By Francis Damina
Few years back while on a visit to the then Monsignor Matthew Hassan Kukah’s Parish in Kakuri – Kaduna, I went with him to a requiem mass at St. Paul’s, Ungwan Rimi. At the start of the mass which was for a deceased Knight, the parish priest welcomed Kukah saying: “I welcome the Vicar General of our Archdiocese who the Ikulu people refer to as most senior (instead of Monsignor) to this requiem mass…” As an Ikulu myself, I was not unaware that the now Bishop Kukah is the first Priest a predominantly Ikulu parish – Gidan Bako, produced in 1976. I smiled and later laughed over it with friends after mass. I was to, later, discover the identity of this priest, namely that he is Jaba – an ethnic group that the Ikulu people jovially refer to as “our slaves”. This jovial and very friendly priest was Fr. Peter Zuni – the procurator of the catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna.
On 14th August, 2016, I received a call from my friend Gideon Augustine Wushi asking me to immediately buy The Sun Newspaper for a shocker. Upon getting a copy, I saw a headline: “Abomination! Catholic Priest married two wives”. The paper which reported that “Parishioners at the Queen of Apostles, Kakuri parish, Kaduna State, are still in shock following revelation that the parish Priest, Very Rev. 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”, went ahead to lend credence to the seemingly apocryphal story by quoting the Archbishop as saying, “Father Zuni actually committed the sin”. As I read the remaining part of the story with much pains, my eyes gathered cloud waiting for any flimsy excuse to rain, largely because it was Fr. Zuni – that simple priest with a penchant for jokes that I had met!
The more striking part of the story was where the reporter said: “When contacted the Archbishop was almost in tears”. “It is very unfortunate that this 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. Fr. Zuni was my classmate; we spent seven years in the seminary. At a time he proceeded to Kaduna Polytechnic and read accounting”, the Archbishop said.
As a student of religion, I feel compelled to go beyond reticence to ventilate my views with great sense of humility believing that by putting more heads together, we can save the situation. And I stand to be corrected.
It is important to make the point that in spite of the insistence of the Catholic Church based on Canon Law on the evangelical vows of poverty, obedience and chastity (celibacy) that every priest had to swear to before ordination, celibacy remains a church discipline and not a divine obligation or law. True, celibacy helps the priest to dedicate himself more to his calling and as Pope Paul VI in his encyclical “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” (1967) said: “Celibacy is an identification with Christ, who Himself was celibate; an act of sacrificial love whereby a priest gives of himself totally to the service of God, where our Lord said, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven’ (Matthew 22: 30)”.
The church has, over the years, shown that the salvation of the human person rates higher than every other value or law, including celibacy (salus animarum est suprema lex – the salvation of the soul is the supreme law). This means that when two values are in conflict, the higher value takes precedence while the lower becomes an opportunity cost. This is why matter gives way for spirit, justice for mercy, and in the case of Gbagi Villa in Kaduna state that Governor El-rufai is poised at demolishing, land for the welfare of the people.
It is based on this ethical principle that in 1951 under Pope Pius XII, a married Lutheran Pastor got ordained as a Catholic priest in Germany. In 1980, married Anglican and Episcopal priests got ordained as Catholic priests in the US; also in Canada and England in 1994. This was based on what the Holy See under Pope John Paul II, now a saint, called “Pastoral Provision”. This means that theological conclusions are sometimes pastorally unreasonable. Hence, The Holy See placed the vow of celibacy on suspension for the salvation of those in question. Truly, the salvation of the soul is the supreme law.
Have we forgotten the case of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Zambia who astonished the world in 2005 at the age of 76 when he broke the celibacy vow and married a Korean woman Dr. Maria Sung linked to Rev. Moon who presided over their “wedding”? Rather than sack him, the Vatican made frantic effort that he may return to the church for his salvation. On August 6, 2011, Milingo met with the pope at Castel Gondalfo after which the Vatican announced on August 14 that Milingo has decided to leave his “wife” and return to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.
Lest we forget, St. Peter, Apostle, the first pope, was a married man. Also Pope Felix III (483 – 492), Saint Hormidas (514 – 523) etc. Or, was it Pope John XI (931 – 935) who was the son of pope Sergius III?
In John 8:3 – 11, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” The Bible says that Jesus straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without a sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. At this they began to leave – the older ones first, only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
Damina, a student of Religion and Society, can be reached on via [email protected]