By Dicta Asiimwe
Is it time for priests to marry?
In the last two weeks, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the news over its pedophilia scandals. Most of the scandals have been from Europe, especially in Ireland and Germany, the home country of Pope Benedict XVI, who is reported to have presided over a diocese that silently transferred a pedophile priest to another diocese. In the current scandal over Rev. Fr. Lawrence Murphy from the USA who is accused of defiling 200 young deaf boys under his care, the Pope is also accused of having been part of the cover up.
With all these sex scandals coming to light at the same time, they have reopened the debate here in Uganda and abroad on whether the church should uphold celibacy for its priests or allow them get married. Pope Benedict who has always said priests should stay celibate has some members of the public calling for his resignation for what they say is his hypocrisy. They argue that while he has consistently supported the canon rule on celibacy, he wasnt willing to take action against priests under him who abused children and the doctrine of celibacy.
They also say Benedict protected Fr Murphy when at least two letters were written to him to take action against the errant priest when the pope was prefect of the Vatican office that deals with such offences. They also say that the Pope as chief doctrine enforcer in Rome and while he was head of the Catholic Church in Germany presided over a church that protected some priests who abused children.
The Popes accusers have argued that since the pope has already accepted resignation letters from bishops all over Europe, who failed to prosecute juniors for abusing children under their care, he too should be honourable and resign.
What Ugandan clergy say
Fr Peter Byangwa, a priest at Christ the King Church in Kampala, says those calling for the Popeâ€™s resignation are unfair since nothing has been proven against him and all the remarks are mere allegations.
According to him, the only mistake the church committed as an institution is covering up for Fr Murphy and not exposing him to the law so that his victims could get justice. Fr Murphy is said to have been quietly moved to another church where he spent the rest of his priesthood working with other children.
Those who commit crime should be prosecuted, it is a bad practice to cover up for them,â€ Fr Peter Byangwa said.
Unlike Fr Byangwa, Fr Lawrence Kanyike, the Chaplain of St. Augustine Church, Makerere University, says it is understandable why the church kept these scandals a secret. According to him the public is partially to blame because its moral expectations of priests force the church to cover up scandals. Revealing such acts would result in people losing faith in the church.
â€œThe cover-ups are unfortunate since we are supposed to be credible people of honesty, but then the public forgets that we are also human,â€ Fr Kanyike reasons.
He says the church tried to solve these scandal cases silently so that they wouldnâ€™t disillusion the public but would also allow their priests to repent and change their ways without continuously being labelled unworthy priests.
Like Pope Benedict, the two priests we spoke to maintain that celibacy is not the cause of these scandals, but the acts have been a result of a corrupted society where these priests come from.
â€œDivorce is currently on the rise; do we abolish marriage to solve that problem? Okay, let us say pedophilia is as a result of celibacy, then how do you explain the defilement in families?â€ Fr. Kanyike asked.
Fr Byangwa agrees with Fr Kanyike that celibacy is not the cause of these sex scandals but says the church recruits from a corrupted society. â€œThere are bad elements in every society but we canâ€™t remove celibacy because of these elements,â€ Byangwa said.
According to him, it is the Catholic Churchâ€™s training programmes for priests that should be examined and modified, not celibacy. The Catholic Church has a rigorous training period for their priests unlike otherÂ denominations such as the Pentecostals and Anglicans.
The real training for priesthood takes place at major seminary level (Katigondo and Ggaba seminaries in case of Uganda). But most students who join the major seminaries come from other minor seminaries that start at primary school through secondary school.
According to Jacob Rwamubanga, a former seminarian now married with seven children, the students are told what to expectÂ by choosing to be celibate throughout their lives. This, he says, allows these students to choose whether to be priests. At this stage, if they find the requirements too hard to meet, they can leave for other professions.
Peter Muwonge, a pastor for a Pentecostal church in Bwaise, Kampala, says that while celibacy is good for one to serve God better, the church should let individual priests choose whether to be celibate and live the way Jesus did. Celibacy, he says, should not be a requirement for one to become a priest in the Catholic Church.
A sect in Uganda which broke away from the Catholic Church allows their priests to marry. The Apostolic Catholic Church headed by Leonard Lubega started their activities in Uganda recently. They have kept most of the norms of the Catholic Church like barring women from becoming priests. They also pray for Pope Benedict during their masses, although they are not under the Vatican.
The Apostolic Catholic Church was started by renegade Catholic Bishop Dom Carlos Duarte Costa in Brazil. It has attracted a number of Catholic priests, proving there are priests who wish to get married but remain celibate for fear of being excommunicated.
Although priests from the mainstream Catholic Church in Uganda havent come out to say they want to get married, tales abound of senior priests who have sexual affairs and bear children.