It could not have come at a better time! Holy Thursday is a special day for priests and is widely regarded as the birthday of the priesthood vocation in the Roman Catholic church.
“This is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me,” Jesus said a day before he was crucified. Chrism oil is blessed on Holy Thursday and at ordination, the priests’ hands are anointed with holy chrism and given priestly powers to bless, to touch sacred species, to sanctify and anoint others.
Above all, it’s on Holy Thursday that religious priests are required to renew their vows of obedience to their ecclesiastical superiors (notably diocesan bishops) in the matters over which they have authority.
So when two famous Kampala Archdiocese priests that had previously rebelled against the their bishop unexpectedly turned up yelling “mea culpa” (through my fault) and seeking for mercy on the Holy Thursday, the excitement was too much to contain by Christian that filled up St Mary’s Cathedral Rubaga.
The prodigal sons that finally returned to their mother church were Fr Anthony Aliddeki Musaala and Fr. Dr Deogratias Ssonko.
At Rubaga Cathedral it was an early Easter gift for Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, fellow priests and the cheering congregation. The two priests were here to renew their obedience to the church and their bishop.
Down on his knees, Fr Musaala was the first to take the podium and begged for forgiveness. “Your Grace, this is to say sorry. I seek forgiveness for the agony that I have caused you and the whole church. I’m really very sorry, please do forgive me,” he partly pleaded in a low voice.
In 2016, Fr. Musaala had done the unthinkable when he announced deserting the Roman Catholic Church and joining the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic church.
On his part, Fr Ssonko too was apologetic, regretting what he had done. “I hereby renew my obedience to the Catholic Church, Pope Francis and to my diocesan bishop. I took vows of obedience to my bishop on my ordination day on December 20, 1987.”
Welcoming the two prodigal sons back home, Archbishop Lwanga wearing a wide smile said the church had forgiven them but went ahead to say all was not yet over for the two because they still had a lot to do before they can be allowed to exercise their normal priestly roles including administering sacraments.
The Archbishop was indeed not different from a dedicated shepherd excited with the return of the once lost sheep.
“Ssonko and Musaala welcome back home, both the church and fellow priests have always prayed for you returning, for they love you all.”
Commenting about this development, one Rubaga parishioner Charles Makumbi said it was good the two had realised their mistake.
“To err is human and no person can claim to be perfect. Now that they are back let us forget about the past and comfort them. It appears they were simply mislead.” he concluded.
The long journey back
For Fr Musaala, it all started when he was not amused by a transfer to a remote parish. He went ahead and opened a Pandora’s Box, when he wrote an article in the press stating that it was not a secret that many Catholic priests and some bishops were no longer living celibate chastity. He said it was time the Catholic Church began an open and frank dialogue about priests becoming happily married men rather than remaining miserable and single.
In reaction, Archbishop Lwanga moved fast and said.
“I deeply think of the immense suffering caused by Fr Musaala’s article produced in the public media that seem to be casting a sharp shadow of suspicion over all priests.”
The archbishop made it clear that the church’s Canon 277 mandates celibacy that clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
The strongly worded statement concluded by condemning Fr Musaala, saying that his article had damaged the good morals of Catholic believers besides expressing a wrong teaching against the Catholic Church’s teaching.
“This stirs up hatred and contempt in the church. He incurs a Ferendae Sententiae penalty as prescribed by Canon 1314 and is therefore suspended from celebrating sacraments from the power of governance in accordance to the law of the church.”
Deserts for another church
Fr Musaala after a while announced he was leaving the Roman Catholic Church for the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic church. He was immediately appointed Vicar General by the leader, Archbishop Leonard Lubega. He said he was tired of waiting for his suspension to be lifted by the Catholic Church.
“Being a Catholic priest with nowhere to minister I was feeling unused, wasted and useless.” Fr Musaala also said he had been without income for three years yet when still in service he used to receive an allowance which he was now not getting as a result of the suspension.
The Catholic Church reacted to Musaala’s latest move by excommunicating him with archbishop Lwanga saying that by joining the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, Fr Musaala had committed a grave sin and thus no longer belonged to the Catholic Church. Meanwhile many Catholics continued attacking Fr Musaala on social media, urging him to remove the word “catholic” from his so-called Brazilian Apostolic church or else face their wrath.
He did not take it lying down. The word “Catholic”, he said was not a brand name whose monopoly belonged to the people of Rubaga but simply a faith.
“The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic church is legally registered as a religious organisation, so if some people had a problem with me as a person and not this church they should instead choose a road of dialogue rather than defaming the church,” he said.
The infamous visit
As if this was not enough, on April 1, 2017 Fr Musaala complicated matters and angered Catholics by paying a surprise visit to Rubaga Miracle Centre cathedral that belongs to a Pentecostal church. This was during the 77 days of glory meeting and he was welcomed with screams of joy by the congregation. He was welcomed by Pastor Robert Kayanja who gave him a chance to speak.
“Rubaga Cathedral is not far from here and it is a place where I am no longer welcome yet I have served there for 22 years. So it is tremendously moving that you people have welcomed me to your cathedral despite coming in here in my priestly garments.
Talks between Fr Musaala and the Catholic Church were meanwhile going on. To lay Christians, however, the first sign that Fr Musaala wished to return to the mainstream church came on October 22, 2017 when he paid a surprise visit and attended evening mass at Christ the King Church, Kampala. His coming excited the congregation.
“I want to reconcile with the mainstream Catholic Church where I really feel at home,” he said. As they say the rest is now history.
Who is fr. Ssonko?
Fr Deogratias Ssonko, the second prodigal son welcomed back to the church last week, just like Fr Musaala had before been so popular in the archdiocese. He broke away from the mainstream church in 2016 and joined Fr. Jacinto Kibuuka at the Mamre Prayer Centre, the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Uganda. May 9, 2017 was however the turning point for this highly learned priest with a doctorate in Liturgical worship. This was when he wrote an apology in the media requesting Archbishop Lwanga to pardon and let him return to the Catholic Church. He admitted having disobeyed the Pope and his bishop as well as causing spiritual and moral injury to his relatives and the faithful.
The third born of seven children, Ssonko who was born September 5, 1959 is the first boy child of the family, reason at his birth his parents and clan leaders rejoiced for having got the successor to his father. His mother chose the name “Deogratius”, Latin for “Thanks be to God”. He was as ordained priest on December 20, 1987 by late Cardinal Nsubuga.
Who is Fr Musaala?
Born in 1964 in the Republic of Ireland where his family then lived, he returned to Uganda aged 9 and went to local schools. He was expelled at secondary school and had to complete his O-Level in another school. He once admitted having been a troublesome child saying he would at times escape from home for weeks as he enjoyed Kampala city life with his peers.
Later in 1980s a chance struck and Musaala went to England. There he at one time got an opportunity of meeting the head of the Catholic Church there, the Archbishop of Westminster, Basil Cardinal Hume, whose elevation to a Cardinal took place the same year as that one of late Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga (1976). It was Cardinal Hume that changed the life of Musaala and later it came as no surprise when the young man joined the seminary in London.
Aged 30 on March 19, 1994 he was ordained priest by his saviour, Cardinal Hume at Allen Hall Seminary School. While in England Fr Musaala served in several parishes but later requested to return and minister the church in motherland Uganda.