Friday, March 20, 2009

Celibacy and the Church in Africa

From Michelle Faul's Associated Press story yesterday on the Pope's trip to Africa:

...Some Catholic priests in Africa also ignore the church requirement that they take a vow of celibacy.

"Priests having affairs is rampant in the church" in South Africa, said Velesiwe Mkwanazi, a former Catholic lay leader who co-founded Women Ordination South Africa and says she knows two priests with children.

"Parishioners blame women, say we seduce the priests, but we are brought up to respect and honor men, and women can't say no to a priest who is held up to us as a fount of knowledge in daily communication with God," she said.

Co-founder Dina Cormick said priests who are caught having affairs are sent on retreats or moved to other parishes while nuns caught in sexual liaisons with priests are forced to leave their orders.

The Rev. Rodney Moss, the head of St. Augustine College, South Africa's only Catholic university, would say only that "a lot more effort is being put into dealing with problems of sexuality in seminaries. When I was a seminarian it was hardly addressed, but now there is quite a lot said about it."

The Rev. Simangaliso Mkhatshwa, a priest who is also a leading member of South Africa's governing African National Congress, said the church needs to have an open discussion about celibacy.

"It's an issue that needs to be more openly discussed among lay people, priests among themselves, the bishops in this country, but also internationally," he said. "Because some of these policies probably were designed for a particular era and it does happen from time to time we have to ask whether some of these policies are still relevant."

Others believe the church needs to go further.

"If we want to stop the scandal of ... children (born out of wedlock to priests), then we must change the thinking," said Mike Auret, who worked for Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops' Conference for more than 20 years. "Lay Catholic leaders have been talking about marriage for priests for years."

In one scandal, Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube admitted having an affair with a married parishioner and stepped down in 2007 after state media broadcast images purporting to show him undressing and naked in his bedroom with a woman.

The Vatican said Ncube's resignation was accepted under a church law that says a bishop should retire if he is ill or if "some other grave reason" makes him unsuitable for office. The statement did not address the reputed affair; Ncube now works in a rural parish.

Benedict indirectly addressed the scandals in African churches while meeting Wednesday with the bishops of Cameroon.

"I urge you, then, to be especially vigilant regarding the faithfulness of priests and consecrated persons to the commitments made at their ordination or entry into religious life," the pope said. "The authenticity of their witness requires that there be no dichotomy between what they teach and the way they live each day."

Noting the high numbers of young men seeking to be ordained, the pontiff said "serious discernment" was needed to ensure future priests are "mature and balanced men."...

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