Holding on to faith and marriage vows

KENCelibacy2018NAIROBI, Kenya – On a recent Sunday morning at the Renewed Universal Catholic Church in Nyeri town in central Kenya, ululations rent the air after Bishop Peter Njogu ordained three newly married priests.

A splinter group of the Catholic faith, the church allows priests to marry.

“I’m happy because I have been ordained as a priest in this church,” said Philip Muga, 45, a former Roman Catholic priest. “With the experience I have, I will be able to perform my duties as a priest and also as a father.”

Muiga and others are among more than 20 priests who recently renounced their vows of celibacy, proposed to women and joined the Renewed Universal Catholic Church.

Njogu, who is also a former Roman Catholic priest, launched the new church from his Mweiga Catholic parish in Nyeri Archdiocese in 2012, said many Roman Catholic priests are already abandoning celibacy. His new church was simply acknowledging reality, he said.

“We want priests to get married so that they can live a pure life without pretense,” said Njogu, a 55-year-old a father of three. “Many priests and bishops have secret families which they have abandoned because they fear losing the privileges that come with priesthood, such as good house and vehicles. Some priests even prey on children and abandon them.”

Pope John Paul II excommunicated Njogu 2002 for having a girlfriend. Soon after, he married his long-time companion, Berith Karimi. Former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was also excommunicated for marrying a woman, then ordained Njogu as a bishop, paving the way for the establishment of a new church.

In recent years, attracted with the prospect of serving God but raising a family, numerous priests have left the mainstream faith as the new church has spread its wings to various parts of the country.

A Catholic priest in Nairobi said Njogu was addressing an issue of concern to all priests.

“I think he is speaking our minds. Everyone wants the issue of celibacy to be discussed and resolved,” said the priest, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being suspended. “It’s true that we desire having families. But it’s also true that some priests have secret families and others continue to prey on children to satisfy their sexual needs. Many priests are living pretentious lives.”

Njogu urged Pope Francis to consider ordaining married men as priests to prevent clergy from defecting to his church, saying he was planning to ordain more priests next year.

Njogu, who is also a lecturer of philosophy and religious studies at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, explained that until 1123, when Pope Gregory VII introduced the rule on celibacy, eleven popes had married without the church suffering.

Pope Francis had floated the possibility of ordaining married priests, especially in isolated communities where there is shortage of clergy. But he ruled out making celibacy optional last year.

“I want to urge our Pope to make priestly celibacy optional to increase transparency in the church,” Njogu said. “Celibacy is not biblical and doesn’t sanctify priesthood because priesthood is calling. We need to change the law on mandatory celibacy because it’s leading to allegations child abuses in the church.”

However, in an interview with the Religion News Service, Bishop Philip Anyolo who is the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, dismissed Njogu’s statements,saying no priests was willing to leave the church because they have been called to priesthood.

“Priests have been called for a special mission and they cannot serve two masters,” he said. “Those who are leaving are few individuals and we’ll continue to pray for them so that they can live holy life wherever they go.”

Meanwhile, Muga said he was enjoying the life he had missed while being celibate and thanked God for the revelation.

“God values families and I’m proud that my children will know their father,” he said. “I realized there was no problem getting married when you are a priest because even other churches are led by men of God who have families.”

Photo: Philip Muiga, left, sings with his wife, Octavia Wangari, before he was ordained as a priest in the Renewed Universal Catholic Church in April 2018, in Nyeri County, Kenya.
Credit: Doreen Ajiambo/ ARA Network Inc. (10/16/18)

Story/photo published date: 10/16/18

A version of this story was published in Religion News Service.
You are here: Home Newsroom Sub-Saharan Africa Holding on to faith and marriage vows