Woman wants justice 17 years after rape at Vatican Embassy
Seventeen years after being raped in the Embassy of the Holy See in Pretoria, staunch Catholic Ornella Pasqua wants justice.
But while the wheels have started turning as her case is heard before a canonical court, they aren’t moving fast enough, as her alleged rapist continues to do God’s work, albeit on a different continent.
Pasqua accuses Baudouin Biajila Muankembe of clerical sexual grooming, abuse and rape.
Traumatised after being “bullied” out of her job as an administrator and translator in the Holy See (Vatican) Embassy, she in early 2005 requested that Muankembe, a monsignor she had met a year before who was employed at the consulate, be her spiritual director.
Pasqua, who was saving herself for marriage and had not yet even kissed a man, claims Muankembe very early on in their sessions became unnaturally focused on her sexuality, and suggested that the cause of her mental health condition was “frigidity”.
Describing her as a “suppressed volcano”, he said she would be fine after “one or two eruptions”.
About 10 months into their sessions, Pasqua claims Muankembe had started becoming more physical, touching and stroking her arms and back, leaving her uncomfortable.
She says she spoke to him about his advances, saying any feeling he had toward her would be wrong as she wouldn’t want to be the reason a “priest goes against God’s law”.
He told her that his only concern was for her spiritual wellbeing, Pasqua said.
And, for “her good”, she says he started touching her breasts “to ease the sexual tension”.
His supposed guidance wasn’t helping her psychological condition, Pasqua added.
“My depression was getting worse. I was suicidal. But I told myself to trust him – his very ultimate direct superior was the Pope, so he must know what he’s saying.”
He allegedly assaulted her a week before Christmas that year, while she had been at the embassy after he asked her to help him with some admin.
“He finger-penetrated me – he raped me.
“My world fell apart. It felt like I had left my body. I said no. He blocked my [protestations] by putting his tongue further in my mouth. After that, I don’t remember any more.
“I wasn’t psychologically strong enough to cope with the reality – it was grooming, abuse and rape. I wouldn’t have been able to cope then. It took me two years for the reality of what had happened [to sink in].”
She claims Muankembe persuaded her to continue with the “therapy”, allegedly later also performing oral sex on her.
He was posted to Sri Lanka in May 2006, but not before allegedly insisting she “needed full-on sex”, for which he was “prepared to sacrifice himself for [her] health”.
She vehemently refused.
Initially preferring to “leave God to deal out the suitable justice… on Judgement Day”, she four years later informed the church of the “grave abuse of [her] entire person” by Muankembe, who had at the time been posted in Bulgaria.
Years of inaction and unanswered letters later, she eventually – with the help of the current Vatican Nuncio to South Africa – reached the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, an institution within the church started seven years ago by Pope Francis which also handles abuse cases involving vulnerable adults.
Her complaint was investigated, but it was found that “while it was likely that a relationship did occur, it was a relationship among adults, even if extremely inappropriate and incorrect”.
A letter from Archbishop Angelo Becciu on a Secretariat of State letterhead dated 25 July 2017 reads that the “diametrically opposed positions” made it “impossible for us to have a clear picture of what exactly transpired”.
It was, however, decided that it would “not be appropriate” for Muankembe to continue his diplomatic service and he was instructed to no longer act as a spiritual director.
Three years ago, an ecclesiastical court case was opened into the abuse incident.
“Eventually, after I have been fighting the Vatican for restorative justice for [nearly] 12 years,” Pasqua says.
“The Vatican and my abuser owe me full restorative justice.
“The church court case is going unacceptably slowly with, as far as I am concerned, no end in sight.”
Monsignor Clifford Stokes of the Cape Town Interdiocesan Tribunal confirmed the canonical process was currently ongoing.
All the testimony submitted would be presented to judges “in a duly constituted canonical tribunal”.
“We are in a canonical process that takes time due to Covid-19 and distance, relying on having to request other tribunals, sometimes from other countries, to do the actual interviews for us,” Stokes said.
Attempts to reach Muankembe and his legal counsel in Austria by email, messaging and phone, went unanswered.
In his extensive rogatory response to the tribunal, which News24 has seen, Muankembe denies performing or requesting sexual acts from Pasqua.