The death of Father Joseph Wanjiku has re-ignited the debate on the celibacy vow in the Catholic Church that has for long been dogged by sex scandals involving priests and nuns.
Although Canon 277 of the Code of Canon Law (Promulgated in 1983) was intended to cushion the Ramon Catholic against indignity, incidences of immorality are common and not far from the pulpit.
Frequently, priests and nuns are caught in embarrassing sex scandals the church has struggled to shrug off. Child abuse and child upkeep cases against some priests continue to give the church a bad name.
While it might be unfair to judge Fr Kariuki, the fact that he was in the company of a female member several kilometres far away from his workstation raises questions about his morality in the face of Canon 277 which cautions priests against keeping company that can tempt them in trouble.
Sub-section 2 of the Canon states that clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful.
Since clerics have committed themselves to perfect and perpetual continence, they are warned to be careful about those with whom they associate lest their commitment be endangered and the faithful scandalized.
In a bid not to raise suspicion among the faithful, clerics were not to live under the same roof with or to frequently visit women.
Clerics were allowed to live only with those they have biological ties like mothers and sisters or individuals whose irreproachable character and maturity did not attract any skepticism about such interactions or relationships.
Though the present code does not single out women as the likely cause of scandal; the association with certain males has proven harmful as well.
In the case of Fr Kariuki, the cleric was in the company of a female colleague police described as his girlfriend and a church member at St Peters Parish in Ruai where he ministers.
The 43-year-old priest died on June 9 after checking in the previous day with his lover at Monalisa Hotel, Murang’a County. Police identified the 32-year-old woman as Ruth Nduhi Karanja who recorded a statement, giving an account of want had transpired.
“This morning at around 0800hrs, the priest’s girlfriend notified the hotel management that the boyfriend was being dizzy and unconscious,” read the police report.
Fr Kariuki died at Kenol Hospital where he had been in his own black Toyota Harrier car. When police arrived at the scene, the priest was oozing foam from his mouth. Even though the church maintained studious silence over Fr Kariuki’s sudden death, The Nairobian has learned that the priest has previously been warned to end the clandestine affair.
Describing Fr Kariuki as generous, kind-hearted and humble, a close friend of the priest said the cleric did not heed advice from church members who constantly beseeched him to end his relationship with the woman.
“For a long time, it was an open secret that they were lovers; and it was no surprise that they were together. What however shocked faithfuls is his sudden demise and circumstances surrounding the death,” said the man from Ruai who was close to the priest for the last five years.
Fr Kariuki’s death as once again rekindled the celibacy debate in the Catholic church where some popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, seminaries and nuns have been caught in sex scandals.
While others who have been unable to withstand the celibacy vow, have quit altogether and married. In Kenya, the celibacy oath is silently abused.
When few years ago John Karimi from Kirinyaga County abandoned the church where he served for 15 years, the priest who married starting a family, painted the picture of a church deceiving itself and the flock.
“I used to make love to these women. More often than not I would sleep with a woman and the following day on Sunday I’m at the altar delivering a sermon and giving out sacrament. Sometimes I would feel so guilty or feel like dying when I thought of the celibacy vows I took,” he said.
Clerics would rather engage in immorality while inside the church than when outside because of the money and privileges accorded to them.
Other than Karimi, priests like Reverend Peter Njogu, Bishop Daniel Kasomo and Fr Godfrey Shiundu have also taken the bold step of denouncing celibacy while announcing their preference for family life.