KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Twenty renegade Catholic priests who are either married or want to marry have broken from the mainstream Roman Catholic Church here and formed a new church where celibacy is not required, members said.
The Ugandan government said Thursday it was investigating the breakaway Catholic Apostolic National Church in Uganda and would ban it if found to be illegal. Vatican officials said the priests were now considered "outside" the Catholic Church and would likely be excommunicated.
The creation of the splinter church underscored the increasingly vexing problem of enforcing celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in Africa, which has the world's fastest-growing Catholic population but where there have been several cases of priests living openly with women and fathering children.
Earlier this year, the Vatican summoned African bishops to Rome for a three-week meeting on problems of the church in Africa, and celibacy was a key topic of discussion. The Vatican, however, has remained firm that priests must not marry, although there are exceptions for priests of the Eastern rite and for converts from Anglicanism.
The breakaway Ugandan church has as its head a former Zambian Catholic priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, who was excommunicated earlier this year for having founded what the Vatican called a schismatic church, the Catholic Apostolic National Church of Zambia, which allows for a married priesthood.
The Ugandan offshoot is located in the eastern town of Jinja. Mbewe is expected to visit soon to officially launch the church and ordain new priests, said Rev. Leonard Lubega, who says he has been appointed bishop-elect by Mbewe.
Mbewe has said he was inspired by the former Zambian archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, who was married in 2001 to a South Korean woman by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church.
Milingo was excommunicated in 2006 after installing four married men as bishops in the United States. Two weeks ago, the Vatican defrocked Milingo entirely, stripping him of his priestly functions so any future ordinations by him would be invalid.
Lubega said the Catholic Apostolic National Church in Uganda already has over 12,000 followers.
"We are Catholics but not Roman Catholics," Lubega said, adding that the new church - while not under Pope Benedict XVI - recognizes him and prays for him.
At least three of the priests have said they are married. One is Rev. Henry Mutto, who said he recently got married. "Some of us already have wives. Others will get (one) soon," he said.
Uganda's vice president, Gilbert Bukenya said authorities were investigating the church, which he called a sect.
"We want to know its roots. If we discover that it is illegal we will ban it," he said.
Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kampala, called on the government not to allow such renegade religious groups to operate, saying they might cause confusion among Ugandans.
"I call upon government to avoid registering such new churches," he said. "They can bring about religious conflicts."