On March 12, the celebrity Catholic priest Anthony Musaala wrote an open letter to bishops and the laity, in which, among other things, he calls for the abolition of celibacy.
Musaala’s major thesis is that celibacy is not working anyway, as the men of the robe are involved in affairs and fathering children. The church has responded by suspending Musaala, but the priest insists his concerns should be addressed.
The issue has raised impassioned debate with many faithful apparently torn between facing an unpleasant reality and trying to preserve the dignity of their religion.
Here we reproduce Musaala’s letter.
It is an open secret that many Catholic priests and some bishops, in Uganda and elsewhere, no longer live celibate chastity. From the numerous cases on the ground one might be forgiven for saying that most diocesan priests either don’t believe in celibacy anymore, or if they do, have long since given up the struggle to be chaste.
In any case it still seems important for priests to vow even a woefully imperfect celibacy, if only for the sake of the hallowed ‘priestly image’. The church, however, still maintains the fable that most Catholic priests persevere in celibate chastity fairly well, which fiction begs belief.
All is not well
All is definitely not well with what I call ‘administrative celibacy’, in the Catholic church. It is a celibacy which is more forced than consented to, and its effects are anything but good.
I suggest that now more than at any other time, we must begin an open and frank dialogue about catholic priests becoming happily married men, rather than being miserable and single, either before or after ordination.
Although this may be quite a shock to many but the alternative may be far worse. What do you think happens when lapses and scandals by priests, sisters, brothers and bishops continue unabated , whether hidden or not?
My forecast is that we will have a few more years of catholic self-deception; perhaps ten, telling ourselves and the world that everything is Ok, nothing serious. Then more scandals will surface.
As people become more enlightened (as in Europe) there will be a crisis of faith, perhaps a sudden collapse, with many leaving the church, either to join other churches (whose pastors may be no better, but who appear to be less hypocritical about it), or to become agnostics, especially the middle classes.
One must remember that there are other challenges facing the church, such as general weakening of faith, loss of sacramental life, low incomes, dull liturgies, and the challenges of the media. Many of the youth ( not the children) are already alienated from Catholicism and are easy prey to proselytizing groups.
The number of catholic priests and bishops who are sexually active in Uganda is unknown, but almost everywhere unedifying stories of priests ‘sexploits’, are not hard to come by. These stories are told in counseling or as anecdotes or by the media. They are told within the parishes and beyond. They are told at home in families, in taxis, in hair salons and in the markets.
What is talked about? Priests’ secret and not so secret liaisons with girls and women, coerced sex with house-maids, with students, with relatives; priests ‘wives’ set up in well established homes; priests involved with a parishioner’s wife; of priests romantically involved with religious Sisters; priests offering money for sex, and so on…
If you add to this, a fair number of priests’ and bishops’ children scattered around the nation, who are carefully hidden from view (and not so carefully!), not to mention children who are aborted at priests’ behest, we begin to get the true picture of human weakness, whose consequences are nothing less than catastrophic both for the priest and his partners, and which cannot be concealed by taking a vow of celibacy, or by retreats and more prayers.
Lessons from America
While in Europe and the States, the scandal of numerous pedophile priests, whose victims are rightly suing the catholic church is widely reported in the media, very little by contrast is heard about priests and bishops in Africa who continue sexually abusing female minors (or vulnerable women) with no legal action taken.
Obviously time has come for serious measures to be undertaken, similar to those in Europe and America. Apart from legal action in civil and ecclesiastical courts against offenders, strict ‘child protection’ codes and practices, must be enforced, by the state which for instance should prohibit young or vulnerable females from residing in parish houses, where some of the abuses occur.
Thus the unnecessary and unpalatable deception about celibate priests, that they are chaste when they are not is clearly contradicted by what is on the ground. The deception is of course not tenable for much longer. Surely we must first tell ourselves the truth as a church, that is to say, that celibacy has failed or is failing us, and then also tell the world which we have been deceiving the naked truth, before we are completely overtaken by events.
Unfortunately there is an ominous unhealthy conspiracy of silence about these matters among the Ugandan clergy and faithful alike, probably because priestly celibacy might be seen to be a hollow shell, which it mostly is nowadays.
The laity for all their good will, are also co-opted into this unwholesome silence, sometimes for lack of information, sometimes because they believe that they have some ‘moral’ duty to be loyal to an imperfect church. In truth their silence shores up the sins of priests and the destroys many lives.
When I ask lay people whether catholic priests should have the option to marry the answer is always NO; since they say, that would make catholic priests like Anglican reverends! As if that was the worst possible fate, yet Anglican clergy who are married certainly do not have the same levels and same kinds of sexual lapses as their catholic counterparts..
