Priest pays a price for indecent assault

The Nambian, Africa/June 26, 2006
By Werner Menges

An elderly Roman Catholic priest who has been on trial in the Otjiwarongo Regional Court on three charges of raping young girls at Khorixas, as well as another count of indecent assault, was sentenced to a fine of N$12 000 and a suspended one-year jail term after being found guilty on four counts of indecent assault on Friday.

The conviction and sentencing of Father Hans Peter Nagels resulted from events that took place at Khorixas during 2004, when the priest was based at that town.

Nagels, now aged 80, was arrested and charged at the age of 78 in August 2004.

He has been living in Namibia, where he has been in a missionary position in the Roman Catholic Church, since 1957, Magistrate Christie Liebenberg heard during Nagels's trial in the Otjiwarongo Regional Court.

That trial was concluded on Friday, when the Magistrate sentenced Nagels to a fine of N$12 000 or two years' imprisonment, plus a further one-year prison term that was suspended in full for five years on condition that Nagels is not convicted of rape or indecent assault committed within the period of suspension.

Nagels denied guilt on all four charges against him.

The court, however, rejected his claims that he had acted innocently, and only with the aim of teaching personal hygiene to the four girls at the centre of the charges against him, when he bathed them during the incidents that led to him being charged.

One of the girls was between 13 and 14 years old during 2004 when the incidents took place.

Another was 10 years old, and the other two were nine years old at the time.

They told the court that Nagels had undressed them and then washed them, dried them and applied a skin moisturiser to their bodies.

Two of the girls - the 13-year-old, and the 10-year-old - also told the court that Nagels had taken photos of them while they were naked in the tub, Magistrate Liebenberg noted in his judgement.

It was the chance discovery of negatives of some of these photos that led to the arrest and eventual prosecution of Nagels.

Police found the negatives after the priest's car was broken into at Otjiwarongo.

Nagels claimed that the children had asked him to take photos of them.

This claim, too, was rejected by the Magistrate.

Commenting on a photo on which the oldest of the four girls appeared naked, with her private parts shown explicitly, the Magistrate stated in his judgement: "Clearly, this is not an innocent photograph of a young girl, but rather one which exploits a young child.

There is an old proverb saying that a picture speaks a thousand words.

This seems to be the position in the present instance."

From Nagels's own evidence it was clear that he had decided unilaterally to bath the girls after they had been playing on the Roman Catholic Church's grounds at Khorixas, the Magistrate also recounted some of the testimony in the case.

He added that a surprising aspect of the priest's evidence was that although he - in his version - intended to teach the children about proper personal hygiene, there was nothing hygienic in the procedure that he had followed, using run-off water from a washing machine that he had already used to soak his feet in.

Objectively viewed, Nagels's actions concerning the washing of the girls were questionable and highly suspicious, the Magistrate commented.

Nagels admitted that during the process of washing the girls with a washcloth, and thereafter drying them and applying moisturiser to their bodies, he had touched their genital parts.

The only reasonable inference that could be drawn, the Magistrate said, was that he had done this with indecent intent.

Magistrate Liebenberg accepted that in the close to 50 years that Nagels had been a priest in Namibia, he had done a lot of good.

The court heard that over these decades of service to the church and the people of the communities where he was based - he was based at Khorixas from 1991 to 2004 - Nagels had been involved in activities aimed at uplifting communities, with his work having included helping to build schools and run schools and hostels.

These counted strongly in his favour when it came to his sentencing, the Magistrate pointed out.

However, in the incidents for which Nagels was charged, he had clearly misused the position of trust that he held, and exploited the naivety of the children in question for reasons which appear to have been solely to arouse or stimulate his own sexual desires, the Magistrate added.

Nagels was represented by defence lawyer Slysken Makando during the trial.

Public Prosecutor Muriel van Zyl conducted the prosecution.

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