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Cape Town -
A group of Catholic priests have gone against one of the major tenets of their religion by renouncing its celibacy vows.
This weekend saw the launch of an “alternative” following in Langa where four Catholic priests arrived from across the country to celebrate mass at the Red Cross Centre.
About 80 congregants celebrate mass with local priest Father Fano Ngcobo, a member of the new group, at the centre.
To mark the launch, Archbishop Godfrey Siundu of the archdiocese of Kitale in Kenya was the guest of honour. He has been given his title by the Ecumenical Catholic Church – a separate denomination in the universal Christian church.
Siundu, the first Catholic priest to be publicly married, said he was in South Africa “on a mission”.
He and Ngcobo have been promoting the rights of Catholic priests who are still practising their faith and say they want celibacy to be a choice, not a requirement.
“I was a priest who had a girlfriend and I felt I could no longer live in hiding,” Siundu said.
He would see his girlfriend on Friday and officiate at mass on Sunday.
“But I felt it could no longer go on like that.”
He had written letters about celibacy to his own bishop and to Rome.
During his 18 years as a priest before his marriage he had encountered many priests who were not living up to their vow of celibacy. “On a Sunday they look very holy on the altar.”
Siundu wanted to be the first to speak out about the matter and “came out”.
As he could not go back to his church, he started holding church services from his home.
“And that’s where I told them: we are going to be different. We are going to be priests who are able to marry.”
At the beginning it was very tough for both Siundu and his wife, but today his “alternative Catholic church” has a following of 30 000 congregants, and 24 validly ordained Roman Catholic priests.
They did not want to join other denominations, he said.
The alternative archbishop argued that the celibacy aspect was a rule created to manage the church.
Ncgobo said: “It’s not a biblical principle. It was brought in to manage the church, and control its assets.”
He said the alternative church was open to all – those who wanted to marry and those choosing celibacy.
“If you are able to live a celibate life and live it well, then so be it.”
The archdiocese of Cape Town was not available for comment on Monday.