Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Future Of The Celibacy Debate Lies In Africa, Not Miami

Archbishop Milingo is not the only African Bishop with a wife, he's just got the highest profile

Central African Republic: Church in Crisis as Two Catholic Bishops Quit

Bangui — The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic is grappling with a crisis brought by the resignation of two senior bishops and a strike by priests.

The Vatican on Tuesday announced the resignation of Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo of Bangui, 54, less than two weeks after the departure on May 16 of Bishop Francois-Xavier Yombanje of Bossangoa, president of the bishops' conference.

Media reports say the resignation of Archbishop Pomodimo followed an investigation into priests of Bangui who live more or less openly with women and had fathered children.

Catholic News Service reported that following Archbishop Pomodimo's exit, more than 40 priests launched a one-day strike to protest the appointment of a new apostolic administrator. The priests from the Archdiocese of Bangui resumed celebrating Mass on Thursday a.

The Bangui archdiocesan chancellor, Fr Brad Mazangue, told CNS that arrangements were being made for the new apostolic administrator, Fr Dieudonne Nzapa-La-Ayinga, to address the priests on the matter as soon as possible.

When announcing the resignation of Archbishop Pomodimo, the Vatican said the prelate quit under the terms of Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that "a diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfil his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office."

Other reports quoted Passionist Fr Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, as saying that Archbishop Pomodimo resigned because of "insurmountable difficulties in running the diocese."

Fr Mathurin Paze Lekissan, a Bangui archdiocesan priest, told CNS by telephone that the Bangui clergy had invited priests in other dioceses to join them in protesting the resignation of the two bishops.

The news agency Africa News had reported Monday that Archbishop Pomodimo and several priests in his archdiocese would be sanctioned "for adopting a moral attitude which is not always in conformity with their commitments to follow Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience."

The agency said Guinean Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had visited the Central African Republic and "concluded that many local priests have official homes, children and have accumulated private properties."

Archbishop Sarah told CNS on Tuesday that he had travelled to the Bangui Archdiocese, but could not comment further.

Africa News also reported that priests from nine of the country's dioceses accused the Vatican of being "discriminatory, partial and selective in the assessment of the situation since white priests and bishops are also guilty of the same practices."


This situation in the Central African Republic makes the Fr. Cutie story insignificant for a number of reasons. First is the fact it has forced the resignation of two bishops, the second is it precipitated a diocesan wide strike by it's priests, and third there is the accusation of a two tiered system of enforcement, one for whites and one for everyone else.

Global Catholicism is not having a good month on the clerical front.

The Vatican has been silent about the reasons for the resignations of the two bishops and the subsequent priest strike. In an article from Catholic Culture there was one quote from Cardinal Ivan Dias which probably best sums up the official attitude, and which interestingly enough, never refers to the irregular and rampant domestic situations which precipitated the current crisis:

"In an open letter to the nation’s clergy, Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said that “many bad things have been done to the Body of Christ through poor and scandalous comportments.” He added:

It is pointless to deny what everybody knows. There is no need judging the motives and circumstances of the evil that has been committed. Members of the national clergy, diocesan and religious, you are, in one way or the other, accomplices in the current situation, but each of you shall assume his own culpability proportionally to his own responsibility."

I wonder how long everyone has known about this scandalous evil brewing in Central Africa? My guess is decades. Has to be decades when bishops are freely raising families along with their diocesan priests. Celibacy and chastity have never been widely received amongst the male clerical population in Africa, at least with any kind of consistency. Some people maintain it never can be as long as the African culture places such an emphasis on maintaining intact ancestral connections via the male line. Creating the next family generation is not just a cultural push, it's seen as a spiritual necessity.

I can remember back a couple of years ago when Archbishop Milingo of Zambia was a big story. John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter has done a number of articles on Milingo. The Vatican fear with Milingo was that he would start his own break away African church offering a married priesthood and a more traditional African spiritual approach, backed by the money of the Rev. Moon. That never materialized, although Milingo did join a similar break away group in the US and still maintains contact with Moon. He has now been excommunicated. Given the apparently widespread celibacy scandal in the Central African Republic we may be hearing from Archbishop Milingo yet again.

I think the Vatican has a major problem in Africa and South America. For a Church which sees these two continents as it's future, the Vatican seems incapable of assessing the fact that celibacy is not endemic to these cultures and is in fact, ignored as a necessary or intrinsic component of the priestly role.

Celibacy and chastity are the appropriate requirements for unmarried or widowed/divorced women, not manly men. That's why I found a comment attributed to Fr. Cutie quite telling. He is reported to have said that under his cassock was a pair of trousers.

The notion that sexual purity is a womanly thing impacts more than just priestly celibacy. It implies that men have a God given right to express their sexuality as intrinsic to their maleness and women don't. Women have a God given mandate to birth children as a result of male sexuality. This is why Cardinal Canizares, Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship can state that abortion is far worse than any abuse scandal, even the one literally destroying the Church in Ireland. The fact the Church practiced a form of abortion on born children by choosing to deprive them of any reasonable form of childhood, essentially treating them worse than these orders treated their farm animals, is totally over looked.

