Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Priestly Celibacy in Africa ...

Rocco links to this story about a Ugandan priest who married his lover, and then joined a breakaway "Catholic" church.
Father Shiundu says his decision to marry her wasn't a difficult one to make: after all, she was already the mother of his two daughters, Natalie (aged six) and Camilla, aged one.
Father Shiundu who holds a degree in theology from Urbaniana University in Rome, was ordained a priest in 1994. Three years later he was posted to Kerio Valley, where he met and fell in love with Stella - but strong disapproval from the church caused them to move to Uganda where the priest enrolled as a law student at Makerere University. However, he eventually dropped out of the course and decided to return to Kenya with Stella, marry her and put an end to their life of subterfuge.
One wonders about the practice of the discipline of celibacy in the Church in the global South. Whereas in the West, of late, the stories are all about priests and their (male) lovers, I've heard anecdotal stories of priests with concubines, mistresses, "housekeepers" who were more than that, and so on. One friend (who will obviously remain unidentified), who left seminary before ordination (he'd met a lady he wanted to marry), told me that his superior had more or less suggested to him that he could stay on and keep his girlfriend as a mistress. It was not unheard of.

Of course, this is entirely anecdotal, and I'm not here to knock either the priesthood or the discipline of celibacy. But, one tends to wonder: how often is it ignored with a knowing wink, for whatever reason?

Rocco's comment was basically that the pressure to relax the discipline of celibacy might come from the global South ...
It's always been said -- and wisely so -- that if the discipline of mandatory celibacy for priests were ever loosened, it wouldn't be in response to the "But celibacy's so tough" agitations of activists in the spoilt West (around whom, contrary to their deep-seated belief, global Catholicism does not revolve), but to sanate the widespread but clandestine situation in Africa and Latin America. In the former, local custom and tradition render the celibate man an ineffective messenger, and in the latter many priests are already what we could call "married"... just not officially. It's been said that in much of the global south, episcopal selection basically boils down to finding the cleric with just one wife and, well, there's your nominee.
Hmm. However, the outfit that this particular priest has joined doesn't sound too different from some clamoring voices in the West:
The Reformed Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church now has more than 2,000 members, and is encouraging women to join as priests. The election of bishops is done by the faithful, rather than by the head American church, and lay people are allowed up to the altar to read the Bible. The new church also permits the use of condoms, provided one of the partners is HIV- positive and could infect the other. These radical changes fly in the face of accepted Catholic doctrine, but Father Shiundu says a more realistic, practical approach is needed towards life, sexuality and relationships.
[Not sure what is meant by lay people being "allowed to read from the altar." Didn't know it was proscribed in ordinary Catholic practice.] I do hope though, that he has a deeper sense of commitment to his new wife than he did to the promise he made his bishop at ordination:
"When I was ordained a priest I promised to remain celibate, but-like any other promise- you can break it if it isn't working," he says. Still, he's just sworn to love and cherish Stella till death them do part.
[Sorry, because of the blogspot ban, it's a little tedious to hunt down the permalink for a story ... this one is from July 18 on Whispers]

No comments: