Churches founded by married ex-priests pose dangers to faithful, African Catholic leaders warn

Many priests who have left the Church to marry are starting congregations of their own throughout Africa.

A priest gives Communion to a woman during Mass in Yaounde, Cameroon. (CNS photo/Saabi, Galbe.Com)

Catholic leaders in Africa are becoming increasingly concerned about the establishment of new churches by former Catholic priests who left the Catholic Church in order to marry. While most Catholics on the continent strongly uphold celibacy for priests, membership at these churches is growing, according to local leaders.

Some of the priests were removed from the clerical state by their bishops, while others chose to leave in order to get married. The new places of worship they’ve founded throughout Africa in many ways resemble Catholic churches in practice and belief, but local bishops are stressing that these groups are not in union with the Catholic Church and pose a threat to the spiritual well-being of the faithful.

Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa are some of the African countries that have seen the rise of churches founded by married former priests; as many as 30,000 people are reported to be attending such churches in Kenya alone.

Peter Njogu is a former Catholic priest who now serves as the bishop of the Restored Universal Apostolic Church in Kenya. He says he formed the church because of the Catholic Church’s failure to change with changing times and to respond to the needs of African Christians.

“It’s no longer in touch with the people,” Njogu said of the Catholic Church.

According to Njogu, celibacy goes against African culture and traditions, which expect a man to marry and have children.

“When you have no children, you are nobody,” Njogu said. “There is a push, whether open or hidden, on every man to have children or at least a child.”

Catholic bishops’ concerns about these new churches were demonstrated on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Africa in November 2015. A group of married former priests prepared a statement they hoped to present to Pope Francis, in which they urged the Pontiff to make celibacy optional, among other things, arguing that priestly celibacy was driving priests as well as lay people to join other Christian denominations.

But the Church leaders in Kenya did not allow the former priests anywhere near the Pope during his visit to their country; they issued a statement making it clear that the former priests were no longer considered Catholic clergy and would not be meeting with Francis.

Bishop Alfred Rotich, bishop emeritus for Kenya’s military and the chairman of the commission that oversaw the papal visit, was blunt about the decision to exclude the married former priests.

“If there are [those] who have moved out of the Catholic Church mainstream, they are not welcome,” Bishop Rotich said of those rejecting priestly celibacy.

The bishop noted that Pope Francis himself is celibate, as are the vast majority of the world’s bishops and priests.

“This is the prayer of the Church—that we continue being celibate,” said Bishop Rotich.

Still, the former priests insist that many African Catholic priests are living a lie and secretly violate their vow of celibacy.

Reports about the growth of these new churches are not uncontested; while Njogu and his fellow former priests insist that their congregations are growing, others have called into question the staying power of these communities, as well as their overall significance for the life of the Church in Africa. Kenya, for example, is a country with more than 8 million Catholics; the tens of thousands reported to attend new churches headed by ex-priests represent a small percentage of the Catholic population.

Father Joachim Omolo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kisumu in western Kenya, a region that has seen the establishment of many new communities headed by former Catholic priests. He says that some of these churches have already had to cease operations or consolidate with others due to lack of members.

“The members who had joined the churches have left. You walk into the halls and find them empty,” said Omolo.

George Jamba, a former Catholic priest, is head of the Independent Catholic Charismatic Church, the largest married-priest led group in Kenya with an estimated 5,000 members.

“We were looking for alternatives for the priest,” said Jamba. “We have been advocating for marriage, since we believed married clergy would serve God better. They would lead the church better as they lead their families.”

“We don’t claim to be Roman Catholic and we are not in conflict with the Roman Church,” said Jamba.

Njogu says that efforts are underway to unify these new churches under a single spiritual leader who supports marriage for priests; Emmanuel Milingo, the former Zambian archbishop who was excommunicated in 2006 and laicized in 2009, is said to be a candidate for the position.

Milingo, who founded the organization Married Priests Now!, is widely seen as a patriarch of the married-priest movement. In 2006, the Vatican confirmed that Milingo had incurred excommunication for the illicit consecration of four married men as bishops.

Five years earlier, Milingo had been suspended from priestly duties when, at the age of 71, he married Maria Sung at a ceremony in the Unification Church presided over by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Milingo’s marriage gave a global dimension to the calls for married priests, and led many members of the clergy in Africa to come forward and reveal their secret marriages and families.

“I think a good number followed,” said Mike O’Maera, former editor of the Catholic Information Service for Africa. “[Milingo] came out at time when there was a heated debate about married priests in the Church.”

Despite the censure of their bishops, these men believed they still had a call to be priests even as they rejected the vow of celibacy. Some joined the existing married-priest churches, others formed their own.

In many of these new churches, those men who rise to leadership positions are required to have an occupation, so that they don’t burden their members with demands for the upkeep of their wives and children.

“We encourage and help them acquire graduate or postgraduate training in education, for example, so that they can work as teachers,” said Njogu.

“The church is growing,” Njogu insists. “We have opened new branches and we are set to open more across [Kenya]. More priests have been wanting to come and say this is the church of the future.”

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About Fredrick Nzwili 26 Articles
Fredrick Nzwili is journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.


  1. On the other hand, there was no compulsory celibacy for priests for about the first thousand years of the Christian era. And, as far as I can ascertain, none of the dozen or more Churches in full communion with Rome (mostly in the Middle East), and also the Greek Catholic Church, insist on celibacy.

    • You would be well served by obtaining and deliberately reading “The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy” by Christian Cochini.

