In a space of days, the Catholic Church in Uganda has both hit the apex of ecstasy – with the election of Pope Francis – and crashed to a nadir of controversy, with the Father Anthony Musaala dossier.
Fr Musaala, famed for his gospel music and charismatic preaching, this month wrote an open letter in which he calls for priests to be allowed to marry. He argues, with examples, that celibacy is increasingly becoming a fallacy, as priests conduct affairs and father children.
In response, the church has suspended Musaala over the dossier. But the debate rages on, sometimes taking ugly inter-faith turns. Some Catholics have backed Musaala. But many have condemned him, seeing his dossier as irresponsible washing of dirty linen in the public, to the embarrassment of the faithful.
This is a delicate subject for both the priest and his church. What is certain is that the issues Musaala raises are not new. Many Catholics know a priest, even bishop, who has affairs and children and these issues are usually talked about in hushed voices, or simply avoided.
One unique thing Musaala has done is to give a face and priestly endorsement to the anti-celibacy debate while retaining his robes.
Still, Musaala must have known that the issue of celibacy is bigger than Uganda. It arouses curiosity if Musaala expects Uganda to write the law for Rome.
To the extent that Musaala has denied having circulated his dossier on the internet, the priest can be credited for raising this debate with his superiors. Beyond that, Musaala may find more sympathetic ears if he accuses his church of locking anti-celibacy men out of priesthood.
But ultimately, this is a matter for Pope Francis and the leadership of the church to grapple with.
Church leaders cannot claim to be unaware of the issues Musaala raises. There should be a compromise between permitting free debate and failing to provide strong leadership.
From Rubaga to Rome, the church must decide whether to rethink celibacy, or – as Pope John Paul II ordered a decade ago – to act against deviant priests. Failure to act and hoping the problem will go away will only invite more Musaalas to speak out.