Kenya: Custody Bid Priest Kicked Out of Parish

Nairobi, Kenya - A Catholic priest, who took the unusual step of claiming the custody of an eight-year-old boy he said was his son, has been relieved of his pastoral duties.

Father Anastasio Kaburi has been sent on indefinite forced leave to allow him time for introspection. The forced leave is, according to the church, supposed to give Bishop James Maria Wainaina of the Catholic diocese of Murang'a time to think about the issue.

Investigations will also be carried out by the church, and Fr Kaburi is expected to re-examine himself and come to terms with what is happening in his life.

Priests take an oath of celibacy. They are neither allowed to have sex nor father children. According to the church's rules, priests should emulate the life of Jesus Christ and not have families.

Recent cases show that the rule is increasingly disobeyed. Fr Kaburi is unusual in that he went public with an issue none in the church, or the communities it serves, acknowledges.

Spiritual duties

In an interview with the Nation, the diocesan vicar-general, Father Alex Njigua, said: "It is true that the priest is not with us, and can't perform spiritual duties until he is fully investigated to ascertain his claims."

According to Father Njigua, priests are sent on forced leave only in extraordinary situations. While on leave, Fr Kaburi is required to keep in touch with his bishop to inform him of his whereabouts and what he is doing.

Asked whether, Fr Kaburi would be excommunicated if is established that he has broken the vow of celibacy, the vicar-general said: "This kind of disciplinary action comes as the last resort."

The church tries to get priests to correct their ways and are defrocked only if they defy efforts to reform them. Recently, Nairobi Archbishop John Cardinal Njue announced new rules amid complaints of misconduct among priests. He warned that priests found to be involved in sex will be punished in line with church law.

Fr Kaburi was the parish priest at Gatura in Murang'a, where he was well-liked and respected by the faithful. He had earlier served at Gaichanjiru, Saba Saba and Kerugoya parishes, where worshippers described him as a compassionate man.

"We did not believe what we heard about our priest," said a worshipper, Mr John Macharia Kamau, 40. Fr Kaburi stunned the community in May when he went to the authorities to claim the custody of a boy he said was his son. He said the boy was born eight years ago but his mother later died, leaving him with his grandfather.