Vatican is watching how Archbishop Lwanga deals with the Fr. Musaala saga
"It is a good point for reflection but it will not change the fundamentals of the church." That is how one practicing Catholic assessed the impact of recent revelations by renowned celebrity Catholic priest, Father Anthony Musaala of sexual impropriety in the church.
That belief in theinvincibility of the old Catholic Church might be similar to the Biblical house built on quick sand, without a foundation.
What one hears in conversations on the street and in the media across the country is that Fr. Musaala's letter has sparked unprecedented public debate of what some have called the "double standards and hypocrisy' of the Catholic Church that the letter points out.
It is without doubt that depending on how the leadership of Uganda's biggest religious congregation of 14 million Catholics in four archdioceses and 19 dioceses handles the Fr. Musaala saga, the church could be changed; perhaps irrevocably.
The man on whose shoulder lays the task of steering the church through the storm is Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala diocese.
A stocky man, with a disarming smile and unusual aggressiveness for a clergyman, the 60-year old Archbishop has in the past shown he is not one to shirk the sometimes tough calling of his office. He has spoken out firmly against bad governance, child sacrifice and corruption.
Few were surprised when within days of Musaala's letter going public, Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga, who is the head of the church, suspended him from all priestly duty.
Critics have said it is unlikely that the highest ranked priest in the Catholic Church in Uganda, the mild Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala who has not commented on the Musaala saga yet, would act so swiftly.
Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga, like his predecessors, has eyes set on being ordained cardinal. That process has been almost automatic. Depending on how he handles this saga and how his performance is judged by his superiors in the Vatican, his fate and that of the Catholic Church could shift.
Part of the problem is that since Father Musaala on March 12 released a letter addressed to bishops, priests, and laity, the Catholic community can no longer shrug off tales of priests in Uganda fondling penitents in the confessional, bishops molesting young women, paying for abortions, and fathering children.
Fr. Mussala describes in the letter how, as a 16-year old boy, he had his first sexual encounter with a 'brother'; one of the hierarchies of priests in the Catholic Church vowed to celibacy. He describes how many other boys in his school were similarly molested in a practice called 'jaboo'.
In the letter entitled, "The Failure of celibate chastity among diocesan priests", Father Musaala described the Catholic Church in Uganda as a "sick system which has lost its integrity in this one area but won't admit it."
"A campaign for optional married priesthood in the catholic church is now required," he writes, "This campaign is primarily a form of education and purification. It is not to be construed as a rebellion against established doctrine but a reading of the signs of the times."
Archbishop Lwanga will not make the allegations disappear by suspending Fr. Musaala and banning priests from discussing them. He needs to do more.
Fr. Musaala's letter is perfectly timed to coincide with the weeklong Easter season that ends on March 31 when Christians mark their belief in the ultimate sacrifice in the crucifixion and resurrection of the founder of their religion, the Biblical figure, Jesus Christ.
Although over 90% of Ugandans profess to be Christians, many of them rarely visit churches and some attend mass only twice a year; on Easter and Christmas. Musaala's campaign is likely to be the topic in conversation around, if not inside, the churches. Christians across the country will be seeking guidance from their priests. Silence cannot be the answer.
It also appears significant that the letter, published just a day before the Vatican announced Pope Francis I as its new leader, is likely to get maximum attention in Rome.
In the letter, Musaala says he has engaged a human rights lawyer and warns of pending lawsuits against the clergy and church. He also announced that, with support from groups in America and Europe, he is setting up a Victims Support Group.
"Join me in this exciting challenge to bring fundamental change to the Catholic Church," he ended.
Facts about Catholic Priests and Marriage
In the Catholic Church a few married men, converted ministers from other faiths, have been ordained to the priesthood.
Catholic priests are believed to serve in the place of Christ and therefore, their ministry specially configures them to Christ who was not married. By remaining celibate, they are expected to devote themselves to the service of the Church at St. Paul makes clear (1 Cor 7:32-35). He recommends celibacy to all (1 Cor 7:7).
Catholic Priests cannot marry if they belong to religious orders that take vows of celibacy or make a promise of celibacy.
Once a Catholic priest is ordained,he cannot validly marry even if he leaves the Church.
Although the Musaala saga has shed light in a dark chapter of the church, the clergy and laity in interviews with The Independent says what he is talking about is "nothing new".
Many Ugandans do not know that the Catholic Church allows married people to serve as priests in some places such as Ukraine.
Many Ugandans also do not know that the requirement for Roman Catholic priests not to marry is relatively new, from 1123 when the First Lateran Council introduced it. Since 1980, the Catholic Church has allowed married priests from the Anglican Church who joined to stay with their wives.
Father Stephen Msele, the head of the Jesuits in Uganda, says the issues Fr. Musaala points out are pertinent and that a priest found to be with children should be ex-communicated.
On the issue of priests marrying, he takes a completely different view.
"It has to be an order from the Pope but still then that means we have to send a delegation to Rome to have clear deliberations about the subject," he says.
Pope Francis has been quoted in international media saying the celibacy rule could change although he stated that he would still vouch for it on a personal note. That view is based on an interview the Pope gave when he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the highest ranking Catholic prelate in England, recently resigned over tremendous pressure about sex related accusations. Cardinal O'Brien had expressed empathy and was circumspect about the issue of celibacy in the church. He felt for the many priests whom he had related with that expressed desires to have normal lives living as married people with children.
Perhaps O'Brien's views represent a shift taking shape in the once extremely conservative organisation that the Catholic Church has always been known for.
History of celibacy in the Catholic Church
Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men.
306-Council of Elvira, Spain, decree #43: A priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.
