Tuesday, March, 12, 2013
An open letter to bishops, priests and laity: The failure of celibate chastity among diocesan priests
It is an open secret that many catholic priests and some bishops, in Uganda and elsewhere, no longer live celibate chastity.
From the numerous cases on the ground one might be forgiven for saying that most diocesan priests either don’t believe in celibacy anymore, or if they do, have long since given up the struggle to be chaste.
In any case it still seems important for priests to vow even a woefully imperfect celibacy, if only for the sake of the hallowed ‘priestly image’.
The church, however, still maintains the fable that most catholic priests persevere in celibate chastity fairly well, which fiction begs belief.
All is not well…
All is definitely not well with what I call ‘administrative celibacy’, in the Catholic Church. It is a celibacy which is more forced than consented to, and its effects are anything but good.
I suggest that now more than at any other time, we must begin an open and frank dialogue about Catholic priests becoming happily married men, rather than being miserable and single, either before or after ordination.
Although this may be quite a shock to many, but the alternative may be far worse. What do you think happens when lapses and scandals by priests, sisters, brothers and bishops continue unabated, whether hidden or not?
My forecast is that we will have a few more years of Catholic self-deception; perhaps 10, telling ourselves and the world that everything is Ok, nothing serious. Then more scandals will surface.
As people become more enlightened (as in Europe) there will be a crisis of faith, perhaps a sudden collapse, with many leaving the church, either to join other churches (whose pastors may be no better, but who appear to be less hypocritical about it), or to become agnostics, especially the middle classes.
One must remember that there are other challenges facing the church, such as general weakening of faith, loss of sacramental life, low incomes, dull liturgies, and the challenges of the media. Many of the youth ( not the children) are already alienated from Catholicism and are easy prey to proselytising groups.
Facing the naked truth
The number of Catholic priests and bishops who are sexually active in Uganda is unknown, but almost everywhere unedifying stories of priests ‘sexploits’, are not hard to come by. These stories are told in counselling or as anecdotes,or by the media. They are told within the parishes and beyond. They are told at home in families, in taxis, in hair salons and in the markets.
What is talked about? Priests’ secret and not-so-secret liaisons with girls and women, coerced sex with house-maids, with students, with relatives; priests ‘wives’ set up in well established homes; priests involved with a parishioner’s wife; of priests romantically involved with religious Sisters; priests offering money for sex, and so on…
If you add to this, a fair number of priests’ and bishops’ children scattered around the nation, who are carefully hidden from view (and not so carefully!), not to mention children who are aborted at priests’ behest, we begin to get the true picture of human weakness, whose consequences are nothing less than catastrophic both for the priest and his partners, and which cannot be concealed by taking a vow of celibacy, or by retreats and more prayers.
Lets learn from Europe and America
While in Europe and the States, the scandal of numerous paedophile priests, whose victims are rightly suing the Catholic church is widely reported in the media, very little by contrast is heard about priests and bishops in Africa who continue sexually abusing female minors (or vulnerable women) with no legal action taken.
Obviously time has come for serious measures to be undertaken, similar to those in Europe and America. Apart from legal action in civil and ecclesiastical courts aginst offenders, strict ‘child protection’ codes and practices, must be enforced, by the state which for instance should prohibit young or vulnerable females from residing in parish houses, where some of the abuses occur.
The sins of deception and silence
Thus the unnecessary and unpalatable deception about celibate priests, that they are chaste when they are not, is clearly contradicted by what is on the ground. The deception is of course not tenable for much longer.
Surely, we must first tell ourselves the truth as a church, that is to say, that celibacy has failed or is failing us, and then also tell the world which we have been deceiving, the naked truth, before we are completely overtaken by events.
Unfortunately, there is an ominous unhealthy conspiracy of silence about these matters among the Ugandan clergy and faithful alike, probably because priestly celibacy might be seen to be a hollow shell, which it mostly is nowadays.
The laity for all their good will, are also co-opted into this unwholesome silence, sometimes for lack of information, sometimes because they believe that they have some ‘moral’ duty to be loyal to an imperfect church. In truth their silence shores up the sins of priests and the destroys many lives.
Married priests not wanted for the wrong reasons
When I ask lay people whether Catholic priests should have the option to marry the answer is always NO; since they say, that would make Catholic priests like Anglican reverends! As if that was the worse possible fate, yet Anglican clergy who are married certainly do not have the same levels and same kinds of sexual lapses as their Catholic counterparts.
Most lay people in Uganda would not like their priests to have the option of marriage, yet it is their very own children, sisters, wives who are being used and abused by the clergy!
A campaign for optional married priesthood in the Catholic church is now required. This campaign is primarily a form of education and purification. It is [should] not be construed as a rebellion against established doctrine but a reading of the signs of the times
Since there are no fundamental theological arguments against a married priesthood (there are already some married priests in the UK and Uniate Catholic churches) but only arguments from tradition and church discipline, I believe that it is a matter of time before common sense prevails and marriage for the clergy in the latin rite (i.e. Catholic) church is accepted.