      All 21 of the Eastern Rite Churches in Communion with Rome as well as the Greek Orthodox Church select only celibates for their Bishops.

  2. That’s exactly what I am looking for: a priest with a wife, four children, with a full-time teaching position!? This is just African individualism beginning to show its ugly head: “I ” can still call myself a priest if I want to; heck, “I” can even leave the true priesthood and make myself a bishop! “I” can give up chastity (since “I” can’t seem to handle obedience anyway). “I” can open “my own” church too!

  3. A very sticky wicket! The early church had married clergy. What is the problem? It is only a discipline which is presently some what being upheld in the Western Catholic Church. Pope Francis himself said he is open to changing this man made rule, if the Cardinals and Bishops want it. This issue is made more difficult by the Church allowing ex protestant married clergy zipper line into the church. There appears to be less prayer involved in this issue and too much power issues at play here. Anyway, it is a very sticky problem!

    • The early church had married clergy.
      You omitted the fact that married clergy were expected to adopt the discipline of lex continentiae – total continence.

      open to changing this man made rule,(sic)

      A discipline which finds it’s foundation in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

      This issue is made more difficult by the Church allowing ex protestant married clergy zipper line into the church.

      Married converts from protestant denominations who were ministers and who seek ordination in the Latin Rite don’t zipper line into the Church. Those converts who end up getting ordained, agree, prior to ordination, that if their spouse precedes them in death they will then adopt the discipline of celibacy for the remainder of their life.

  4. The arrogance of some Roman bishops to say these churches are not in communion with the “Catholic Church’ is staggering. The ‘catholic church’ is much bigger than Rome and Rome needs to get over itself and realise this very fact.

    • I don’t see anything wrong with married priests. Don’t you get it Vatican, Jesus chose Peter because of being a wise married man as the first Pope. Come on and wake up. I am sick of hearing about Pedophiles running the Church!

      • There’s no indication that Christ selected Simon Bar-Jona solely based on his being married at one time; Scripture makes no mention of his wife. Suggest you carefully reflect on his exchange with Christ in Matthew 19:27-30 and Luke 18:28-30.

    Human sexuality, telling the truth FOR DUMMIES

    Throughout human history, celibacy by religionist people of faith accomplishes 2 major goals for their organizations (1) to save these institutions billions of dollars in salaries – over time. For a married priest with a wife and children will need 2 to 3 times more money in order to support his family (2) and to promote the marriage of piety (self-righteousness) to celibacy (sexual purity) which IS an unholy marriage. The lawsuits in the Catholic Church and other groups, reveals this religious fallacy: Which promotes the idea that single people of faith in a ministry are more spiritual, godly and more pleasing to God than a married man with a family.

    We literally would have billions of more people of faith on planet earth if everyone had of rejected the idea of a forced mandate to stay single in the ministry, and rather embrace Gods Holy mandate to almost all humans to “Be fruitful and multiply”.

    The Christian Bible verse 2 Timothy 2:22 is talking about getting married, when it says “Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart”. If you stay single you are running toward lust and not away from temptation (for every normal person desires sexual pleasure and an orgasm). And staying single doesn’t make you more like Jesus.

    In a collective perverse desire to appear superior to others who stand naked before God in their honesty, acknowledging that they have sexual needs and desires that must be met, in the bond of a holy marriage for most humans to experience. With no ecclesiastical group mandate that would negate or prevent individuals who desire to seek a mate and children that God wants to bless them with.

    If religious fanatics do not view marriage as a way to safeguard against unwittingly hiring sexual predators, then it is obvious that the Pope and the Catholic leadership are oblivious to the normal sex drive needs of priests, and it is my recommendation that all parishioners should demand their priests be castrated; before they enter the ministry.

    If a priest can get married, less need to masturbate or lust for others; and a family and children produce more blessings and fewer temptations for the human race to experience and endure (this is spiritual logic FOR DUMMIES to contemplate) LOL.

    There is a need for all Catholics (1) to stop giving tithes and offerings to there local church (2) don’t give money to any Catholic outreach ministries UNTIL ALL PRIESTS are allowed to marry (if they so desire) (3) and mandate all priests take a polygraph in order to prove they are not a sexual predator or pedophile.

    (4) Let all Catholics push the above 3 agendas “If” you truly love all children, teens, and adults of your Catholic faith. No Catholic really loves Jesus if they refuse to promote marriage in the Christian faith.

    If a priest is married then his marriage bed is undefiled and he can be NORMAL, honor Gods Command to be fruitful and multiply, and also lessen his chance to be tempted to sin against his body and bring shame to the faith he has chosen.

    I am hoping kind, generous and caring Catholics and Protestants will post this letter nationwide in all large and small-town SUNDAY newspapers: Posting it as a commentary, letter to the editor, opinion section, religious section, placed in a classified advertisement, or a public service free article for the good of the U.S. citizenry.


    • No thanks.

      “Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.” Mathew 19:11-12

      “Then Peter answering, said to him: Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have? And Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first.” Matthew 19:27-30

      “Then Peter said: Behold, we have left all things, and have followed thee. Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” Luke 18:28-30

      “But I would have you to be without solicitude. He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your profit: not to cast a snare upon you; but for that which is decent, and which may give you power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

  6. “According to Njogu, celibacy goes against African culture and traditions, which expect a man to marry and have children.

    “When you have no children, you are nobody,” Njogu said. “There is a push, whether open or hidden, on every man to have children or at least a child.””

    Because of course Jesus always said, “Hey, make sure you don’t go against any culture and traditions; you want to blend in and be exactly like everybody else.”

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