I wrote last week that there is no magic bullet or one doctrinal change to fix what's wrong with this Church. The attitudes which permeate the official structure are too entrenched and too out of balance. Vatican II started out with a pretty good notion of the entire Church being the People of God and that the real life experiences of real people needed to be taken into account. Those good thoughts slammed into to older visions of just what it meant to be human and the entrenched clerical power those notions supported. With the exception of liturgical changes Vatican II came to a screeching halt.

The ban on birth control and the refusal to relax celibacy rules has resulted in far fewer priests and far fewer pew sitters. Africa is not going to comply with these two provisions any better than the west, and as far as clerical celibacy goes, there is far less support for it with in the African culture. The story of Fr. Cutie may be front and center in the American discussion of celibacy, but the real problem for it's long term prospects is in Africa and South America. The prospects don't look very good.


  1. The sound we are hearing are the dominos falling. The historical truth is that any religious institution, any religious organization, any religious leader that practices any form of deception always falls in disgrace, usually publically. The RCC leadership is festering with deception at all levels. The ultimate collapse is inevitable, it is no only a matter of time.

  2. I'm torn on the matter of priestly celibacy. This story, however, isn't so much a case against celibacy as it is a demonstration of the Vatican's need to pay closer attention to ALL of its episcopal nominations, not just those who travel in the same circles as the people in Rome.

  3. Mike, or the Vatican needs to convince it's African clergy to be more discreet and closeted about their sexuality, which of course is really a nasty form of hypocrisy on top of the illicit sexuality.

    Personally I prefer the open African approach.

    Carl, the dominos certainly seem to be falling. I can't imagine what's going to happen in Ireland when the Dublin clergy report is issued next month. It's rumored to be worse than the report on the schools.

  4. A totalitarian rule from the Vatican of forced celibacy for all the priesthood is a clinging to fear of women and is most likely the result of the tradition of misogyny. It seems there are layers and layers of prejudice separating them from allowing and including women as equal children of God.

    The Vatican is going to have to transcend and to get honest about the fact that Jesus never required celibacy of anyone as the prerequisite to follow Him or promote the Gospel. If they do not transcend, the Church will descend as a sect of Christian fundamentalist and the People of God will ascend beyond their control and of this we are witnessing.

  5. Jesus most likely wasn't afraid of His own sexuality. I maintain that the mysoginy is symptomatic of sexually based fear. As in living in fear of unwanted wet dreams and erections.

    The sexual dogma is as uncompromising for men as it is women, it's just that the fear dynamics get shunted onto gay men and all women. It's all so juvenile.

    Speaking of juvenile, it's time I went back to ESPN and talked more trash with Penguin fans. HEEHEE

  6. Colleen, what will happen with the Dublin report is that the RCC will attempt to blame the gay community for their failures.

    One thing that the RCC leadership consistently does is scapegoat a group rather than admit to their own culpability and responsibility.

    My favorite line from a trial transcript: "it was the victims fault I shot him ... he wouldnt give me his wallet". Sound familiar?

    The RCC leadership is so corrupt, that in the justification and rationalizations of their actions, they have denigrated themselves to the same level as a strung out junkie trying to steal money for his next fix. The sad part, given what we continue to see, this trend is only going to get worse.

  7. dominos falling? But they've been falling for ever, and we still await some sign of some new movement.

  8. "Baptism, not holy orders, calls each of us to an unreasonable availability ... To demand that every priest exemplify the integrity to which each of us is summoned may be asking too much, but to require of every priest at least as much maturity and balance as a responsible parent would require of an adolescent baby-sitter seems reasonable enough. At any rate, those who condone current Church usage of celibacy really shouldn't complain about the current profusion of weak and inadequate priests the Church suffers ... It is troubling that the deterioration of an antisocial young man attracted by a comfortable regimen, an odd wardrobe, and isolation from women can be disguised as a vow."

    "Papal insistence on a monosexual and celibate priestly ministry is grounded in and generates a weird scale of values in which access to the Eucharist is presented as less urgent than a badly explained sexual rectitude."

    (Michael Garvey, Finding Fault, 1990)

    Jim McCrea

  9. Pope Paul VI saii in 1969 in Kampala, on the occasion of the consecration of 12 Africans as bishops, including Emanuel Milingo: "You may and must have an African Church." So the emergence of the semi-legal status of the married priest is just what he asked for. The Catholic Church is in Africa really flourishing as it answers to the real needs of the people in matters of culture, health care and education. The women religious orders are really doing marvellous work. For women celibacy is experienced as a blessing. In the African Church male celibacy is defined as somebody who restricts himself to only one wife. A priest without a wife is not acceptable.

  10. Pope Paul VI said in 1969 in Kampale, on the consecration of 12 Africans, including Emanuel Milingo, as Bishops: "You may and must have an African Church." So the emergence of the semilegal staus of the married priest is just what he asked for. The Catholic Church is in Africa really flourishing as it answers to the real needs of the people in matters of culture, health care and education. The women religious orders are really doing marvellous work. Many of these dedicated women experience their celibacy as a blessing. The African Church defines male celibacy as somebody who restricts himself to only one wife. But not to have a wife at all is unacceptable.