It was these experiences that made Yusuf convert to Islam. “Whenever I think of Gabriel College, I feel a chill running down my spine. It is a nasty faith.”