Surprised by sin – African clerical celibacy

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”

Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”

“True Humility” by George du Maurier, in Punch, 1895.

There is much to praise in the Los Angeles Times article “Uganda priest ostracized for publicizing sexual abuse”. The May 4 article addresses the question of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic clergy in Africa – – child abuse and violations of the vow of celibacy. And it does so through the voice of Fr Anthony Musaala, an Ugandan priest suspended in March by his Archbishop for having brought the church into disrepute for exposing these problems.

I also like the article because it “gets Africa”. It understands the culture of shame that often manifests itself as cover up and denial, and makes reporting about the African scene so difficult. But there is also curate’s egg quality to the piece. Parts of it are quite good yet there is a bit that is off.

It is a mistake to conflate the sexual abuse of children scandal with the question of clerical celibacy. In this case while the African church is loathe to talk about child abuse it is not correct to say that they are silent on the question of celibacy. The article would also have been helped by addressing the question “why” — Why the homosexual abuse of young boys prompts such a visceral reaction by the church in Uganda.

The article begins:

He is a celebrity across eastern and central Africa, a gospel music star known to many as the “Dancing Priest.” But for years he also was a keeper of painful secrets — his own and many others’. In going public, Anthony Musaala has forced the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda to confront a problem it had insisted didn’t exist. And he may stir a debate far beyond Africa’s most Catholic of countries.

The Ugandan priest has been suspended indefinitely by the archbishop of Kampala for exposing what he calls an open secret: Sex abuse in the Catholic Church is a problem in Africa as well as in Western Europe and North America. The African Catholic Church is fast-growing, pious and traditional. As the church elsewhere forks out billions of dollars to compensate the child sex abuse victims of priests, few African Catholics have questioned the assumption, voiced recently by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson that the African church is purer than its counterpart in the West, which is regarded as secular and permissive.

It’s not more pure, says Musaala. He says he has the evidence to prove it. “The Vatican turns a blind eye because it doesn’t want to be embarrassed about this blooming church. But I think it’s time we had the truth,” Musaala says.

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No sex please, we’re Catholic

YouTube Preview ImageThe perils of re-writing another news outlet’s work were on full display this week in an article that appeared in the New York Daily News. Based upon a news story broadcast by Buffalo’s WGRZ-TV,Call him ‘The God Father’: Husband and dad will become Roman Catholic priest — and take vow of celibacy” reports that a former Episcopal priest who upon his re-ordination as a Catholic priest will begin a “sex-free life”, is filled with errors of fact and false assumptions about sacerdotal celibacy.

It is not clear at what point the errors entered into the food chain. Perhaps the subject of the story John Cornelius misspoke; perhaps WGRZ-TV misstated the quotes — or it may have be the fault of the Daily News. Whatever the reason, the only trustworthy fact that I would take away from this story is that former Episcopal priest John Cornelius will be re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on 26 Jan 2013.

Beware of everything else.

Let’s start with the lede.

John Cornelius will be ordained a Roman Catholic priest this weekend — and with the blessing of his wife they’re giving up their sex life. Cornelius, a father of three, will become the first married Roman Catholic priest in New York — and Sharyl, his wife of 33-years, has agreed to the whole celibacy thing. “We have decided to do that voluntarily,” Cornelius told WGRZ-TV. “I have always had friends that are Roman Catholic priests and I appreciate what they’ve given up to serve God and the priesthood.”

The story continues:

Cornelius, 64, is a former Episcopalian priest who converted three years ago to Catholicism. He said his old church had gotten too liberal for him. “There was the ordination of the homosexual priest in New England,” he said. “Then it came time for women’s ordination. … It may have been okay for other people, but it was just too much for me.”The article reports Fr. Cornelius retired as an Episcopal priest in 2010 and “jumped at the chance after Pope Benedict issued a directive last year aimed at filling the depleted Catholic ranks with converted Episcopalian priests.”

It closes with the news that Cornelius will serve a “flock of other former Episcopalians at the Fellowship of Saint Alban” outside Rochester and speaks briefly of his faith journey. Let’s pick the low hanging fruit first and work towards the conceptual failures in this story. The chronology offered in the quote by Cornelius is incorrect.

Women priests were authorized in 1976 by the Episcopal Church (though a group had been illicitly ordained earlier). Non-closeted, non-celibate gay/lesbian clergy were first ordained in 1979 in New York city and by the early ’90s a number of dioceses were ordaining gay clergy. And the first “gay” Episcopal bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated in New Hampshire in 2003. The chronology offered by Fr Cornelius is incorrect. And the suggestion that the Catholic Church is free from the controversies surrounding gay or women clergy is not so straight forward.

And no, John Cornelius will not be the first married RC priest in New York.

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