Newly ordained priest removed after fathering a child while in seminary

It happened in the Archdiocese of New York.  Details:

The priest, the Rev. Casmir Manyonyi Mung’aho, 34, was ordained in May after graduating from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. He had not told his superiors that he had fathered a child in a consensual relationship with an adult woman, “which he certainly should have done,” Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, the regional bishop, told parishioners in a statement read at Mass on Jan. 7 and 8.

Roman Catholic priests make promises to be celibate, and the church also expects its seminarians and pending applicants to be celibate.

“The fact that he is the father of a child was not known to us at the time of his ordination nine months ago,” the bishop said, adding that Father Mung’aho was being removed to “address this matter and reflect upon his responsibilities in a very serious way.”

Bishop Lagonegro initially told the parish that church officials believed that the child was born before Father Mung’aho entered St. Joseph’s, but then informed the parish a few days later that officials had just learned that the child was born during his first year of seminary.

“We are letting you know this so that you know that we are being honest and straightforward with you,” the bishop’s second statement said.

Father Mung’aho, a native of Tanzania, moved to the United States about six years ago. He had been serving as the parochial vicar, or assistant priest, in the parish of St. Stephen in Warwick, about 55 miles northwest of New York City. The parish is part of the Archdiocese of New York.

Father Mung’aho could not be reached for comment, but in an interview with the official newspaper of the archdiocese to mark his ordination, he explained that he had wanted to be a priest since his early childhood. “I see myself here being a model,” he said. “It’s being an example every day.”

Several parishioners at St. Stephen’s described Father Mung’aho as a kind and likable presence in the pulpit and at the parish school, where he provided religious instruction.

“The kids did seem to enjoy his company,” said Karen Pinkham, a parent at the school. “There was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday that no final decisions had been made about Father Mung’aho’s status, but that for the time being the priest was living independently and was expected to reflect on his actions.

There’s more about his life and background in Catholic New York. There is also more on the matter at the parish blog of St. Stephen’s.

Comments

  1. When the child was born seems entirely irrelevant. This man has a child in the world, and it is his duty to support that child in every way. How can he stand and preach about God as father, and what that fatherhood is all about, when he has abandoned his own child? The people of the Archdiocese should not pick up the tab on this one.

    Father needs to go and be a father, whether he marries the woman or not. He needs to work and financially support the child on his own. He needs to be integrally involved in the life of the child. If he doesn’t marry the woman, then he should have the option of returning to active ministry when the child becomes an adult. In the interim, this child deserves to have its father, and Father needs to live up to the same obligations and duties of Catholic fatherhood as the rest of us.

  2. ron chandonia says:

    I like the part about reflecting on his “responsibilities.” If it was truly pastoral, his seminary formation should already have convinced him that fathers have a responsibility to their children that goes beyond acknowledging their existence and sending them cash every so often. If it did not do that, he should not have been ordained anyway–whether he had sired a child or not.

  3. Doesn’t canon law state that this priest should be returned to the lay state because of his actions? I agree with Gerard. He needs to go parent his child.

  4. Seems too late for reflection. It is time to accept responsibility and act accordingly.

  5. “He had not told his superiors that he had fathered a child in a consensual relationship with an adult woman, “which he certainly should have done,” Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, the regional bishop, told parishioners . . .”

    Strange little syntactic snarl had me thinking for a minute that Bp Lagonegro was saying he certainly should have fathered a child in a consensual relationship with an adult woman, as if that were a seminary requirement.

    But the disconnect in formation that seems apparent here is more than a snarl. Ordination does not make one a role model by default, no matter how long one has yearned for the job. Makes me wonder if there are cultural snarls at work here, too–that’s not meant to be a generalization, but the cultures of the Church in Tanzania and in the US are very different, and something may have gotten lost in translation.

  6. There is no mention of where the woman and child reside – the U.S. or Tanzania? Not that it is that relevant but I ‘m curious.

    Nice shout out to Maryknoll in the article by Father Mung’aho: “My home parish was founded by Maryknoll priests. My first pastor was from Ossining, New York, and now today I am in New York. It’s all about how God takes care of his Church.” I know a retired Maryknoll priest who was from my home parish in Philadelphia. He ministered there when it was called Tanganyika.

    Also, the young priest has an interesting description of the priesthood, considering his circumstances:
    “When you are ordained, you are not ordained for yourself. You are ordained for the Universal Church.”

  7. jkm:
    “Makes me wonder if there are cultural snarls at work here, too… .”
    That’s what I have been thinking.

  8. He is guilty not only of poor judgment but of deception. Had he revealed this situation he never would have been ordained. Curious how this all came out at this time. Maybe he was not supporting the child?

  9. Oregon Catholic says:

    Me too. I think we need, as a Church, to be very careful about the religious formation of those coming from Africa where there can be a mix of Catholicism and native religions, e.g., like some Haitian and Creole practices. We need to be sure our desire for more priests doesn’t override ensuring authentic faith. Let’s be sure that authentic faith formation takes place prior to entering the seminary too.