I am aware that there is a big struggle ahead.Unfortunately celibacy also serves certain vested interests in the power structure of the church, and of course celibate priests are cheaper and easier to deal with, even to manipulate, by ecclesiastical authority, but I believe that in time we will be freed from this unecessary yoke, unhelpful as it is, which is all the more severe in Africa where family and family ties are so crucial to one’s psychological equilibrium.
One factor which has prompted me to take up this campaign is my own biography. I am one of a handful of several priests who had the misfortune of appearing in the press for supposed sexual trespasses.
In my case,which was 2009, it was cited that I must be a homosexual, because I had homosexual friends and went to homosexual gatherings. Not that I cared much whether or not someone thinks that I am homosexual. Certainly I have been called worse things than that.
In my defence I tried to point out that I didn’t actually recall having had homosexual relations with any of my rabid accusers, neither did they; which meant that hearsay alone became the evidence .
What I found troubling is what followed. Apart from all the pain and scandal caused to all concerned, I found that even though all the allegations were based on hearsay, I was being treated, by my superiors as the biggest sinner in Nineveh.
Up till now judgments are being made against me by ecclesiastical authority in the light of those events, which I suppose is to be expected. I wondered about this and came to the conclusion that priests who ‘get caught.’ like me, have to pay for the sins of all those who don’t get caught.
In other words failed celibacy requires scapegoats. Some clergy are able to get away with the grossest behaviour, because of their age, position, influence or even because of financial inducements.
So while I appear to have little moral authority to talk about celibacy as a priestly virtue because of what may or may not have happened to me in 2009, nevertheless I can point out the systemic immorality of the institutionalised hypocrisy called celibate diocesan priesthood, which severely punishes lapses when they appear, but condones the secret crimes of many more.
I believe that there must be a new openness at whatever it takes. The point is not that diocesan priests should leave the priesthood and get married, but compel the church to offer the option of a married priesthood. This will put an end to the double lives so many priests are forced to live.
Some cases unheard: Case One
I spoke with a 21-year-old young man last week. He is one of seven children of a catholic priest who happens to still be serving within the Province of the Archdiocese of Kampala. The young man, who is willing to testify, lived in a parish house with his father priest, even serving on the altar with him, but having to pretend to be a visiting nephew.
At times he was assisted by his father to go to school, but was later abandoned. On one occasion he drank poison in order to end his life, due to the trauma, but was taken to hospital before he died.
Another is a personal friend. He was fathered by a missionary priest of the White Fathers 58 years ago but is still suffering the trauma of no real identity or home.
Although he has since received some minimum compensation from the White fathers, he still feels that there was an injustice to his mother who is still alive, who was sexually assaulted by the said White father priest in his office when she was only sixteen. He wishes to sue.
Another case is of a priest who seduced a member of my youth group who happened to be in need of school fees, at Old Kampala. She soon became pregnant by the said priest, disappeared from church activities and from her home to be established in a ‘home’.
Another lady tells of how she went to confession, only to be sexually molested by the priest, who fondled her breasts during confession
When I was at secondary school, it was common knowledge that various Brothers were having sexual activity with the boys. It was called ‘jaboo’. As a pubescent teenager, my first sexual encounter was actually with one of the brothers who invited me to his room on the pretext of doing some extra chemistry equations. I was 16 at the time. Later I heard that several others had been through the same thing with the same Brother and with other ones..Some are still alive to this day.
I do not believe either that these cases are just a few ‘bad apples’ in the barrel, but rather they are symptomatic of a sick system which has lost its integrity in this one area, but won’t admit it.
Some of these cases are clearly criminal in nature, especially those of sex with children. They should be dealt with in a normal fashion and legal action taken in civil courts either against the church, or against those priests who offend.
I am therefore compiling cases from all over Uganda. I believe that if all the victims of clear molestations were to come out and sue the church in civil courts, such abuses would sharply decrease.
I am also helping to set up a Victims Support Group, independent of the church for obvious reasons, with guidance and help from similar groups in Europe and the States.
I have also engaged a human rights lawyer to advise on the wider implications of clergy abuse on the basic human rights of individuals, especially women.
Join me in this exciting challenge to bring fundamental change and renewal to the catholic church.
FR. ANTHONY MUSAALA
What archbishop lwanga wrote in part
I deeply think of the immense suffering caused by the article produced in the media authored by Fr. Anthony Musaala, that seems to be casting a dark shadow of suspicion” over all priests.
Above all, the Church takes seriously the allegations in this article. On behalf of my fellow Catholic Bishops in Uganda I wish to assure the public that as leaders of the Catholic Church in Uganda; we are committed to the protection of the minors and rights of everyone.
Investigations about these allegations are to begin immediately with of course cases that are proved. It should however, be clear to everyone that the value of the choice of priestly celibacy according to the Catholic tradition still stands, and the need for solid human and Christian formation is underlined, both for seminarians and for those already ordained.
