Last week, Rev Fr Deogratius Ssonko in an article published in the New Vision apologised to the archbishop of Kampala Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, whom he also asked for readmission to the Roman Catholic Church.
Ssonko, a doctor of Theology and former lecturer at St Mbaaga Ggaba National Major Seminary, is among the priests that broke ranks with the mainstream Catholic Church to join charismatic preacher Fr Jacinto Kibuuka in the Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church last July.
This was after Kibuuka fell out with Archbishop Lwanga, his mentor and ordinary. According to sources close to both Lubaga, the seat of Kampala archdiocese, and Kibuuka’s Namugongo-based Mamre Prayer Centre International, all was well until the recently concluded Lenten season when Ssonko got a change of heart.
Ssonko was reportedly disturbed by his ailing mother who is said to have disowned him for breaking ranks with the Roman Catholic Church. His mother is a strong adherent of the Roman rite and could not take in her son’s subscription to the Antiochian Catholicism.
Using his vast knowledge of the Church’s theology, Ssonko had written papers and newspaper articles about the different rites in the Catholic Church, but all these seem not to have pleased his mother. Being that she is the one who put him through school, Ssonko told friends he did not wish for his mother to die while still angry with him.
To make up with his mother, Ssonko sought Archbishop Lwanga’s pardon, who according to sources at Lubaga, asked him to make the apology public. Besides the alleged pressure from his mother, there are reports that Ssonko could not keep up with Kibuuka’s cash-strapped church.
A source close to Lubaga claimed that at the beginning, Kibuuka had promised Ssonko and the other priests that joined him an allowance of Shs 500,000 for every holy mass celebrated and Shs 200,000 for hearing confessions. A source close to Mamre, however, said Kibuuka failed to raise Ssonko’s demand for Shs 400,000 in weekly allowances.
Interviewed, Kibuuka denied having made any monetary pledges to any of the priests under the Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church (EOCC).
“Those are lies. First of all, I didn’t invite any priest to join this church; they all came by their free will, and we all applied to Bishop Tom [Sibayirwa Kiiza, the Church’s presiding bishop in Uganda],” Kibuuka said.
“If the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t pay a salary, how can I promise anyone a salary? This is not a government and everyone here is performing his priestly roles as a volunteer,” Kibuuka added.
Appearing on NBS TV’s Morning Breeze yesterday, Ssonko said he left the Roman Catholic Church out of his personal mistake and ignorance, although he defended some of the writings he made about the EOCC and more specifically the activities at Kibuuka’s Mamre Prayer Centre International.
Ssonko said Mamre catered for his upkeep but declined to open up on the source of the new church’s finances.
“I was not in finance. My roles were in the Liturgy department and therefore I can’t speak to the source,” Ssonko told NBS’ Simon Kaggwa Njala.
Ssonko also said that he still recognises Sibayira as a bishop much as he is back to the communion of Roman Catholicism.
At Lubaga, some are keenly watching to see whether Lwanga will accept Ssonko’s apology and readmit him at a time when he is still reluctant to forgive six other priests he suspended.
One of the six priests was suspended after he sired a child with a woman whose wedding the priest had presided over. To some Catholics, this is a lesser offence than Ssonko’s act.
But Lwanga is expected to accept Ssonko’s apology, given his seniority and vast knowledge, not to mention the public interest it draws. Lubaga looks at him as a key figure at EOCC, and winning him over would break Antiochians.
Speaking to The Observer, Anthony Mateega, the head of laity in Kampala archdiocese, downplayed the Church’s perceived role in Ssonko’s public apology.
“He [Ssonko] is the one who gave it to the press because even his departure was announced in the press. I think he found it important for the world to know that he is no longer with the group he had been known to be with,” Mateega said.
He said it now remains with the Church’s authority to handle the apology in accordance with the Church’s norms.
“In the history of the Church, we have had cases of lapsed Christians and once they repent and choose to come back, the Church has a mechanism of reintegrating them,” he said.
“The Church is a mother and by being a mother, its children err, and if someone has erred and by God’s grace asks for forgiveness, it is only a matter of civility that the person is forgiven,” Mateega added.
Since July last year when they fell out with the Roman Catholic Church, the number of EOCC adherents has steadily grown from a few hundreds to more than 300,000 followers across the country.
Kibuuka’s efforts were rewarded by his appointment as a bishop for Kampala and is due for consecration in November, while Ssonko had been nominated for appointment as a bishop.
“We were not affected by his departure, but we thank him for the time he has spent with us and we pray for him to succeed where he has gone,” Kibuuka said.
Once readmitted, the former head priest of Uganda Martyrs Shrine parish may not directly resume his priestly roles in Roman Catholic Church.
According to a source well versed with the workings of the church, Ssonko may be sent abroad for further studies and literally be kept away from the public or will be assigned administrative roles or, worse still, be confined to one of the Church’s confinement centres.