I wish to congratulate your bold article “Bishop Bushu is heading a Sinful church” that sought to throw light on the urgent situation of the spiritual crisis of the Diocese of Buea that rampages the clerical fold and scatters the sheep. I also wish to add a lay voice to Fr Maurice Ebai’s response, since we now have a public forum to discuss these pertinent matters. On my visit home in Buea 2011-2013 spiritual chaos was clear to me in the number of Catholics who get their teachings from TB Joshua’s Emmanuel TV, procure his picture and holy water and suggest it to their neighbors, as well as sing the songs of his musical ministry during the Catholic Mass, not being able to discern the conflicting theologies in the words of the songs. Chaos was also clear in the increase of the number of offertory runs, and contribution cards for building projects, in the midst of economic hardship and unemployment of parishioners. Your critique, as much as no Catholic would want to hear it in public, is well-founded. Catholics are hungry for God, hungry for God’s word and hungry for the teachings of the Catholic Church to resolve 21st century problems in Cameroon and this is clearly the malnourished child of the Buea Diocese
On my part, I can testify to being rejected to join the theological teaching team in the diocese of Buea, neither at JOPASIT, UIDB nor the parishes, for being a Catholic lay woman theologian. “So you studied theology to come and compete with us priests, go back to where you came from, we don’t need you,” was one of the kindest remarks I got from an influential Diocesan priest. Meanwhile Université de St Jerome in Douala welcomed me with open arms and I gave lectures there. Hence Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai’s response alluding to “passive and indifferent laity” in the case of Buea diocese is out of play here. Several invested Christians have intervened through offering prayers and masses, studying at JOPASIT, engaging at the parish level, and reporting cases needing attention to clerical authority but have met deaf ears at best and retaliation at worst.
First, some preliminary considerations. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church! The death of Fr Denis Ndang has been the catalyst for your article and lets us discuss the economic, health, educational and well-being of the priests of the diocese of Buea. How much is the stipend for a priest? 10000frs per month? 15000frs per month? Who can live on that for basic personal needs considering that they still must pay the kilometers used on the parish car they drive? Most priests are left at the level of a first degree in philosophy and theology largely insufficient to address the crisis of today’s Christians; let alone to interpret and implement the developments demanded by the Vatican II council. Further probing must also be made into clerical formation in Bambui Seminary, do they read Jean Marc Ela, Eboussi Boulaga, Engelbert Mveng, Meinrad Hebga, John Mbiti and other Cameroonian Catholic theologians whose theological work of liberation, floruishing and reconstruction from an African mindset and the Cameroonian reality is recognized internationally? How many of our priests are trained in Systematic theology, the branch of study in charge of methods for using Scripture and the Catholic Tradition to address present day issues, or Spiritual direction that enhances the Christian’s productive capacity? The focus is on management, journalism, canon law, philosophy and others, which are not directly geared to pastoral enhancement. This puts us at the proverbial “a blind person being sent to lead another blind person.” The plight of catechists is even more deplorable. What about the religious sisters and brothers, how educated are they in Catholic tradition and scripture implementation? What about healthcare insurance, retirement insurance, holidays? This deplorable situation is responsible for ministerial burnouts that lead priests either to join or form cliques to survive or end the frustration in sexual and extortion scandals or worse neglect leads to untimely deaths. The Vatican II decree on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis demands these of the bishop for every priest: equitable remuneration, healthcare insurance, continuous study, holidays, and extra to assist the poor. As regards higher formation for fraternity among priests and efficiency in ministry it says:
“Moreover, let bishops, either individually or united in groups, see to it that all their priests at established intervals, especially a few years after their ordination,(59) may be able to frequent courses in which they will be given the opportunity to acquire a fuller knowledge of pastoral methods and theological science, both in order that they may strengthen their spiritual life and mutually communicate their apostolic experiences with their brothers.(60)
It is high time the minimum be set at a Master of Divinity or Master of Pastoral Theology for all priests and religious sisters and brothers as well as first degree for catechists. Grace perfects the nature that is trained through study and exposure. It is high time their human needs be assessed and their rights provided them, so that they may be equipped to build up the people of God, temporally and spiritually.
Second, the education of the laity. The graduates of JOPASIT can testify over the years both to the replacement of highly experienced priests and laity (religious sisters) who teach them theology with lesser educated teachers who teach them oftentimes outdated catechism. The first equips them to handle the tools of faith for economic and socio-political transformation while the latter teaches them to repeat pre-Vatican II and even colonial faith expressions of the Catholic church that the church has moved forward from having grown in wisdom and knowledge. The word “competition” instead of “collaboration” is the clerical buzz word on hearing lay Catholic formation in theology. Vatican II is the first council to address the laity and give directives based off the demands that the sacrament of confirmation places on us to transform our economic, political and social situations for a just and better future. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, declares that learning theology – Scripture and Church Tradition – is not the sole preserve of the clergy but of every baptized and confirmed Catholic Christian. As ministers of the sacrament of matrimony, spouses are to guide their home – the domestic church- and bring up children, in public testimony in the world as well as in private prayer in the gathering of the church on Sunday. Youth are to learn of God to develop their abilities and change the country through ethical leadership and wealth creation. This calls for us, the laity, to invest in our own theological education, through catholic sites online, short courses and doing both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in divinity, theology, spiritual direction and pastoral care. Such graduates have become permanent deacons, hospital and prison chaplains, non-profit organizers, theology teachers, catechetical formators, authors of books blending spirituality and wealth creation, retreat directors, revivalists, educators, parish organizers, musicians and lay preachers shaping policy both of the state and of the church.
To conclude, I believe the priests of Buea diocese themselves, of which the bishop is their head, must be true to their clerical office and choose to be accountable, make amends and restructure, lest these issues move from newspaper articles to court cases and to the many sanctions allocated for priests in the book of Canon Law. For there is nothing hidden that will not be exposed. We Christians of Buea Diocese, must also pursue knowledge of our rich Catholic tradition, for as Scripture says, “for lack of knowledge the people are destroyed” (Hosea 4:6) remembering that neither bishop nor priest will answer for how you lived your public engagement, marital vows and Christian mission on judgment day. The cow’s milk has dried up! Beating it will not make milk flow; only better care in terms of nutrition and grooming. As today May 15 we begin the novena for Pentecost, we have space to present our assessments to the Father, with Mary in this her holy month, for a renewed Pentecost by the Holy Spirit through Jesus who promises that whatever we ask of the Father he will give. That way the death of Fr Denis Ndang will serve the transformation he worked so hard to bring.
Etchi Besem Oben (Doctoral Student in Catholic Systematic Theology, Duquesne University, PA, USA).