By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor, & Sam Eyoboka
Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Olubunmi Anthony Cardinal Okogie in this interview answers questions on celibacy as it affects the Catholic priests saying there is no going back on it especially with the position of theÂ current Pope .He saysÂ any priest caught in the act of violating the vow gets suspended and when proven guilty getsÂ excommunicated.
Reports coming from the United States show that thereâ€™s dwindling interest in priesthood. There areÂ statistics to show that people are no longer interested in the Catholic priesthood for one reason or the other. Do you think this is applicable to Nigeria?
I am happy with you when you said the US. Those people there…they donâ€™t value anything any more. And how do you want priests to come from a place like that? Look at all those who call themselves pastors and all what not down there. Thatâ€™s what some of our preachers are trying to do.
They ride in helicopters, jets and we also want to ride in jets and helicopters. What example are they giving to the populace, to the common people theyâ€™re preaching to? We have to get our priorities right. When I was president of CAN, one of the things I used to hammer on is this Corporate Affairs CommisionÂ business…that CAC has no business registering houses of worship.
It is not the place of CAC to register churches or mosques. We have two big organisations. The Muslims have their own powerful organisation just like the Christians have their own and anybody who wants to establish a church or a mosque is directed to any of the two organisations, CAN or NSCIA for registration.
They know who is who and know how to investigate you and find out if you are genuine or not because you canâ€™t bribe them. But no CAC will just register them once they get their needed fees . From Monday to Friday they go about doing things as business people do.
They donâ€™t have time to read the Bible. It is not everybody that can read the Bible. This is what is happening. So, I will not say that such is happening here in Nigeria. Probably, in the US. When I look at my graph here in Lagos, I know what used to happen here in Lagos. Interest in priesthoodÂ is rising.
Four of them came recently and they are going to become deacons and by the end of December, God helping us ,they will be ordained as priests. And that is how we do it annually. The same is happening with my colleague in Ibadan where the Archbishop will ordain 11 priests. It is also happening that way in the East . Sometimes, they have many more. Let them talk of their own place. But not here in Nigeria.
Part of the report says that priests are protesting the vow of celibacy which they argue is not biblical and therefore should be made optional…
Lai! Lai! They cannot doÂ it. The question of revisiting the vow of celibacy will not come up again, at least not with this current pope.
What ofÂ priestsÂ who break the vow…?
They are out. If you break the oath andÂ you are caught, you are out.
The same report says an American priest was caught smooching and kissing his girlfriend at a Miami beach…
I am happy you said America. This is Nigeria. Whatever happens there; it is still the universal church.It pains me. We are all the same body of Christ. It pains me. It shouldnâ€™t be. The correct thing to do…but I am here in Nigeria and I can speak of Nigeria.
If any stupid priest or bishop in Nigeria feels he wants to copy the American model, then there is something wrong with his head.
But celibacy is not easy. Should the Catholic Church revisit the issue?
You are married. Are you satisfied with your spouse? After marriage, you will see many others who like you and you like…but the watchword is sacrifice, self control. After all, what does this one have that your husband or wife cannot give you?
Even if he/she doesnâ€™t have enough money he/she is mine. You must learn to respect yourself. A man that has already told himselfÂ this is the kind of life I want to liveÂ should exercise self-control, and ifÂ he is cheating, ah ah!
If you find your husband/wife cheating on you, God forbid, even if it is temptation that leads him/her to it, will you kill him/her? We always look at things from one side. Just as you are finding it difficult to stay 100 per cent faithful to your spouse, so it is with the priest.
That is what makes the job interesting. That is where the sacrifice is. You are working in the bank and exposed to so much money all the time though the money is not yours. Then the Devil comes, you have no money in your pocket.
Will you then steal from the ones in front of you? You know the consequence. It is the same thing.
Some of the arguments of the people seeking change is that…
Not all the people are 100Â per cent just. We are all human beings. The mere fact that some people are stealing does not make you to go and steal. That is what I am saying. You always try to follow the good ones and not the bad ones. You just have to control yourself.
Apostle Paul himself said it. Till you die, there will always be the sexual urge and it will worry you. The best part of anyone is when you face any temptation and you are able to overcome it, not when you face temptation and you fall into it.
