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Ugandan Cleric Not “allowed to exercise priestly ministry” after Joining Active Politics

From left to right: Fr. Charles Onen, Mr Emmanuel Mwaka Lutukumoi, Ms Nancy Atimango and Mr Andrew Ogwetta Otto in the race for Gulu East MP seat.

A member of the Clergy of Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese has been suspended from exercising his priestly ministry following his decision to join active politics even after his Local Ordinary “tried very much to dissuade him from taking such a step.”

In the letter announcing the suspension, Archbishop John Baptist Odama makes known his efforts to explain to Fr. Charles Onen the consequences of his decision to engage in active politics.

The Ugandan cleric is, according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, among four candidates contesting for the Gulu East parliamentary seat in the 2021 general elections.

“As a shepherd of the people of Gulu Archdiocese, I have the painful duty of communicating to you that, on 23rd September 2020, I had to issue a decree of suspension ‘a divinis’ for our brother, Rev. Fr. Charles Onen,” Archbishop Odama says in his statement dated October 5.

The Archbishop adds, “Fr. Charles is no longer allowed to exercise his priestly ministry. Specifically, he is forbidden to exercise all the acts of the power of order, all the acts of the power of governance and any right or function attached to any diocesan office.” 

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“I tried very much to dissuade him from taking such a step and I told him that the Law of the Church does not permit a Priest to be involved in active politics and that a Priest who does so would be suspended,” Archbishop Odama explains, referencing his discussions with Fr. Charles over a period of three months.

According to the 73-year-old Ugandan Archbishop, Fr. Charles decided to overlook the caution “and went making choices contrary to the nature and requirements of his priestly status and the Law of the Church.”

“Eventually, because of the public scandal caused by this serious offence, a formal canonical process of warnings was started,” the Local Ordinary of Gulu Archdiocese further says in his October 5 letter obtained by ACI Africa.

He issued the first and second letters of canonical warnings, asking Fr. Charles to desist from “active involvement in politics and reform his life according to his priestly vocation” on August 21 and September 7 respectively. 

“Since the time prescribed by Canon Law to answer the warnings and to have recourse against the decree of suspension has abundantly expired and no written answer or reaction from Fr. Charles has yet reached me, I had no alternative left than to obey the Law of the Church,” Archbishop Odama writes.

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The Law of the Church, the Archbishop explains, “asks pastors to try disciplinary measures like the suspension from exercising sacramental ministry as a last resort and attempt to correct those who go astray in order to make them reflect, repent and reform their lives.”

In the letter titled “Communication About the Suspension of Rev. Fr. Charles Onen” and addressed to Priests within his pastoral jurisdiction, the Ugandan Prelate asks for prayers aimed at having Fr. Charles “reflect, repent and reform.”

“I now ask all of you, and all the faithful of your parish whom you will duly inform with discretion and prudence, to pray for our brother Fr. Charles Onen that the Lord may help him to reflect on his situation, repent and reform his life according to the gifts and demands of our common priestly vocation,” Archbishop Odama says.

In deciding to join active politics, Fr. Charles joins his compatriot, Fr. Simon Lokodo who was suspended in October 2006 when he successfully contested for the parliamentary seat of Dodoth county in Karamoja. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni appointed him minister for industry.

Fr. Jacinto Ogwal of Uganda’s Lira Diocese was suspended in 2011after he expressed interest in vying for the parliamentary seat of Otuke.

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In neighboring Tanzania, the Bishop of Bukoba Diocese suspended Fr. Ildephonce Katundu after he announced his intention to vie for the Nkenge Constituency Assembly.