  10. Seems like a major hole in the selection process at the seminary. Wherever we have priest coming from, the requirements need to be the same and after all the abuse we have suffered through, we need a solid screening program. He should be out, not reflecting. It makes you wonder about the seminaries now in Africa and what their requirements and screening are. If one goes through a seminary there where this is not an issue or ignored, and they move here as a priest, what might they bring to the US priesthood.

  11. Cardinal Dolan needs to demand that this fellow go to his child and to be a father in every way. It takes more than a child-support check, and the Priesthood of Jesus Christ should never become a refuge for deadbeat dads running from their paternal responsibilities.

    What does it say of the Church if he is permitted to remain an active priest? I agree that deception was at play here, that he never would have been ordained had the seminary known of his love child. That child is entitled to have his/her father an integral part of his/her life, and since Father is already ministerially oriented, it should be a relatively soft landing.

  12. What racist poppycock! I was a missionary in Tanzania, and I can assure you of the fervency of faith. This is an issue of celibacy not voodoo. What would make you make such a leap regarding the authenticity of faith — especially given that this post was within weeks of a similar one regarding a US bishop with his own troubles relative to continence.

  13. “Roman Catholic priests make promises to be celibate, and the church also expects its seminarians and pending applicants to be celibate.”

    The press still doesn’t know what celibate means.

  14. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    “Roman Catholic priests make promises to be celibate, and the church also expects its seminarians and pending applicants to be celibate.”

    The press still doesn’t know what celibate means.

    Neither, I’m afraid, do most of the people in the pews.

  15. Okay, I’ll bite; please explain.

  16. Single means not married (for whatever reasons).
    Celibate means not married by design (usually a vocational decision).
    Chaste means exercising sexual capacity in accord with one’s state.
    Continent means not having sexual intercourse.

    This priest violated the chaste, specifically continent, expectations of one intending to commit to celibacy. But he did not attempt marriage per se, so he did not violate celibacy (to which he was not yet strictly bound). He was strictly bound to chastity.

  17. nor does this “priest”.

  18. Oregon Catholic says:

    The dictionary also assigns the definition of abstaining from sexual relations. Most people understand celibate to mean unmarried and not engaging in any sexual relations which is the full dictionary definition. We don’t say celibate and chaste. A person can certainly make a personal vow to remain celibate even if they are not seeking a religious vocation. And they darn well should be celibate if they are seeking the priesthood.

  19. Oregon Catholic says:

    Just a thought. Maybe that singular definition of celibate – not married by design – is what some priests have used to have sex and kid themselves they have not broken their vows/promises and remain a priest in good standing, notwithstanding the little matter of their lack of chastity which can just be confessed and forgiven, until the next temptation.

  20. I agree that this should not be interpreted as a cultural thing, part of his Tanzanian upbringing. At the same time, I recall a friend telling of being at a presbyteral ordination somewhere in Africa. When, in the course of the Rite, the ordaning bishop asked for the promise of celibacy, the assembly broke into laughter. The bishop’s response? “It’s in the book. I have to ask.” Maybe there IS something.

  21. The truth is that for many parts of the world — Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America–the unnatural, cruel, and warping practice of continence and celibacy has been tempered by a deeper understanding and humility about being human and what makes one better able to really bring God and Jesus into the reality of every day life. And so, to varying degrees, they turn a blind eye — whether that be in the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Vietnam, or South Africa. The Church remains hypocritical, knowingly allowing this to continue while pretending not to — just like with the child abuse, although in the cases I’m discussing it is not criminal, not rape, not an infamous cover up, but an acceptance of what God set forth in Genesis.

    That said, there is nothing to suggest that this was more or less than a man, with all the emotions and weaknesses of other men, who took a course of action, covered up and now must accept the consequences. Race or cultural background do not make one more or less likely to fall into such a situation — it is humanity.

  22. Fiergenholt says:

    Mark:

    I may be mistaken but I have — for some time — placed you in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Your reigning ordinary, Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr, is fairly open to bringing African born and educated and ordained priests to serve in his archdiocese. Are you objecting to his insights and decisions here?

  23. pagansister says:

    On January 4, Deacon Greg posted an article about LA Bishop Zavala who finally confessed to having fathered 2 children and resigned. Was he supporting those children and being a father to them I wonder? Yes, this fellow should at least contribute financially to the child he fathered, which means I guess he should find a job that pays enough to do that. Wonder if the woman wants to be his wife, since I guess he may be not be allowed to stay as a priest, since he broke the rules.

  24. Maybe when his Child is big enough to fend for himself he can return to Priesthood, however, that would mean leaving his wife as well, whatever the case, he should leave Priesthood. I’m glad that the Canon Laws are there, if it wasn’t the case, there would be incidences of legalizing a priest allowing to father children.

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