It is when you face temptation and you overcome that is the true test of a Christian. I remember in 1968, when I was askedÂ to go to the war front. Hey, there was nothing I didnâ€™t do. I prayed God to let the cup pass me by but eventually, I went.
My first day there, when I heard the sound of a grenade…I just heard gbra a a a and the whole earth around me shook. But what could I do? What about those fighting? Are they not human beings like me? That was where I drew my courage from and I said if God allows me to die, let me go. I prayed more when I was in the war front than I do now. It wasnâ€™t easy.
Do you feel the urge for sexÂ sometimes?
Why not? I am a human being.
How do you overcome that?
That is what I am telling you. I just think, for example, what do I gain if I mess up with this lady and I am caught? Nothing. All my name and everything would be rubbished. That is enough to frighten you and say go away.
But Sir, you can decide to be secretive about it…
Hey! Hey! Hey! (Laughter) Where God is, a day will come when He will open all your secrets to the whole world.
There was a Catholic priest who was alleged to have fathered four children from one woman some time ago…
They will remove him from the priesthood.
I remember he was suspended…
That is the beginning. The Catholic Church? That is what you will know. They will suspend him first to find out whether the children are really his or not and after the establishment of the truth, they would remove his cassockâ€”he cannot hear confession again. He cannot say Mass again.
But they say once a priest, always a priest….
Yes. He is still a priest but all those functions he cannot perform. If you are a divorcee, it is not written on your forehead but the fact still remains that you were once married.
Donâ€™t you think that the oath of celibacy is too severe . Some say it is not biblical?
I repeat again, some are called to that line. Others are not, and the Church cannot change that. It is not biblical because it is not written there but donâ€™t forget that Jesus Christ said that some are born eunuch and some made themselves eunuch for the Kingdom of God. What does that tell you?
It is not written that you must marry. After all, Peter got married, but the moment he knew Christ he had no time forÂ the woman again. It is sacrifice.
I also know that before you became a priest you had so many girl friends…
No, not so many.
There was an allegation that you had a child…
No! Me Ke? Donâ€™t listen to such rubbish. I had three girl friends. I left the first one because she asked for a present and I bought a present and she thanked me with aÂ smile on her face. She unwrapped it and I saw the smile on her face disappear andÂ sheÂ asked me; â€˜is this what your mates give to their girlfriends?â€ That was how I sacked that one. The second one I picked caught me with another girl and she wasnâ€™t happy and there wasÂ much argument. Later, I toldÂ Â her, â€˜you are angry because you have accepted the other girlÂ is better than youâ€™.
She was not happy and I apologised but that weekend,Â she wanted me to escort her to somewhere but I told her my mummy wanted me to do something and she said: â€˜So you love your mummy more than myself?â€™
That was how we parted. When I was in standard five , I was toying with the idea of going to the seminary but when I got to St. Gregory and I was serving Mass ,the idea returned.
But I got another girl and when I announced to her that I was going to the seminary she said, â€˜Is it your type they are looking for in the seminary? When you become a reverend father, I will become a reverend mother.â€™ And we laughed it off.
*In 1980, Pope John Paul II quietly made provisions for married protestant Clergymen who converted to Catholicism to become priests. In addition, church deacons who can perform most priestly functions except hearing confession and consecrating the Eucharists can marry.
*In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the celibacy policy. He excommunicated an African Bishop for ordaining four married men as priests.
*In Eastern Rite churches which are autonomous but recognised by the Vatican as Catholic, married men can become priests but unwed priests cannot marry.
*Priests who want to marry can request permission to join the Laity or abandon the church.
*Five former Roman Catholic priests, now married, serve as clergymen in Episcopal Diocese of South-East Florida.
*At Rent-a-Priest.com, a website run by a national group of former Roman Catholic priests, eight South Florida men are listed as offering services for marriages and other rites.
One of them, Paul Veliyathil who left the priesthood in 1988 and later got married said the rule of celibacy should be changed. He said he would be a much better priest today, as a husband and a father than he was as a celibate man.
In Miami after the Father Cutie scandal, a poll conducted showed 77 per cent of the people suggesting that the issue of celibacy be revisited.
Saturday Vanguard also spoke with a cross section of Roman Catholics in Nigeria on the issue and their verdict is that if priests cannot keep the celibacy rule, let them marry!