After what they described as years of soul searching, reflection, anguish and intimidation some married priests in Zambia mainly from the Catholic Church have decided to come out in the open and begin conducting mass under the auspices of the Movement for Married Priests.
The Movement founded by excommunicated Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo was launched last September amidst fears that it would establish a new sect in Africa funded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon as a rival to Roman Catholicism.
The Movement for Married Priests Now- Zambia Chapter had a rally last weekend to mark the commencement of its activities in Zambia with a call to all priests that have married secretly to come out in the open and renounce priesthood celibacy.
Father Anzanga Mbewe a married priest who was ordained to priesthood by late Ndola Catholic Bishop De Jong defied a longstanding tradition of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church with his colleagues and are now open disciples of Milingo.
Though one will not hear a great deal about married Roman Catholic priests the truth is that they do exist. Some estimates place their number at around 20 per cent of all Roman Catholic priests in the world. This would mean that 20 per cent of all Roman Catholic priests are officially and legally married, even though celibacy continues to be a requirement.
Father Mbewe believes that married priests in the movement are part of the Roman Catholic Church and continue to acknowledge the existing leadership in the Catholic Church as their own.
They are passionate about exercising the faith. Father Mbewe even conducted mass at Masiye Motel in Lusaka where all baptised brothers and sisters who support the idea of priests marrying had fellowship.
Father Mbewe says that Brazil has recorded the biggest movement of married priests called National Catholic and Apostolic Church of Brazil which boasts of some four million members and more than 50 bishops, the movement is gathering pace around the world at a fast rate and some have wondered whether Archbishop Milingo will use the movement to establish a new version of the Catholic Church.
Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) president, Telesphore Mpundu clarified the status of the former Archbishop of Lusaka, Emmanuel Milingo, in the light of media reports that he was planning to come back to Zambia.
“We reiterate that the former Archbishop has been excommunicated. Excommunication means that he is no longer part of the Catholic Church. By his own actions, he has knowingly and willingly cut himself off from the Catholic Church. He therefore cannot preside over any religious function in the name of the Catholic Church. If indeed he wants to come back to Zambia, it is within his rights to return to his homeland. However, we urge our Catholic faithfuls to be aware that if he holds religious functions, then those ceremonies will be done outside the Catholic Church. Therefore they are not Catholic services.” Bishop Mpundu said.
The Vatican said in September that Milingo and the four men he ordained as bishops were “automatically excommunicated” under Church law.
Although Vatican has made it clear that it does not support or recognise any of Milingo’s works because he stands excommunicated his wife Maria told this author that Milingo is in touch with Vatican and constantly updates Vatican on his work and will not relent to fight for the liberation of priests and nuns who are bound by the law of celibacy in the Catholic Church.
Mrs Milingo says the priests who are excommunicated suffer from mental disorders and can only be liberated if they are allowed to conduct mass and have families.
She said that given a choice over a church led by a married priest and that led by an unmarried priest, she would choose one led by a married priest. She said it was important to have married priests because married priests are better placed to provide leadership to families since they would also have families because God’s original plan centred on the family.
She accused the media of persecuting her and her husband with allegations that Archbishop Milingo was ill and at the point of death. She said he is alive and well and is awaiting God’s instructions before he could come to Zambia.
And Father Mbewe described Milingo as a legend who has been made stronger by his excommunication. He said Milingo’s association with the Unification Church should not be misunderstood as Rev Moon has merely offered him a platform.
“Excommunicating Milingo was the biggest mistake Vatican made because they have made him more stronger, this can only be compared to what happened when they expelled Martin Luther King in 1520. They elevated Martin Luther to be the founder of the Protestant movement. Vatican has given Milingo power to establish a new version of the Catholic Church.” Father Mbewe charged.
Father Mbewe says that since the Pope ordained Milingo in 1969 he has had special powers that cannot be revoked by anyone, adding that he transferred apostolic power to the four bishops that he ordained in New York to begin an effective global movement to call for an end to priesthood celibacy.
