The Roman Catholic Church in Uganda is facing a tough test as more priests walk away from the mainstream, threatening the harmony and discipline it has always been associated with.
At Lubaga, the seat of Kampala Archdiocese, there are fears that the growing resentment among priests towards Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga’s leadership could lead to an Arua-like scenario.
A source at Lubaga told The Observer on Friday that the number of disenchanted priests has grown over what they call the archbishop’s high-handedness.
“What happened in Arua is not far from happening at Lubaga because of the way the archdiocese is being managed,” the source said.
On September 22, a combined force of regular and military police fought running battles with angry Christians at Ediofe cathedral in Arua. The Christians who converged overnight wanted to evict the Arua diocesan bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki who they accuse of mismanaging the diocesan affairs.
Bishop Odoki too has a trail of bad relations with priests under him. Some rebel priests in Kampala archdiocese have chosen to take a low profile while others have defected and joined charismatic preacher Fr Jacinto Kibuuka, who was suspended from the Catholic Church in July.
Notable among the defectors is Fr Dr Vincent Kibuuka Byansi, who previously headed Caritas Kampala, a church organisation involved in socio-economic development activities. Others are Fr Deogratius Ssonko and Fr Anthony Ssewanyana.
Byansi, Ssonko and Ssewanyana are openly working with Kibuuka at his Mamre ministries, which subscribes to the Antiochian (Eastern) rite of the Catholic Church as opposed to the Western rite to which the Roman Catholic Church subscribes.
On September 22, Byansi, Ssonko and Ssewanyana escorted Fr Kibuuka to Kibuku district where he opened his first upcountry prayer centre at Kagumu. The session drew thousands of people and galvanized Fr Kibuuka’s following.
Byansi’s defection shocked many at Lubaga because he was known to be close to Lwanga. The two worked together in Kasana-Luweero diocese before Lwanga was appointed Kampala archbishop. Speaking to The Observer on Saturday, Byansi accused Lwanga of misusing his powers under the church’s canon law.
“The major weakness of the code of canon law is giving too much power to a bishop and when a bishop misuses such power, it causes problems like what we saw in Arua,” Fr Byansi said.
“When talking about dictators, we should not only talk about African presidents but also leaders in other institutions and organizations; this is what the archbishop has become, and that is why he is taking decisions that can be bad for the church,” Fr Byansi added.
Byansi disagreed with Lwanga over the suspension of his colleague, Fr Kibuuka. He told The Observer that before Lwanga announced Kibuuka’s suspension from all priestly duties, he (Byansi) had been pushing for dialogue.
“The decision [to suspend Fr Kibuuka] was influenced by a small clique around the archbishop, which we didn’t agree with because we believed that this matter could have been resolved through dialogue,” Byansi said.
CHURCH IS NO PRISON
Interviewed on Saturday, the chancellor of Kampala archdiocese, Rev Fr Joseph Mary Ssebunya, said the archdiocesan leadership was not aware of priests joining Fr Kibuuka.
“We don’t have that information because they have not officially communicated to us, but the church is not a prison; it is a pity [that they have left] but we pray for them that at some time they will come back,” Ssebunya said.
He prayed that what transpired in Arua does not come to Kampala.
“The church wants peace and wouldn’t want to see a repeat of that (Arua protests)…if it happens, it will of course be unchristian because that is not what the church preaches,” Ssebunya added.
Apart from his leadership changes that left some priests not impressed, Archbishop Lwanga is also accused of frustrating independent-minded priests. Some priests are reportedly unhappy with the new policy that requires those who receive donations from their foreign benefactors to remit at least 15 per cent to the church.
According to the source, some foreign benefactors, unhappy with the policy, have decided to keep their donations, leaving many priests broke.
“Besides, the archbishop wants all [bank] accounts for schools, hospitals and all projects to be centralized and put under his watch,” our source said.
To stamp out dissent, Archbishop Lwanga has been making changes, replacing priests he suspects to be disobedient.
“There is a feeling among priests that some priests were posted to ‘juicy’ parishes while those that are seen to be disloyal were sent to poor parishes,” said the source.
Among the appointments that raised suspicion was that of Monsignor Lawrence Ssemusu Lugoloobi, who has been elevated to second vicar general responsible for shrines, worship and priests.
He has been the episcopal vicar for education and also the moderator of the archdiocesan curia (top officials of the archdiocese). Some insiders saw this appointment as a step towards quashing the charismatic movement within the church.
With more priests joining him, Fr Kibuuka has embarked on expanding his ministry. Kibuuka is reportedly planning to open another centre in Kasese soon.