Saturday, July 22, 2023

Priest Dies in Hotel After Spending Night With Lover

The untimely demise of a much-loved priest, who was found dead after spending a night at a hotel with his lover, has reignited a debate on celibacy among Kenyan Catholics. 

Father Joseph Kariuki Wanjiku, parish priest of St. Peter's Church in Ruai of the archdiocese of Nairobi, checked into Monalisa Hotel in Muranga County accompanied by his 32-year-old girlfriend, Ruth Nduhi Karanja, who had been his secret lover for six years.

The priest's mistress was also an employee at his parish church, and hotel workers confirmed that Fr. Kariuki had been a frequent visitor to the hotel for the past two years.

On the morning of July 8, tragedy struck when Ruth rushed to the hotel's reception, seeking help as Fr. Kariuki complained of dizziness. Despite efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead upon arrival at Kenol Hospital.

Police Investigate

Gatanga sub-county police commander Lawrence Njeru said the 43-year-old priest and his girlfriend ate chicken and drank some liquor before retiring for the night.

"The body was fresh but had white foam coming out of the mouth. We made inquiries and discovered that priest's body cannot be preserved in a normal mortuary, so we made arrangements to have it transported to Nairobi, accompanied by our officers," Muranga County Police Commander Kainga Mathiu said.

"Our officers processed the scene and moved the body to Mater Hospital mortuary in Nairobi under the escort of police officers pending autopsy and further police action," Mathiu added.

No one in the Vatican understands the African soul.

Meanwhile, the Media Council of Kenya has reprimanded a section of the media for breaching the privacy of Fr. Kariuki, after tabloids reported that the priest, who was suffering from high blood pressure, may have died of a heart attack after taking Viagra.  

"The use of sensational words and derogatory terms was insensitive and uncalled for, violating the dignity of the subjects involved and resulting in invasion of the individual's privacy," a statement from the MCK noted. 

Flock Eulogizes Shepherd

Parishioners praised Fr. Kariuki for his pastoral services to his flock. 

"You celebrated Mass in our home, baptized my kids, the most recent in the photo baptizing my son. We have lost a hero. Heavens must be celebrating to gain a king," Shee Maguta, a young mother in the parish, eulogized

Describing the priest as generous, kind-hearted and humble, a close friend of Fr. Kariuki said that church members had pleaded with him to end his relationship with Ruth Karanja. 

"For a long time, it was an open secret that they were lovers, and it was no surprise that they were together. However, what shocked the faithful is his sudden demise and the circumstances surrounding the death," the friend told Kenyan media. 

Married Priests Breakaway

The priest's death has rekindled an ongoing debate on priestly celibacy after it was sparked off earlier by Catholic priest Fr. Peter Njogu, whose breakaway faction, the Renewed Universal Catholic Church, continues to draw support from Catholics favoring married priests.

"It's high time we Catholics allow our priests to marry. I know of so many priests having secret families. Celibacy is just a Church doctrine; something we can scrap," Pauline Njoroge, chief officer of the Kenya Online Defense Forces, tweeted.

"The deceased St. Peter's priest-in-charge Joseph Kariuki Wanjiku is just one among many," Njoroge remarked. 

Father Peter Njogu started the Renewed Universal Catholic Church after he met a nurse in Rome and considered marrying her but was told by fellow priests in Kenya that many of them were married and had "secret families" kept in distant homes. 

"Now that I've come out, these other priests tell me, 'The problem with you is you went public,'" Njogu, who married his girlfriend Berith Kariri, said. "And I say, 'I am not the problem; I am the solution. Join me.'"

"Most of our members are ex-Catholics," Njogu, now a renegade "bishop" excommunicated by the Vatican, told The Washington Post. "They are tired of the hypocrisy. Some of our people call us the 'Church of the Future.'" 

"No one in the Vatican understands the African soul. They do not understand that for the African man, priest or not, the worst sin is to leave this world without siring a child," Njogu said. "Mandatory celibacy is thus the root of priestly sin, but they pretend all is well while their house is burning to the ground."

I tell them to live their own lives because celibacy is not biblical.

Njogu has been meeting with priests at the Christ the King Major Seminary in Nyeri and across Kenya to urge them to abandon priestly celibacy, join the splinter group and get married if they desire.

"I tell them to live their own lives because celibacy is not biblical and it does not sanctify priesthood," said the 55-year-old father of three, who is also a lecturer at Kenyatta University in Nairobi.

Nearly 20 priests and more than 2,000 Catholics have joined Njogu since 2011, mostly in the towns and villages that dot the fertile slopes of Mount Kenya.

"As a parent, I had to fear that a priest would impregnate my daughter if I took them to my old churches," said Margaret Kimondo, who was one of Njogu's first converts. "In front of the altar, they may look one way, but at night, you don't even want to hear those stories."

Father John Karimi, who left the priesthood to start a family, recounted his own history of breaking his vow of celibacy. 

"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. ... Sometimes I would feel so guilty or feel like dying when I thought of the celibacy vows I took," Karimi remarked.

Last week, the incoming head of the Vatican's doctrine watchdog hinted at the prospect of ending the requirement of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Church Militant reported

Asked if abolishing mandatory celibacy would "undermine doctrine," Abp. Víctor Manuel "Tucho" Fernández, prefect-designate of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that it would be Pope Francis' prerogative to make a considered judgment on the matter.

"It is a possible hypothesis, as indeed happens in the East. But this is a prudential decision that the pope must weigh," Fernández told Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale.