It is unusual for lay Catholics to revolt publicly against an ordained priest but parishioners at Oluko Catholic Parish in Arua district turned against their priests and expelled them over alleged corruption and mismanagement of the church estate.
The angry Christians started mobilizing as early as 7:00 am from the villages of Ambeku, Riki, Oluko trading center and Buniababa, which fall under the jurisdiction of Oluko catholic parish.
By midday on Sunday, they had pitched camp at the priest’s quarters demanding for the withdrawal of the parish priest, Rev. Fr. Kennedy Oziga and two of his colleagues only identified as Rev. Fr. Alphonse and Rev. Fr. Francis.
The situation threatened to go out of hand as angry youths threatened to force their way inside and drag the priests out.
They pelted the priests’ house with stones as they blew whistles while others chanted; “We don’t want you here anymore. You have stayed here for over 20 years and done nothing.”
The priests were saved by the police that arrived at about 4pm dispersed the crowd and whisked Oziga and his colleagues away to Arua police station “for their safety” the police said.
The priests are accused of misusing more than Shs 12 million which they allegedly withdrew, irregularly from the church’s bank account. According to the protesters, the money was meant to facilitate the construction of a new church.
They also accused the priests of selling off bricks the parishioners had made as well as failing to account for proceeds from the sale of trees from a eucalyptus forest the Christians had planted.
Furthermore, they accused Fr. Oziga of frustrating several development projects in the parish during his 20-year-tenure as parish priest. They claimed that Fr. Oziga took advantage of his overstay at the parish to assume total control over all resources right from the dispensary, nursery school and the parish itself.
They also accused him of attempting to grab a house built by some Missionaries for a disabled Christian only identified as Lematia.
Fr. Oziga denied all the accusations levelled against him, saying he is innocent.
“Those people are not the right people to say that I am embezzling church funds; we have three accounts – offertory, development and another one for the new church construction. The signatories to these accounts are the chairperson of the parish committee, the treasurer and the parish priest. Now I don’t know which money I embezzled,” Fr. Oziga said.
“If money is collected, there is someone who collects it, there is someone who takes it to the bank, and another who generates a request if money is to be withdrawn. Now which money have I eaten?” he wondered.
Monsignor Kasto Adeti, the vicar general of Arua Catholic Diocese rushed to the scene it was safer to evacuate the priests and take them elsewhere for safety.
He said they have managed to step up security at the priest’s residence and parish headquarters.
Apostles of Jesus Congregation have been running Oluko Catholic Parish for more than 40 years ago. The diocesan leadership has reportedly engaged the Superior General of the Apostles of Jesus congregation to explore ways of resolving the dispute.
According to some sources, there is a possibility of the parish returning to the diocese’s direct control should the congregation fail to resolve the conflict.
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