Gerald Erebon isn’t a typical-looking Kenyan, if there is such a thing.
He’s tall, and has light skin, wavy hair, and strong cheekbones.
At any rate, he looks little like his dark-skinned mother and siblings, or like the black man listed as his father on his birth certificate.
But that’s because Erebon thinks his real father is actually an Italian missionary priest.
Driving the news
AP reported this week on the story of Erebon, a 30-year-old who lives in the remote settlement of Archer’s Post, in Kenya.
Erebon, his family and the villagers of Archer’s Post believe he’s the son of Mario Lacchin, an 83-year-old Italian priest of the Consolata Missionaries.
Lacchin ministered in Archer’s Post in the 80s.
He met Sabina Losirkale, Erebon’s mother, when she was a student at Gir Gir Primary School in the village.
When she was 15, Sabina began doing housekeeping chores for the local priests.
“I think Father Mario was taking advantage of my sister”, Sabina’s sister, Scolastica Losirkale, told the AP.
The 45-year-old widow remembered those times she saw Sabina and the priest hugging, or those nights when her sister didn’t come home after a visit to the priests.
“He bribed her with gifts, food, clothes. He was even buying us books. My sister used to come with books, pens, all we needed”, Scolastica said.
When Sabina got pregnant, Lacchin was quietly transferred to another parish.
But everyone in Archer’s Post knew who the father of Sabina’s baby was.
“The people of Archer’s knew it was Father Mario. The people knew that the priest was responsible. Because even the boy — he resembled the priest when he was born”, Erebon’s primary school teacher, Alfred-Edukan Loote, told the AP.
In 2013, when his mother died, Erebon tried to reach out to the priest he believed was his father.
Lacchin brushed him off, and told him to take his story to the bishop.
Five years later, Erebon contacted the Irish psychotherapist Vincent Doyle, who runs a service – Coping International – for the children of priests.
Doyle contacted the headquarters of Lacchin’s congregation in Rome, which sent an investigator.
But that investigator, Father James Lengarin, said he couldn’t compel Lacchin to take a paternity test.
“We didn’t feel that he should be constrained by obedience, by force of obedience, to do it”, Lengarin told the AP.
Over and above the measures taken by Lacchin’s order, the Vatican has launched its own investigation into the priest.
That’s because Coping International’s Doyle discovered that Sabina, Erebon’s mother, was just 16 when she conceived in 1988.
That being said, Lacchin – who denies he is Erebon’s father – is not thought to be under criminal investigation in Kenya.
Why it matters
Erebon’s case shows that the Church in Africa is lagging behind its European or North American counterparts in terms of child protection and other controls on celibate priests.
The recently-implemented efforts of the Church on the continent to prevent sexual abuse and assault have been “scattershot” and “underfounded”, the AP said.
For Erebon, though, having his father recognise and accept him is a matter of establishing a personal identity.
“According to my birth certificate, it is like I am living a wrong life, a lie,” Erebon told the AP.
“I just want to have my identity, my history”.
Erebon said he wants Lacchin’s help to move and live legally in Italy, with his children.
But more than that, “I just want to have my identity, my history, so that my children can also have what they really are: their heritage, history and everything”, he said.