The Canon Law Can’t Be Mocked – A Note For Fr Mathias Orngu

Let me begin with what our people call chia i tan (attestation) that I am a full-blooded catholic. I was born a catholic, attended a catholic school during my childhood, took the sacraments of baptism and marriage in the Holy Catholic Church and I am in the process of becoming a knight in the Catholic Church.

Padre, you will agree that the above attributes qualify me to speak on this subject.

I must however say that this conversation is not about the Catholic Church and its priests. What I wrote centred on a particular priest who has abandoned his priestly vows, violated the Canon Law, jumped into partisan politics and rightly got sanctioned by the Church. We must separate the two to properly situate our discourse.

I read your piece in which you rose in defense of the suspended priest who is an aspirant on the platform of All Progressives Congress, APC in Benue State and I was wondering why you failed to notice that you are the only priest who has embarked on such a vain voyage. Perhaps you assume that other priests do not understand provisions of the Canon Law or that your love for the renegade priest towers above that of all the other clergymen in the state.

You selectively cited the Canon Law to suit your piece but ignored the fact that though once ordained, a priest will always bear the name priest, but there is also something called Laicization in the Catholic Church. When a priest is laicized (defrocked), he is dismissed from a clerical state and secularized, becoming like a layperson. Now, such a priest may bear the name ‘father’ but his status becomes similar to that of a dismissed soldier or a deposed traditional ruler. The name he carries is no longer of any effect as he is prohibited from conducting Mass, performing sacraments, such as hearing confession or blessing and bestowing the Eucharist. He is excommunicated.

The Vatican Council II, Declaration on Religious Liberty, 7 December, 1965 (Dignitatis Humanae) 14 is very clear that:

“The Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself.”

The Canon Law (Canon 285(3) states unambiguously thus:

“Clerics are forbidden to assume public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power.”

It further says that:

“Clergy are not to play an active role in political parties or in directing trade unions unless, in the judgement of the competent ecclesiastical authority, this is required for the defence of the rights of the church or to promote the common good.” Canon 287(2).

It was in the light of the above that His Lordship, Bishop Williams Avenya did not hesitate to issue the suspension letter to your friend, Alia.

Surprisingly, he came out the day after receiving the suspension letter and tried to mislead the people by downplaying the weight of the sanction that had just been placed upon him as “ a normal thing”. You, Fr Orngu, also know that your colleague was lying.

You are well aware that the Law is highly against falsehood.

Canon 1391 warns that “A person who produces a false public ecclesiastical document, who changes, destroys, or conceals an authentic one, or who uses a false or altered one; a person who uses another false or altered document in an ecclesiastical matter; a person who asserts a falsehood in a public ecclesiastical document” will not escape punishment.

What your friend did when he described his suspension as “a normal thing” was gross violation of the law.

You made reference to my piece regarding the Virgin Mary and I can’t help but believe that you didn’t read the statement credited to your friend Alia very well. He is the one who dragged the Holy name of the Virgin Mother into partisan politics, not me.

Look for his media statement and read it again.

Your attempt to pitch Governor Samuel Ortom against the Catholic Church is ridiculous because no Bishop or a member of the Catholic Church will buy your emotional blackmail. Governor Ortom, though not a catholic, has shown tremendous love and respect to the church. I won’t mention the things he has done for the church here for obvious reasons. Ask your colleagues and the laity to tell you. Your accusation of discrimination only exists in your imagination.

Lastly, may I advise that even when we are friends or colleagues to someone, we ought to be guided by the principles of true friendship and professionalism. When a friend or colleague is wrong, we should be bold enough to correct them instead of going public to offer defense on account of friendship. Going by your write-up which I read yesterday, the Church which suspended Alia is the guilty party. Think about this Fr Orngu.

While you are at it, may the good Lord be with you.

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