325-Council of Nicea: Decreed that after ordination a priest could not marry. Proclaimed the Nicene Creed.
385: Pope Siricius left his wife in order to become pope. Decreed that priests may no longer sleep with their wives.
401: St. Augustine wrote, "Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman."
567-2nd Council of Tours: Any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year and reduced to the lay state.
580-Pope Pelagius II: His policy was not to bother married priests as long as they did not hand over church property to wives or children.
590-604: Pope Gregory "the Great" said that all sexual desire is sinful.
France: documents show that the majority of priest were married.
St. Boniface reported to the pope that in Germany almost no bishop or priest was celibate.
836: Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up activities of non-celibate clerics.
St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry.
1045- Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry.
1074-Pope Gregory VII said anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy.
1095-Pope Urban II had priests' wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned.
1123-Pope Calistus II: First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid.
1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage.
1930-Pope Pius XI: Sex can be good and holy.
1951-Pope Pius XII: Married Lutheran pastor ordained catholic priest in Germany.
1962-Pope John XXIII: Vatican Council II; vernacular; marriage is equal to virginity.
1966-Pope Paul VI: Celibacy dispensations.
1978-Pope John Paul II: Puts a freeze on dispensations.
1980: Married Anglican/Episcopal pastors are ordained as catholic priests in the U.S.; also in Canada and England in 1994.
Archbishop Lwanga criticised
Archbishop Lwanga has banned priests from discussing this subject but the Canon law of the Catholic Church on which Archbishop Lwanga based his suspension of Fr. Musaala has also come under scrutiny. According to knowledgeable interpretation, it is not clear about the issue of clergy speaking out and raising issues within the church.
Archbishop Lwanga who said Fr. Musaala's allegations "tarnish the image of the church and threaten to derail believers from their spiritual journey" has been criticised for his speedy action. Tough action from the Catholic Church is not unheard of in Uganda. The Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Fr. Simon Lokodo, was ex- communicated from the Catholic Church by the former Pope Benedicto XVI when he joined politics.
Fr. Musaala's letter has also sparked public debate of the "double standards and hypocrisy' of the Catholic Church that the letter points out.
Grace Agabamagara, a former seminarian, says whether priests should be allowed to marry and have children has been mooted before the highest organs of the church.
"I don't see the reason for all the fuss caused by Fr Musaala's letter. The whole issue has been blown out of proportion; the problem in Uganda is that when you try to break with tradition, you meet a lot of resistance especially when your ideas are reformative."
Agabamagara agrees with Fr Musaala's views and cites the example of married Anglican priests who are allowed to maintain their status even after they join the Catholic shade.
"People who serve in the church are as human as anybody else. They have their own views and perceptions and many of them would have loved to say what Fr Musaala said but perhaps out of fear, they contained themselves."
According to a person familiar with the Catholic Church's practices, the vows of celibacy are arranged in such a way that clergy that find difficulty in keeping them, can opt out.
"Catholic priests and nuns first sign contracts of five years and renew them only if they want to. Those who don't want to continue leave and some of them get married," the source of the information said, "That is what Fr. Musaala should have done if he wants to get married."
Fr. Musaala, who was ordained after the age of 30 in England, has said he has no interest to marry.
"The only reason Father Musaala is attracting attention is because he is a celebrity," one observer noted, "Martin Luther did the same thing in the 16th century but the church did not change. That is how the protestant church started."
It is undeniable that Father Musaala's letter became public at a time of tempest for the Catholic Church in Uganda.
Popes who were married
St. Peter, Apostle
St. Felix III 483-492 (2 children)
St. Hormidas 514-523 (1 son)
St. Silverus (Antonia) 536-537
Hadrian II 867-872 (1 daughter)
Clement IV 1265-1268 (2 daughters)
Felix V 1439-1449 (1 son)
Popes who had illegitimate children after 1139
Innocent VIII (1484-1492): Several children
Alexander VI ( 1492-1503): Several children
Julius (1503-1513): 3 daughters
Paul III (1534-1549): 3 sons, 1 daughter
Pius IV( 1559-1565): 3 sons
Gregory XIII (1572-1585): 1 son
Source: The Internet
Two years ago, in 2009, a breakaway faction calling itself the Catholic Apostolic National Church broke away and started ordaining married priests. Prominent among them is Rev. Fr. William Obonyo. The faction is allied to the Brazilian Catholic of former Roman Catholic Bishop Dom Carlos Duarte Costa of Botucato.
Fr. Musaala is a man no stranger to controversy. He has said publicly that he was twice expelled from school and consistently faced criticism from his peers for hobnobbing with secular artistes at the peak of his gospel music career.
When Fr. Musaala hit the limelight more than eight years ago, the Ugandan music scene was greeted by an unconventional, cheery and free spirited priest who did not feel inhibited to share the stage with secular artistes. He became a celebrity with songs such as endongo ya Yesu, Tuli mu lugendo receiving massive airplay. In 2009 he faced a major setback when allegations of sodomy were levelled against him with reports circulating that he was hosting gay parties at his residence.
Although he was cleared by the ensuing investigation, the public started to see a new image of Fr Musaala that had been kept in the dark. According to informed sources at Rubaga Cathedral, the seat of the Catholic Church, Fr. Musaala who had developed a habit of engaging his superiors in open debates on ecclesiastical matters ceased to engage them. He reportedly realised that his sessions with his superiors would change little in the church's ways.
That is perhaps why he opted to put his view formally in writing. In interviews, however, he has said he did not intend for his letter to be public. He wanted, instead, that it forms a basis for reform in the church.