“Archbishop Milingo is a very spiritual person and he is very special because he was ordained by the Pope. He founded and exerted extreme influence in the Catholic charismatic movement here in Zambia and beyond. Ordained priests who have taken on wives are intimidated and rendered powerless yet their ordination is forever and they can conduct mass. We will mobilise ourselves to begin conducting mass anywhere we can gather, whether in schools, community halls and homes. We will form cells all over the country because that is how the early Church operated and grew” Father Mbewe said.
In a show of solidarity, retired Reformed Church in Zambia minister, Reverend Fordson Sakala expressed delight that the group had decided to come out in the open and declare that marriage is not sin. He commended the priests for their courage and for choosing to recognise the leadership of the Catholic Church from the Pope to the local bishops. He added that this was important because it showed that the movement was not a rebel or breakaway group.
Critics say that the present policy of the Church on celibacy is inconsistent. The Catholic Church has married priests in the Eastern Rites. Moreover, in recent decades, Rome has allowed the ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood of married ministers who had converted from the Anglican Communion or from Protestant denominations. They have argued that some men may be married priests and others may not.
According to www.libchrist.com the idea of Catholic celibacy is especially foolish when one realises the reason behind it. Before the middle ages it was allowable for Catholic priests to have multiple wives and mistresses (concubines). But with concerns for protecting Church property from inheritance Pope Pelagius I made new priests agree offspring could not inherit Church property. Pope Gregory then declared all sons of priests illegitimate.
In 1022 Pope Benedict VIII banned marriages and concubines for priests and in 1139 Pope Innocent II voided all marriages of priests and all new priests had to divorce their wives. This had nothing to do with morality, multiple women for males had long been the norm since before biblical times, but it was about MONEY!
With an end to celibacy critics say the priest shortage would be solved. The priest shortage continues to ravage the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. While in some parts of the Church the replacement rate may be stabilising, the Church is still very, very far from having as many priests as it would need.
Father Mbewe observes that many great men today would seek ordination if only the celibacy requirement was lifted. Many of these men already have extensive academic and pastoral training as well as ministerial experience, and would require very little further training before ordination.
A Catholic priest who wants to get married must choose between marriage and the priesthood (even though celibacy isn’t an essential feature of being a priest), while a married Lutheran priest can apply to become a Catholic priest and keep his wife – he doesn’t have to choose. Defenders of celibacy rely heavily on Matthew 19:12, where Jesus is quoted as saying that “…they have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept this.” Here, “eunuchs” is interpreted to be a reference renouncing marriage and being celibate, but if Jesus placed such a high value on celibacy, why were most if not all of his apostles married?
Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials at the Vatican held a meeting to discuss requests for lifting the celibacy requirement made by priests seeking to marry or who have already married in response to Milingo’s excommunication.
But Milingo appealed to Catholic bishops in Zambia to stop discouraging Catholics from attending his service and healing ministries when he visits the country.
Father Mbewe said at the weekend that Milingo will visit the country soon, adding that Maria Sung Milingo has travelled to other African countries including Kenya, Congo Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea among others to prepare for Milingo’s coming.
The Synod of Bishops in October 2005 rejected suggestions that the mandatory celibacy requirement for priests be dropped but Milingo’s excommunication has brought the issue back into the spotlight.
Archbishop Milingo said the Catholic Church should embrace more than 150,000 married priests worldwide in part to ease the ongoing clergy shortage and to elevate the sanctity of marriage.
Milingo insists he is still Catholic in faith, his heart and soul and any service that he performed would be of the Catholic faith and would bring healing to the people of Zambia.
Bishop Mpundu said that the Church had heard that Archbishop Milingo had intentions of coming to Zambia and advised Catholics that his functions would not be recognised by the Church.
But Milingo has insisted that for the love of the people of Zambia and of all Africa he will not exclude anyone who will come to his healing sessions.