The day furious Cardinal Njue drove alcoholic priest to rehab

Through the process, Ngure says in the book Cardinal Njue remained merciful and “did not judge me.”

In Summary

•Despite the counselling and support, the clergyman sunk deeper into the vice, prompting the cardinal to take a decisive step to rescue him.

•Njue’s biography indicates Ngure was his student at Mabanga. 

Cardinal John Njue and Deputy President William Ruto during a church harambee.
Cardinal John Njue and Deputy President William Ruto during a church harambee.
Image: FILE

Cardinal John Njue, the recently retired Catholic archishop of Nairobi, is a man who takes years to get angry, according to his biography.

But when Fr Daniel Ngure, an incorrigible alcoholic, had ignored every prayer in the book,Njue lost his patience.

The priest, like many do, drank discretely. But the spirits soon got the better of him.

Worried parishioners first started whispering. It did not take long before the murmurs grew into loud anxiety.

Action had to be taken. The troubled priest was head of one of the parishes in the city.

Njue’s biography, Feeling with the Church, reports Ngure was his student at Mabanga. From the seminary, he writes, the astute, laid back priest served in parishes in the Nairobi archdiocese.

So when word reached him that a member of his clergy was in trouble with the bottle, he listened to the facts and realised “at once, other than being a character flaw, the priest was going through some kind of existential crisis.”

Njue summoned the priest, but despite the counselling and support that followed, the clergyman sunk deeper into the vice, prompting the Cardinal to take a decisive step.

“He called him back to the office one early morning and told him ‘where we have reached,….I need us to go somewhere',” the book says.

The priest thought he was heading to a retreat. Not quite. Njue, without warning, drove the hapless man to a rehabilitation centre.

Through the process, Ngure says in the book, Cardinal Njue remained merciful and “did not judge me.”

“I will never forget that day….the cardinal listened to me patiently without judging me….I felt loved,” Ngure told biographer Waithaka Waihenya.

When some of his priests were caught up in sex scandals, he would commit them to rehabilitative processes, rather than sack them and kick them out of the church. After all, who was he to judge?

Njue stepped down from the helm in January after being in charge from November 2007. He retired on attaining the mandatory 76 years.

When Ngure got was discharged from rehab, Njue appointed the priest to be the assistant Father-in-Charge of St Peter Clever parish in downtown Nairobi.

“I urge you to join a support group that will assist you in your journey to full recovery from alcoholism and maintain sobriety,” he told him in the letter, assuring him of his full backing.

Ngure still serves at the parish “where he has made tremendous recovery.”

But Ngure was not the only case that the cardinal dealt with. There were worse cases involving priests who vehemently resented Njue.

There were those who implacably opposed him since he came to the city. One of them did not even hide his resentment.

“From the day the cardinal came to Nairobi, the priest made it clear to those who cared to listen that he and the cardinal were not friends. There were a few times they had confrontation but the cardinal did not apparently take it to heart,” it reads.

Instead of punishing the priest, he ignored him.

Njue writes that when the priest got ill, it was the Cardinal who was first to be at his door to take him to hospital and follow through to ensure he was back on his feet.

“He literally got him out of the house and took him to the hospital and followed up to ensure that the priest was never left alone without medical care and people around him to ensure he was well taken care of”.

The cardinal also tells of his experience at the hands of incompetent priests who openly opposed his policies and sponsored "toxic" articles in the newspapers and the media vilifying the prelate. 

But when they needed his help, including getting favours from the government, he writes, he gladly stepped forward to help. 

"When one of the priests who was known to be opposed to him needed his help to get a posting within the government, the Cardinal gave...very kind and adulatory letter(s)." And the priest got the job. 

"He did not fire those perceived to be rebels or even replace them with his sycophants and he kept in office some priests whom others would have fired or demoted."

At the same time, he promoted some whom others would have preferred to have seen ignored or sidetracked.