■ Bubble burst as wife took child to Archbishop
■ Church disrobes, banishes him
■ Archbishop: We’re shocked, pained
From NOAH EBIJE, Kaduna
Parishioners at Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Kakuri parish, Kaduna State, are still in shock following revelation that the parish priest, Very Reverend Father Peter Zuni, 54, was engaged in a secret marriage to two women, an act that led to his being disrobed and sacked from the priesthood.
Sunday Sun gathered that one of the wives is already late, while the surviving one who blew the whistle about three weeks ago over the secret marriage is said to be nursing a child for the embattled priest.
According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, only unmarried men are ordained into the priesthood as they are obligated to swear to an oath of celibacy and observe perfect and perpetual service for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. This, it is believed, would enable the priests to easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and the congregation.
When Sunday Sun visited the premises of the Queen of the Apostles parish, some parishioners confirmed the report, which they said was initially thought to be mere rumour.
The parishioners who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were shocked and surprised to learn of a petition to the Bishop of Kaduna Archdiocese, Bishop Ndagoso Manoso, that two women had children for their parish priest, an act considered to be an abomination and grave sin against the Catholic doctrine.
They pointed out that in order to cover up the priest’s ‘sin’ from spreading to the larger public, the Archdiocese allegedly organised a send off for the embattled priest to a remote village in Jaba Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
“During the send off, the priest was not allowed to make a farewell speech, and many people refused to take photographs with him. There was little or no felicitation with him because most of the time he was seen standing aloof under a mango tree without anybody going close to him.
“Nobody can say when the priest committed the alleged sinful act. If it happened before his ordination, he wouldn’t have been ordained, so probably it was after his ordination, and you know, God does not sleep, no matter the length of cover up, one day the bubble will burst. And the bubble has burst now,” the parishioner said.
However, when Sunday Sun contacted the disrobed priest on his telephone line, and sought comments on his alleged controversial transfer from the city to a remote village, he said: “Nobody is ordained to remain and work in the city. I have spent five years as parish priest of Queen of Apostles, so I can work anywhere, city or village.”
On the allegation of his involvement in secret marriage to two women who bore children for him even as a Catholic priest, he neither denied nor confirmed the allegation. Rather he said: “I find it difficult myself to believe what people are saying about me. I will not comment on it now. I will follow due process to invite you for an interview, but I am afraid, the newspaper of the archdiocese, The Cross News, may carry this story before you (Sunday Sun).”
Rev Fr. Zuni further said he is currently based in Suleja, Niger State. But Sunday Sun gathered that parishioners were made to believe that the embattled priest was transferred to Gumel village in southern Kaduna, while he was actually sacked from the priesthood.
Unfortunately, parishioners lamented that the controversial priest’s first name, Peter, reminded them of the biblical Peter who denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed.
Archbishop in tears
When contacted, the Archbishop of Kaduna Catholic Diocese, Bishop Ndagoso Manoso also confirmed the report to Sunday Sun in his office along Tafawa Balewa Way, Kaduna.
Bishop Manoso who was almost in tears when he spoke on the matter, said Father Zuni actually committed the sin. He said that what the priest did, brought a sad moment and embarrassment to the entire archdiocese.
The embattled priest was his classmate in the seminary more than 30 years ago. Bishop Manoso said that he could imagine the spiritual and psychological torture the priest could be going through over this sinful act.
The Archbishop also expressed worry over the health condition of the disrobed priest who is known to be diabetic and dependent on daily injection of insulin.
On how the bubble burst over the secret matrimonial relationship, Bishop Manoso said the woman at the centre of the storm confronted him with a baby said to belong to Father Zuni, and after due investigation by his office, it was confirmed that the priest was her secret husband.
Bishop Manoso said, “It is very unfortunate that this thing had to happen in my diocese. It is not an easy thing for me; if I tell you what I have been going through in the past few weeks over this issue; it has not been easy for me. Father Zuni was my classmate; we spent seven years in the seminary. At a time he proceeded to Kaduna Polytechnic and read Accounting.
“But this thing happened and nobody knew. But he has to face the sanction. We sacked and disrobed him because what he did is no longer compatible with his vocation as a priest. It was not true that he was transferred to any village. He was about to be transferred on normal routine, but when I heard of this story, I had to cancel the transfer and sacked him.
“It is true that he had affairs with two women and they both had children for him, but one of the women is late already. We are not God, we did not know on time until now that he was having affairs with two women.”
He spoke further: “The church said the priest has to go because the church doesn’t allow priests to marry. So he had to go and look after his children and his matrimonial home.
“You can now imagine what the priest is going through, either spiritually or psychologically. He must be going through hell on earth. This is my concern for him now. The woman and the kids will be going through trauma also.
“I have been trying to see how I can help him, but I don’t think I have the skills to help him. But he needs help to come to terms with reality.
“By December he will be 30 years in the priesthood, and he is now 54 years old, so at this age what can he do with his life. Nobody can employ him now. He spent seven years in the seminary and 30 years in the priesthood, and that is 37 years, so what can he do with his life at 54? The church too is going through a lot of trauma, so we need everybody’s prayers for us to put this incident behind us.”
Meanwhile the decision of the Catholic Church to disrobed and sack the priest has stirred reaction from a non-Catholic, Dr David Ehimhen, an optometrist and Pentecostal Christian, who said that the practice of celibacy which was compelled on individuals seeking to become ordained priests in the Catholic Church has clearly become outdated as it had always been contrary to the bible right from inception. He said that early in the Church Age, Catholic priests were free to marry and have children, but later popes now imposed celibacy on priests. Over the last 60 years or more, many priests have fallen foul of the rule of celibacy by having secret wives and children. His words: “Well, right from time, we have always had people that were either in support or against Catholic priests marrying. They have their reasons. Some believe that the person would fully concentrate on the work of God; that is why they say that if you are a priest you should consecrate your life to serving God because they see marriage as a kind of distraction. I don’t think that I am competent to make an official statement that the doctrine of the Catholic Church is right or wrong. But personally speaking I don’t believe that celibacy is right. That is one of the reasons why I am not a Catholic. The bible does not say that if you are married you cannot serve God to the best of your ability or you must remain unmarried to be able to serve God well. When you give room to such things, that is why some people may be burning with desire and yet they say they are priests or that they are reverend sisters and yet they are burning with desire. That on its own is a sin. Why not just be yourself? If you are a Catholic, and want to remain one and you have the grace to remain unmarried, you can go on and become a priest, but if you don’t have the grace, it is better you stop deceiving yourself because such people will not make heaven because they are living a double life. And that is why Apostle Paul also said that people who cannot be celibate but burn with desire should marry.”