For most Nigerians, there is only one Catholic Church where Rev. Fathers are not allowed to marry and permitted to do carnal work. But that is not totally correct. Apart from the Roman Catholic Church with its headquarters in the Vatican, Rome, there are other branches of the Catholic Church. One of such branches is the Old Catholic Apostolic Church Worldwide whose priests are allowed to marry and do secular jobs; while women are also allowed to be ordained as bishops. The latter’s headquarters is in England. It has a strong footing in Ghana and few African countries. But in 2014, a Nigerian was identified and elevated to the rank of bishop in the church. An ex-policeman and ex-Roman Catholic Church priest, Bishop Raphael Oluwaseunfunmi Fagbohun was the pioneer chaplain of the Nigeria Police Force before he left both the Roman Catholic Church and the police. Is the bishop ready to settle down? He answered in the affirmative. He said he may also take up a teaching job.
The Old Catholic Apostolic Church is a family member of the Old Catholics who separated themselves from the Roman Church in order to remain faithful to the tenets of Christianity at different times in history since the 1700s. The term ‘Old Catholics’ was chosen at the Council of Utrecht to mean ‘Original Catholics,’ i.e. those who uphold the original teachings of Jesus, the apostles and traditions of the early Church in line with the word of St. Vincent of Lerins: “We must hold fast to that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all the faithful.”
Yes; our clerics marry and those who have the gift of celibacy exercise it. That was the tradition in the early church. Peter was and remained married. 1 Corinthians 9:5 revealed that the apostles, except perhaps, John and Paul, were married. Jesus Christ never forbade his apostles from marrying. Even Paul that was not married said it’s a gift. In 1Timothy 4, Paul referred to those who forbid marriage as hypocrites. Celibacy vow and rule without having the gift of celibacy is hypocrisy. Experience has justified this. The Old Catholics believe in Jesus, biblical and apostolic teachings and traditions, not man-made, imposed rules. Celibacy is a Roman Catholic, not God’s rule. We believe that no one should lay another foundation contrary to the one laid by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).
So you encourage your priests to marry?
Yes; we encourage them. If you are not born celibate, you are to marry because God said it is not good for man to be alone. If God didn’t create you that way, you can only be disobeying God by refusing to marry.
You allow your priests to work?
Yes; we do. Paul was a tent maker and it didn’t disturb the church. Experience shows that many priest and leaders are in the church because it is a means of livelihood. It is the money and salary they get that is keeping them there. God did not call them. They have no ministry. They have no business in connection with salvation of souls but to make money and take care of their needs. So, instead of feeding the sheep, they feed on the sheep. If a man is in ministry, he must have been called by God and then you don’t need to collect salary from the people. So, we are saying the ministry should not be a means of livelihood; it should flow from life and when a man needs to go on full time ministry due to the workload, the work should speak for itself but we encourage our ministers to work so they won’t be burdens to the people. This injunction is coming from Paul’s teachings. Jesus Christ wasn’t a burden to people; he was a carpenter before he entered into full-time ministry; Paul was a tent maker and he said he was not a burden to anybody. Though, we do not discourage full-time ministry, we believe ministers should work as long as the work of the ministry can permit them.
We are told that the three-fold apostolic ministry is open to women.
Yes; that’s true because in the early church, it was never said that women cannot be ministers though women were not part of the 12 disciples of Jesus for reasons that were not disclosed by him; but we were told that there were other women following him and ministering to him and on the day Jesus resurrected, a woman, Mary Magdalene, was commissioned the first apostle. An apostle to the apostles indeed. So, Jesus is talking about availability and Paul told us that in Christ Jesus there is neither man nor woman. Even in the beginning, he made man and woman. The Adam that he created was created both male and female. That was before the physical male and female were moulded and fashioned, if you understand the spirituality of Genesis. The service and worship of God is spiritual. There is nothing biological, psychological or physical that prevents a woman from doing a divine work since it’s spiritual and we don’t serve God with our physique, but in truth and spirit. It is a fact that women are more spiritually available than men. Go to churches and you will see that women have the greater population. We must separate what is cultural from what is divine. For us, so far as most cultures permit, there is no limit to the level a woman can attain.
So, in future we will have a woman bishop?
Yes. If the synod of the people accepts it. We have them oversees in some of the Old Catholic churches. Their culture and the synod permit it. That is the beauty of the Old Catholic Church. We encourage that people should worship God according to their culture as long as it doesn’t contradict the four pillars of Christianity (Jesus, Bible, Apostles and Early Church). The Bible has record of women leaders in the early church. Title that we are giving them is another thing. When people say women were not part of Jesus’ disciples, I tell them also that Jesus never appointed nor named anyone Reverend, Reverend Fathers or Bishop also. That is true. Nobody should put a barrier on the calling of God upon a man or a woman because God is the only one that calls people. We only confirm them. If God allows a woman to do his work such that she already has several outstations or branches under her, shall we now say because she is a woman, the work should be collected from her or she should not proceed to oversee it. Bishop is simply another word for overseer. It is a responsibility and not a mere title. Are you saying a woman is incapable of overseeing something or overseeing the children of God? By the time she grows to that level, she’s naturally an overseer. So giving her the title of bishop is just a confirmation. These things are not matters of legislation, they are natural things and if we learn to follow spiritual procedure, they won’t be problems to us.
Lord Bishop, this may sound quite personal but our readers will want to know. Are you going to marry?
Yes; I’m going to marry. Scripturally, a bishop should marry because if you cannot take charge of the family, how can you take charge of the Church of God? A bishop has to marry except he is an eunuch or celibate. In the Old Catholic Church, there is no room for hypocrisy or pretence of game-playing or deception.