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Church in Papua New Guinea warns against sorcery & violence


Traditional dance (Diocese of Daru-Kiunga)OBSERVING WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY in Port Moresby last Friday, Papua New Guinean Catholics gathered with local media to discuss charges of sorcery, which often end in violence against the accused.

The conference on Church and Media – A Joint Reflection on Sorcery was held on the feast of St Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. While nearly all of PNG’s population is Christian, and 27% is Catholic, many people integrate indigenous beliefs and practices into their religious life.

As a result, many Papua New Guineans believe in sorcery, and those accused of practicing it – a majority of whom are women – are at times subject to mob attacks and murder.

The conference featured a presentation by Italian missionary and sociologist, Fr Franco Zocca, who discussed the Church's attitude toward magic and sorcery, as well as data collected by the Melanesian Institute, which studies indigenous cultures of the region.

Fr Zocca, who coordinated a four-year research study on sorcery in PNG, told conference attendees that “only scientific enlightenment and a massive education effort can help overcome sorcery beliefs” in the country.

The conference included talks by Church leaders who shared their knowledge of sorcery in the area, their assessment of its consequences, and strategies that could counteract frivolous accusations and unjust punishment of alleged sorcerers and witches.

At its conclusion, Bishop Rochus Tatamai of Bereina said Mass for all those attending, preaching on the life and writings of St Francis de Sales.

The topic of sorcery is important in PNG. According to Human Rights Watch, at least nine women were attacked after being accused of witchcraft in 2013; an improvement from the more than 50 sorcery related deaths which occurred in 2008.

Some indigenous Papua New Guineans do not believe in misfortune and accidents, and attribute them to sorcery; and the accusation can also be used for revenge or envy. Amnesty International reports that women are six times more likely to be accused of sorcery than men.

The 1971 Sorcery Act, repealed in May 2013, criminalised the practice of sorcery and accepted the accusation of sorcery as a defence in cases of murder.

The Act's repeal was accompanied by a new law which included sorcery-related killings among crimes penalised by capital punishment.

While sorcery-related violence continues to be a problem in PNG, the situation has improved in recent years, due in part to the Church bringing a change in thought and ways of life through education and catechesis of the indigenous people.


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