The president of Kenya’s bishops’ conference has said they are “not worried” by a splinter group of priests whose rules permit them to marry.
One of those priests, the Rev Peter Njogu, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1989. He had made up his mind to be celibate for the rest of his life and serve God. But 13 years later, all of that would change.
In 2002, Rev Njogu was charged by the Diocese of Nyeri of having a girlfriend, whom he had met while serving in Italy. He denied the allegations at the time, but now admits they were true.
Rev Njogu was excommunicated by the Vatican months later and joined the Renewed Universal Catholic Church as a bishop after being consecrated by former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. The splinter church at odds with Rome allows priests to marry and continue ministering. Rev. Njogu later married Berith Karimi Njogu, his long-term girlfriend.
Rev Njogu has since been meeting with priests at the Christ the King Major Seminary in Nyeri and across the country to urge them to abandon priestly celibacy, join the splinter group and get married if they desire.
“I tell them to live their own lives because celibacy is not biblical and it does not sanctify priesthood,” said the 55-year-old father of three who is also a lecturer at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. “There is a huge difference between celibacy and a call to priesthood. Priestly celibacy should be made optional to encourage more young people to join priesthood.”
The Renewed Universal Catholic Church has more than 15 priests who have abandoned priestly celibacy and gotten married. The church has dioceses throughout Kenya with priests who have left the Catholic Church.
Rev Njogu said he decided to start an alternative Catholic church to help priests to stop sinning because most “were tired of pretending”.
The debate on celibacy for Catholic priests was reignited last year by Pope Francis when he told a German newspaper that he was ready to study exceptions to the church’s celibacy rule especially in isolated communities where there is a shortage of clergy. But the Pope ruled out making celibacy optional.
“Voluntary celibacy is often discussed in this context, especially in places where there are shortages of clerics. But voluntary celibacy is not a solution,” the Pope said.
Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, Kenya, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: “We are not worried at all. They are now not Catholic priests and they can go ahead and do whatever they want. But once you are a Catholic priest, there are rules to follow,” he said.