.- Twenty priests in Uganda have formed a breakaway sect which does not require celibacy. The priests, who are either married or want to marry, have formed a body called the Catholic Apostolic National Church in Uganda.
Vatican officials said the priests are now considered outside the Catholic Church and would likely be excommunicated, the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) reports.
The sect is headed by a former Zambian Catholic priest Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, who was excommunicated for founding the Catholic Apostolic National Church of Zambia, which allows married priests.
According to CISA, the breakaway Ugandan church is located in the eastern town of Jinja. Mbewe is expected to visit the town to officially launch the church and ordain new priests, according to Rev. Leonard Lubega, who Mbewe appointed bishop-elect of the group.
Mbewe explained that he was inspired by former Zambian archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was married in 2001 to a South Korean woman by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church.
Archbishop Milingo was excommunicated in 2006 after installing four married men as bishops in the United States. In December 2009 he was defrocked and stripped of his priestly functions.
Lubega claims the new Ugandan sect has over 12,000 followers.
''We are Catholics but not Roman Catholics,” he told CISA, adding that the new church is not under Pope Benedict XVI but recognizes him and prays for him.
Lubega was never ordained a Catholic priest in Uganda while another priest in the group, Fr. Matoyu Seguya, was an Orthodox priest in Mityana but never a Catholic priest.
The Uganda government has said it is investigating the sect and would ban it if it is found to be illegal. The church has registered with the government.
Archbishop of Kampala Cyprian Kizito Lwanga called on the government to avoid registering such renegade groups, saying they might cause confusion among Ugandans and can “bring about religious conflicts.”
Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, archbishop emeritus of Kampala, described the Catholic Apostolic National Church as a group of “false prophets.”
“I don’t know these so-called priests, and the Church should not be scared,” he told CISA. “Many such people have emerged in Uganda and gone. I advise Ugandans neither to follow nor listen to them because they intend to divide the church.”
He said that over two millennia the Catholic Church has withstood the emergence of such groups before and has not been shaken.
Maintaining clerical celibacy is reportedly a problem in Africa, which has the world’s fastest-growing Catholic population. There have been several cases of African priests living openly with women and fathering children.
Celibacy was a key topic of discussion during the 2009 Synod for Africa.
Catholic teaching holds that priests cannot marry. Married men may be ordained in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church and in some cases when married Protestant clergymen convert to Catholicism.