The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states the stand of the Catholic Church on celibacy in Canon 277, which mandates clerical celibacy that: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the services of God and mankind.”
This Church law is embraced willingly as prescribed by Can.1037 which states that: “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married, and likewise a candidate for the priesthood, is not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless he has, in the prescribed rite, publically before God and the Church undertaken the obligation of celibacy, or unless he has taken perpetual vows in a religious institute”.
This means therefore that no one is forced to embrace this discipline before or at ordination. This means therefore that Fr. Musaala because of the publication of his article in the public media which damages good morals of Catholic believers and further expresses a wrong teaching against the Catholic Church’s teaching and that this stirs up hatred and contempt against the Church, he incurs a Ferendae sententiae penalty as prescribed by Can.1314.
This means that Father Anthony Musaala is suspended from celebrating sacraments and sacramentals, from the powers of governance in accordance to the law of the Church
Will the Catholic Church bow to forces of liberalism?
All the issues Fr. Anthony Musaala raises in his now controversial missive to the leaders of the Catholic Church in Uganda, and in particular the debate about priestly celibacy, are centuries old in the history of the Church.
The requirement that priests have to live celibate lives is considered to have been a major cause of disagreement in the church, leading to the breakaway of the Anglican Church from the ancient Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church has also lessened restrictions on celibacy, only restricting it to bishops.
The Catholic Church, as if in a bid to lure converts, also made some concessions. For example, the Vatican now allows married Anglican priests who join the Catholic Church to become ordained as priests and yet stay married.
But to the Catholic Church, the evidence for clerical celibacy was modeled by Jesus himself and is to be found in the guidance of the early apostles, including St Paul, who wrote: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided.” (I Corinthians 7: 32)
When suspending Fr. Musaala over the leaked missive, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga also invoked the same, adding, “… the only state of life known was marriage but when Christ came, He made it clear that some people would remain celibate (“eunuchs”) for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Mt 19:12).”
But “noises” from Catholic prelates who demand that the ban on marriage by priests be lifted have grown louder and bolder. There are no figures on the proportion of Catholic priests who would like the celibacy requirement to be dropped. But those priests who speak out against celibacy suggest that many more of their colleagues who don’t come out would like to be allowed to marry.
Only last month, the most senior Roman Catholic in Britain then, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, told the BBC of how many priests struggled to cope with celibacy. He argued that they should be allowed to marry and raise families.
Cardinal O’Brien was inevitably forced out three days later, with an allegation of a sex scandal dating back 30 years flying in his face. The Cardinal would later admit that his conduct had indeed “fallen below the standards” expected of a priest.
But the Cardinal also said the following words to the BBC in the wake of his resignation: “It’s a free world and I realise many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood, and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family.”
As if to build on the platforms offered by the “free” world Cardinal O’Brien talked of, Fr. Musaala authored his stinging missive, An Open letter to bishops, priests and laity: The failure of celibate chastity among diocesan priests, declaring the abuse of priestly celibacy with the Catholic Church in Uganda an “open secret”.
By way of warning to the Catholic Church, Fr. Musaala foresees “a crisis of faith, perhaps a sudden collapse” as people become more enlightened. He fears that many will leave the Catholic Church and probably join other churches, not necessarily because other churches’ pastors are better, but because they “appear to be less hypocritical about it (celibacy)”.
Fr. Musaala claims to be in contact with people who have been sexually abused by men of God in the Catholic Church, saying that he was a victim himself.
In here, Fr. Musaala refers to another accusation that has come up against some people in the service of the Catholic Church – homosexuality. In some other cases, Catholic priests have also been accused of other sexual offences like pedophilia – the practice of having sex with children.
Those who want priests to be allowed to marry argue that Jesus did not require celibacy of his apostles. But more touchingly, they argue that what they call sexual repression in the Catholic Church– the strict requirement of celibacy among priests – is what has led to the sex abuse scandals currently troubling the church.
Another argument the opponents of celibacy advance is that it is responsible for the reducing number of young men opting for priesthood. And these use figures to back up their argument.
For example, they point out that the Vatican yearbook shows that between 1975 and 2010, the number of Catholics increased by 59 per cent globally, from 709.6 million to 1.96 billion, but the number of priests grew by a meager 1.8 per cent. They consider that many young people who would like to serve the church consider celibacy a sacrifice too big.
But this is an argument that was rejected by Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (“On the celibacy of the priest”).
But the question is, as far as Makerere University political historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa is concerned, for how long will the Catholic Church hold on in this fast liberalising world? Mr Ndebesa says that the Catholic Church is threatened more by sexuality matters than by issues of doctrine.
A number of priests we talked to for this article declined to comment on the issue, saying that the Archbishop of Kampala had already spoken on the matter. And after the Archbishop, the burden will ultimately fall to the newly installed Pope Francis, who on being elected to office required the church to confess its sins, lest they “end up a compassionate NGO”.
By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi