At the Renewed Universal Catholic Church in Nyeri, in central Kenya, celebratory ululations filled the air last spring after Bishop Peter Njogu ordained three new priests.
Like Njogu, a former Roman Catholic priest and the founder of the Renewed Church, all three of the new priests are married.
“I’m happy because I have been ordained as a priest in this church,” said Philip Muiga, 52, 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, including several ordained in July, who have renounced their vows of celibacy, proposed to women and joined the Renewed Universal Catholic Church since late 2017.
Njogu, who 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, he said, was simply acknowledging reality.
“We want priests to get married so that they can live a pure life without pretense,” said Njogu, a 55-year-old 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 a good house and vehicles. Some priests even prey on children and abandon them.”
Njogu’s journey toward schism began in 2002, when Pope John Paul II excommunicated him for his relationship with his longtime companion, Berith Karimi. Soon afterward, the priest and Karimi married. Former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who had also been excommunicated for marrying a woman, then ordained Njogu as a bishop, paving the way for the establishment of a new church.
Other Catholic priests said Njogu was addressing a concern widely shared among the local clergy. “He is speaking our minds,” said a priest in Nairobi who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being suspended. “Everyone wants the issue of celibacy to be discussed and resolved.
“It’s true that we desire families. But it’s also true that some priests have secret families and others continue to prey on children to satisfy their sexual needs,” he said.
Njogu has urged Pope Francis to consider ordaining married men as priests to prevent clergy from defecting to Njogu’s church, saying he was planning to ordain more priests next year.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Tonny Onyulo