It was a rather low-key wedding ceremony that lasted just over one-and-a-half hours at Our Lady of Africa Catholic Parish in Mbuya, a Kampala suburb, on Monday, May 29. Fr Paul Nyahanga, a priest formerly allied to the Comboni Missionaries, married Dr Silvia Owor. The two became husband and wife at exactly 10:57am.
The parish priest of Our Lady of Africa Catholic Church, Fr John Mungereza, explained that Nyahanga had formally requested Pope Francis to be freed from priesthood so that he marries his lover and the Pope granted it. “I fell in love. This love was so strong.
This love had borne me children and I could not go on living a life of hypocrisy any more,” Nyahanga told Sunday Vision. Catholic priests are sworn celibates and, therefore, not allowed to marry.When he became a priest 20 years ago, Nyahanga said he set out to live up to the demands of Catholic priesthood. But when he found love in Owor, his commitment was shattered and he had to face the reality.
“I cannot express how I feel right now. It is a mixture of emotions. But one thing I am sure of is the relief that this day has brought me. I can now live with my wife freely, knowing I am doing this with truth and honesty,” he said Dressed in a beautiful white body flattering gown, the bride was walked down the aisle by her grandfather and her sister who was also the maid of honour.
Before them were the couple’s three children (a boy and two girls).Owor said she met Nyahanga just after she had lost her father. The future seemed bleak and scary for her, but also for her four siblings who were stranded in her student-room at Makerere University. Her father was shot dead by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in 2004 as he travelled to Kampala. “I was depressed.
I did not know what to do. But, as the eldest child, the responsibility fell right on my shoulders. I had to find a way out,” Owor says. In a desperate move to find help, she walked to the Catholic parish in Mbuya and the first person she met was Nyahanga. The priest guided her to another priest who agreed to pay her siblings’ school fees and other requirements. This was on condition that she repays when she started working.
Owor was, at the time, in her last year at the medical school. After that, the two kept in touch until 2005, when they started dating. They are now parents to three children aged 10, six and two.“When our love deepened, he promised to quit priesthood and this is what kept me going through all the years.
I had to make sure that he actually fulfilled the promise he made. I was not going to be a single mother with children whose father I could not tell them about,” she said. Nyahanga had to engage his superior (the bishop) over his failure to maintain celibacy.
After rigorous engagements with his superiors, Nyahanga was advised to write a letter to Pope Francis expressing his intentions to quit the vocation.
This he did in 2015 and in September 2016, he received a reply from the Vatican releasing him from pastoral duty. This, Owor said, was the biggest relief she has ever had since they started dating. The couple had already had a civil marriage earlier in June last year. “I never saw myself having children from another marriage.
My children were my inspiration and I knew I had to fight for their father,” she said. Nyahanga believes this will enable him serve God better. “Fundamentally, I have decided to remain with God. I believe I will serve him better and faithfully. I am grateful the church has given me the freedom to have a family,” he said.
MARRIAGE AND PRIESTHOOD
According to Fr Philip Odii, the director of communications at the Uganda Catholic Secretariat, for a priest to get married, he should have secured a dispensation from the Vatican allowing him to return to a lay state.
The process is known as laicisation. When a priest requests for a release and it is given, he is laicised. But when he is dismissed from clerical state, he is defrocked.
Odii explained that he (Nyahanga) nevertheless remains a priest forever. “Just like a Christian who joins another religion and does not lose their baptism, a priest who is dismissed from clerical state does not lose their priesthood,” he said.
In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Fr Damián Astigueta, a professor at the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, explained further: “The sacrament of Holy Orders is not lost; it imprints an ontological sign on the being of the priest that can never be lost. When a priest is defrocked or laicised by the Catholic Church, he is prohibited from exercising such rights as saying Mass, hearing confessions and administering sacraments.
It also includes obligations such as reciting the liturgy of the hours and obedience to their bishop, plus all religious commitments and vows except the vow of chastity. The laicised priest, just like a dismissed priest, is prohibited from exercising such rights as saying Mass, hearing confessions, and administering the sacraments. This also includes obligations such as reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and obedience to their bishop.”
The professor further explained that since a man dismissed from the clerical state remains a priest, there are times when the Church continues to oblige him to act as a priest. “For example, if he finds someone in danger of death who asks for the sacraments, even though he is no longer in a clerical state, he “must hear (the person’s) confession because the most important thing is the salvation of that person.”
According to Associated Press, the Vatican had by 2014 defrocked a total of 848 priests over sexual offences, especially on children since 2004. By that time, the global population of Catholic priests was 410,000, according to the Vatican statistics.