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Catholic clergy on dealing with sexual infidelity, upholding celibacy oath

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Anthony Cardinal Okogie

Allegations of sexual occurrences and abuses in the Catholic Church are frequent. With some victims stepping forward to give graphic details of how they were sexually molested and abused, the gravity of the situation was underscored by Pope Francis’ move in convening an unprecedented meeting of Catholic church leaders around the world to look into the matter, with a view to finding permanent solution to it. One of the issues thrown up by this development is the question of celibacy, which has come under scrutiny. What do Catholic priests have to say? How can the Church find lasting solution to it? CHIRS IREKAMBA reports.

You Cannot Be Having Children Everywhere And Still Remain A Priest’
(Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos)
Even in the marriage institution, which stipulates ‘one man, one woman,’ people know they can’t be faithful to that obligation, yet they still go into it. So, you go into it freely and you should come out of it freely. Can you because of one unfaithful person destroy the whole world? Look at the Police Force; for instance, will you because many officers are unfaithful to their duties, cancel the force? Another example is the traffic situation in Lagos, where many people drive one way, simply because there’s no more security in the country. So, you can’t say because people are lawless, therefore, you destroy the Traffic Code.

The point I’m making is that, if you think you can’t do it again, there are guidelines to follow. You do this and then get out. The same thing applies to all these fraternities; they don’t tie you down completely. If you are faithful to it, fine! But if you feel you cannot abide by their rules and regulations, then you get out in the proper manner. You cannot say because one priest committed a scandal with a 15-year-old girl for 13 years and therefore, they should abrogate the institution. It doesn’t work that way. The law in Catholic Church is still valid. You can’t force anybody against his will and remember, God Himself never forced Adam and Eve. So, who are we to say we don’t want this or that? What we are saying is nobody forces anybody to become a priest or remain a priest forever. If you want to get out, there is a proper way of doing it. There are rules and regulations. You cannot be having children everywhere and still remain a priest in Catholic Church. You know what to do to get out of the church. If you feel you cannot keep the vow of celibacy, we’re well guided on what to do.

Should we destroy the Ten Commandments just because people are not obeying it? Some people have even distorted the Commandments. Do we then say the Commandments should go? No! In Catholic Church, we still have faithful and serious priests, but they say out of 12, you must have a Judas. Priests who go into the vocation know the prescribed rules and yet they accepted the offer. You know you can’t do it, why did you go into it in the first place? That is why we have the Code of Canon Law, just as you have your Liberal Code. So for us, once something goes wrong, investigation commences, sanctions follow and possibly de-robing of the individual in question.

We have always taken action against any priest who goes contrary against the church laws. The church never condones abuse, no matter who is involved. I’m even surprised that they allowed the priest in question to stay this long. He knows what to do if he wants to get out. You go to your bishop, who will advise you on what to do. For him to be there and this type of evil is going for a period of time, then something is wrong. How can you abuse another human being like that? And then there is the issue of committing abortion for years.

Look at the social media. It has been bastardised, though we know some of you are serious. But will you say the entire media is bad? If you want to be a priest, be a priest if not get out, you are not forced to be there. So, the church cannot be silent when bad people are trying to rubbish the institution. The Holy Father is already taking action and of course, they say action speaks louder than words. This goes to show that the church is doing a lot.

Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, Catholic Diocese of Oyo

‘The Church Is Undertaking Numerous Internal Reforms’
(Bishop Badejo Emmanuel, Diocese of Oyo)
The allegations and occurrences of sexual abuse among Catholic priests in recent times have hurt innocent people. The development has given the Catholic Church “a bloody nose” and called priestly celibacy to question. Celibacy, however, is a spiritual undertaking and an ecclesiastical discipline aimed at attaining a higher good, that being total commitment to the ministry (1Cor 7:7-9).

Although tens of thousands of priests live celibate lives with fidelity, a few, succumbing to human concupiscence, have unfortunately and regrettably engaged in clerical sexual abuse and abuse of minors. This has hurt and exploited many innocent people. It has greatly embarrassed and worried the Church, which exists to comfort and protect people rather than harm and exploit them. It has also beclouded the moral integrity of priests and of the Church’s indispensable role as an outstanding force for morality in the world.

Pope Francis has, on occasions, apologised for the hurt and harm caused by the evil of sexual abuse. At the close of a Vatican summit recently on the protection of children, the Pope called Church personnel complicit in abuse, “tools of Satan.” He said there is no excuse for the abuse of children and promised justice for all the victims of these crimes. Priests who are accused of such crimes now face investigation, prosecution and sanctions, including being de-robed, as has been seen recently even with a top cleric in the United States of America. Priests who can no longer stay faithful to their vows of celibacy are never held back by the Church. With compassion and trust in God’s unlimited mercy, however, they remain God’s children who deserve prayer and rehabilitation, while avoiding putting anyone else in danger’s way. The Church is undertaking numerous internal reforms, but calls on other institutions to do same, as sexual abuse is a universal problem.

Celibacy is not forced on anyone (Gal. 5:16-17). It is freely chosen by all who choose to be priests, so they can fully serve. Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted…. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:11-12). To this every candidate for the priesthood publicly commits before ordination. Nevertheless, it still takes daily commitment, prayer and sacrifice to remain faithful to what really amounts to laying down one’s life for others as Jesus Christ said: “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 16:13).

Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins

‘Holy Father Is Finding Ways And Means Of Dealing With Priests’ Shortcomings’
(His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos)
It’s unfortunate that this has happened. There are some among us who have behaved badly as it were. It’s very unfortunate and indeed an embarrassment. However, it is also good to put things into perspective, because there are many others who by God’s Grace are making efforts and have since been doing it right. That the Holy Father has intervened by holding meetings all over the world is by itself an indication that the church, as an institution is finding ways and means of dealing with the shortcomings or the failures of persons we have been hearing about. The church is trying to re-exam itself, as well as re-exam her position on the whole situation as regards to celibacy.

Indeed, I think it is important to recognise the fact that celibacy is not the problem. What I mean is that celibacy is not necessarily the problem here, but the weaknesses or infidelity of the individual, which is the problem. I’m saying that because you can see that even those who are married and do not have obligation of celibacy still engage in infidelity. This goes to show that there is a problem… in the first instance. There are some who live according to requirements, but apart from that, there are some others, who do not have the obligation to celibacy and at the same time not living the fidelity that is required of them. The point I’m making, therefore, is that the church as an institution is making recovery … and is in the process of showing submission in order that we can overcome this sort of embarrassing situation that has occurred. You will notice that the Holy Father said at the end of all the discussions there’s going to be a document that will give directives on how to deal with such matters. Apart from that, the whole process of formation of people in the faith will also be part of the things that will be under scrutiny and discussion.

Being married or not is not the problem, and that is why the church is finding a solution to the individual persons who have problems with being faithful to their vocation. Many of those who are married are also not being faithful. So, it is the individual’s weakness and failures that is the problem. And as far as I know, the church is presently not thinking and talking about disciplining of celibacy. Rather, it’s thinking and talking about how to help people be faithful and accountable to whatever it is they do wrong, and how to handle individuals who fail to take responsibility for their failures. That is the direction now.

If such people are discovered, then naturally they will be shown the way out. We’re waiting to see what exactly the regulation will be like and that any one who fails to take responsibility might mean paying the price of either being dismissed or whatever it is the sanctions are according to the Church’s law or according to his interactions with the civil society. There’s a lot that is already going on within the structures, within individual countries and within individual conferences. All this is in order to deal with individuals found to have fallen short or failed in this regard. And of course, Holy Father’s meeting will simply give a new insight into what must be done and how it must be done.


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