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"Why African and Igbo Catholics are concerned about crises, sex abuse issues in our church" - a chat with ICCO's Mike Umeorah

EXCLUSIVE and Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com

Dr. Michael Ezigbo Umeorah, international businessman and healthcare exec, also serves as the President, Igbo Catholic Community of Houston. With his wife, Angela, they own the popular Enjels Foods Store. USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com sought to capture his views on the raging issues of U.S. Catholic priests who have been proven to be engaged in child sex abuse, sexual advances, immoral impositions and lewd sexual misconducts, including the lethargic bureaucracies of the Catholic church as regards dissent and expressing contrary opinions against those acts, and others. Fact is he had also expressed concerns about the lack of broad cooperation among Igbo Catholics in Houston - whom he noted seem "wrongly focused on their own parish organizations rather than a bigger organization for all Igbo community." Umeorah, standing left in white traditional 'agbada' wear in the picture (see mid-page,below), spoke as a very concerned Catholic. Excerpts of this Saturday morning interview I had with him on April 13, 2002 will also appear in the April 24, 2002 print edition of USAfrica The Newspaper. This is my sixth interview with Dr. Umeorah, an amiable stalwart of the African community who got his undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Ife (in southwest Nigeria) and his doctorate in geophysics from the University of Strathclyde, in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. Lest I forget, it was in due and measured consideration of his efforts that he was awarded during the May 1997 USAfrica Anniversary dinner at the Texas Southern University, Houston, the USAfrica Community Grocers of the Year, 1997. Beyond his theological community of Roman Catholicism, based on serious consideration and matters regarding developing and revitalizing the African community here in the U.S. and back home, I know that 'Mikky' Umeorah is one of community's very best.

USAfricaonline.com: What are your views on the mounting crises, scandals and problems facing the Catholic church, especially those brought about by its priests who have been charged with child and sexual abuses?

It's sad and very painful. Those issues relate to the issue of whether a pries should be allowed to be married. And, her I speak as an individual. My view is different, and may see to go against the ideas and views of the Holy See at the Vatican.

Having stated those at the onset, let me tell you that I believe that those priests who wish to get married could and ought to be allowed. Here's why. Being a married priest will not stop or prevent them from practicing their vocation. We have an example where the Anglican Church which shares most christian doctrines with us, catholics, and most things are similar... the Anglican Church priest is not any less than any Catholic priest because of marriage.

USAfricaonline.com: What about their vow to remain celibate?

All that said, I also recognize they, the Catholic priests have have taken a vow of celibacy. The issue of child molestation is a problem of the wider society, it facts the entire area of societal life and realities in the United states of America. If you look at Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Mexico or across Latin America, these problems are not prevalent. Those areas have greater number of Catholics but their priests have not been charged and recorded as committing some of these crimes and sins. it's largely a reflection of the values of this country, the U.S.

USAfricaonline.com: Why has African, Nigerian or the predominant Igbo Catholic communities failed to put out a single statement on the issue of abuse of children by the U.S Catholic priests?

The Catholic parishes, groups or diocese cannot speak on their own without referring to the Vatican hierarchy and the Catholic system of doing things. It would seem as if we're challenging the status quo if we speak as African or Igbo Catholics.

Hence, I speak to USAfrica, here, as an individual but not as the president of the Igbo Catholic Community Organization. Individuals can condemn an erring priest but not the entire group.

USAfricaonline.com: I'm wondering, is not this same hierachy, rigid structure and relatively lock-step Catholicism approach which made it possible for those child sexual abuse and assorted pedophilia priests to get some cover and relative protection while the problems of child molestation were hidden and or obscured. Is it right or wrong?

I agree that some things went wrong but every organization must have a structure. A church is not necessarily a democratic institution.

USAfricaonline.com: I don't think the issue is about the church being a democracy, per se, but its granting some cover for priests, these are men who abused and forced or had sexual intercourse with children under their charge and spiritual leadership. But let's move on. How are the members of your church and your community reacting to these scandals and problems?

It's sad, but many feel it's good these problems are now coming out of the closet. It may seem belated but they're being addressed. The problems are not unique to the Catholic faith; it's just that they swore to be celibate.

USAfricaonline.com: How are the Igbo Catholics organized in Houston? Although I'm not Catholic, I attended and actively supported Cardinal Arinze's visit a few years ago (in picture to the right). What informs the point that most them come together at special events?

Yes, I remember that vividly. We all worked together. There are two levels how Igbo Catholics are organized here. There are the individual parishes in the Houston area, like others, have Igbo Catholics groups. They recognized by the different parishes.

Then we have the Igbo Catholic Community Organization (ICCO) of which I'm the president, since 1999) recognized by the Archdiocese of Houston and Galveston (under Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza Bishop of Galveston-Houston).

USAfricaonline.com: As is common knowledge in these parts, there's minimal cooperation and conflicts between Igbo Catholics. How has that affected your goals?

Yes; we do have some problems of cooperating and working together under a common, bigger umbrella. Our numbers don't fill the church because everyone wants to lead or be in their own groups. But we'll keep making the case for such a reality to come to life. The minimal cooperation and ocassional disagreements on leadership have negatively affected us a lot.

I'dl rather that we, the Igbo Catholics all come under one umbrella, such as the Igbo Catholic Community Organization (ICCO). Numbers yield money and leverage. They should pull together with us. The ICCO holds mass in Igbo language at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houston.

USAfricaonline.com: What's your agenda for ICCO into 2002.

Our intention is let other Igbo Catholics stay where they are but they should participate in the ICCO events and mass. Also, we're trying to galvanize our people to increase our membership on a regular basis rather than situations where all the different Catholic groups and parishes show up only when dignitaries come to visit our city, like when Cardinal Arinze came from the Vatican.

Good luck Dr. Umeorah, in your strivings on faith matters and Catholicism issues.

Thank you very much Chido for the opportunity of this interview on current events. And, let me utilize these respected platforms of USAfrica The Newspaper and USAfricaonline.com to appeal to Catholics in our community to attend ICCO events. The other parish groups, unlike ICCO, do not hold any massin Igbo language - even in their own parishes.


Chido Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet), USAfrica The Newspaper, NigeriaCentral.com and The Black Business Journal. He also serves as an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa) and appears as an analyst on CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC news affiliates.


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