Most lay people in Uganda would not like their priests to have the option of marriage, yet it is their very own children, sisters, wives who are being used and abused by the clergy!
A campaign for optional married priesthood in the catholic church is now required. This campaign is primarily a form of education and purification. It is not be construed as a rebellion against established doctrine but a reading of the signs of the times
Since there are no fundamental theological arguments against a married priesthood (there are already some married priests in the UK and Uniate Catholic Churches) but only arguments from tradition and church discipline, I believe that it is a matter of time before common sense prevails and marriage for the clergy in the Latin rite (i.e. catholic) church is accepted..
I am aware that there is a big struggle ahead. Unfortunately celibacy also serves certain vested interests in the power structure of the church, and of course celibate priests are cheaper and easier to deal with, even to manipulate, by ecclesiastical authority, but I believe that in time we will be freed from this unnecessary yoke, unhelpful as it is, which is all the more severe in Africa where family and family ties are so crucial to one’s psychological equilibrium..
One factor which has prompted me to take up this campaign is my own biography. I am one of a handful of several priests who had the misfortune of appearing in the press for supposed sexual trespasses In my case, which was 2009, it was cited that I must be a homosexual, because I had homosexual friends and went to homosexual gatherings. Not that I cared much whether or not someone thinks that I am homosexual. Certainly I have been called worse things than that.
In my defence I tried to point out that I didn’t actually recall having had homosexual relations with any of my rabid accusers, neither did they; which meant that hearsay alone became the evidence . What I found troubling is what followed. Apart from all the pain and scandal caused to all concerned, I found that even though all the allegations were based on hearsay, I was being treated, by my superiors as the biggest sinner in Nineveh.
Up till now judgments are being made against me by ecclesiastical authority in the light of those events, which I suppose is to be expected. I wondered about this and came to the conclusion that priests who ‘get caught.’ like me, have to pay for the sins of all those who don’t get caught. In other words failed celibacy requires scapegoats.
Some clergy are able to get away with the grossest behaviour because of their age, position, influence or even because of financial inducements.
So while I appear to have little moral authority to talk about celibacy as a priestly virtue because of what may or may not have happened to me in 2009, nevertheless I can point out the systemic immorality of the institutionalized hypocrisy called celibate diocesan priesthood, which severely punishes lapses when they appear, but condones the secret crimes of many more.
I believe that there must be a new openness at whatever it takes. The point is not that diocesan priests should leave the priesthood and get married, but compel the church to offer the option of a married priesthood. This will put an end to the double lives so many priests are forced to live.
I spoke with a 21 year old young man last week. He is one of seven children of a catholic priest who happens to still be serving within the Province of the Archdiocese of Kampala. The young man, who is willing to testify, lived in a parish house with his father priest, even serving on the altar with him, but having to pretend to be a visiting nephew.
At times he was assisted by his father to go to school, but was later abandoned. On one occasion he drank poison in order to end his life, due to the trauma, but was taken to hospital before he died.
Another is a personal friend. He was fathered by a missionary priest of the White Fathers 58 years ago but is still suffering the trauma of no real identity or home.
Although he has since received some minimum compensation from the White fathers , he still feels that there was an injustice to his mother who is still alive , who was sexually assaulted by the said White father priest in his office when she was only sixteen. He wishes to sue.
Another case is of a priest who seduced a member of my youth group who happened to be in need of school fees, at Old Kampala, She soon became pregnant by the said priest, disappeared from church activities and from her home to be established in a ‘home’.
Another lady tells of how she went to confession, only to be sexually molested by the priest, who fondled her breasts during confession
When I was at secondary school, it was common knowledge that various Brothers were having sexual activity with the boys. It was called ‘jaboo’. As a pubescent teenager, my first sexual encounter was actually with one of the brothers who invited me to his room on the pretext of doing some extra chemistry equations. I was sixteen at the time. Later
I heard that several others had been through the same thing..with the same Brother and with other ones..Some are still alive to this day.
I do not believe either that these cases are just a few ‘bad apples’ in the barrel, but rather they are symptomatic of a sick system which has lost its integrity in this one area, but won’t admit it. Some of these cases are clearly criminal in nature, especially those of sex with children. They should be dealt with in a normal fashion and legal action taken in civil courts either against the church, or against those priests who offend.
I am therefore compiling cases from all over Uganda. I believe that if the all the victims of clergy molestations were to come out and sue the church in civil courts, such abuses would sharply decrease. I am also helping to set up a Victims Support Group, independent of the church for obvious reasons, with guidance and help from similar groups in Europe and the States.
I have also engaged a human rights lawyer to advise on the wider implications of clergy abuse on the basic human rights of individuals, especially women.
Join me in this exciting challenge to bring fundamental change and renewal to the Catholic Church.
FR. ANTHONY MUSAALA