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Catholic Lawmakers in Zambia Put on the Spot over Contested Bill

Members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB).

The Catholic laity in Zambia are demanding an apology from the Catholic Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Eastern African country for allegedly faulting the position of the Catholic Bishops on the highly contested Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2019 also known as Bill 10, which the Bishops have termed “divisive.”

Through their umbrella association, the Zambia National Council for the Catholic Laity (ZNCCL), the Catholic lay faithful in the country pledged their solidarity with their Shepherds under the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishop (ZCCB) forum and expressed concern that the Catholic legislators had dismissed the Bishops as “not reading the bill” to understand it.

“It is of great concern and worrisome to ZNCCL to hear the Chairperson of the so called Catholic Parliamentarians accusing the ZCCB of not reading the Bill which is contrary to the contents of the statement,” said ZNCCL National Chairman, Clement Chinama, in a message that was published on the Bishops’ official Facebook Friday, June 26.

ZNCCL is the umbrella organization for all the national lay apostolic movements and organizations, and Diocesan laity councils in Zambia.

Referencing a communique issued earlier by the Bishops opposing the bill, the lay official added, “From the statement, issued by ZCCB President, Rt. Rev. Bishop George Lungu, it clearly indicates that it is possibly the socalled Catholic Parliamentarians who do not read, but make reactions based on their Political party lines.”

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In their collective statement that was issued June 9, the Catholic Bishops in Zambia appealed to the MPs across the political divide “to respect the will of the majority of Zambians and immediately withdraw the said Bill 10 from the floor of the House.”

According to the Prelates, Bill 10 lacked “genuine consensus and has become a source of division in the country.”

Published in the Government Gazette on June 21, 2019, the controversial Bill, which seeks to amend sections of Zambia’s current Constitution has also drawn criticism from the Commonwealth Lawyers Association who said that if enacted, it will turn the Southern African nation into a dictatorship. 

On Monday, June 15, the Association of Catholic MPs held a media briefing in Lusaka at which it differed with the Catholic Bishops of Zambia on their call for the withdrawal of Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 10 from the floor of the house.

In response to the media briefing, Archbishop Ignatius Chama of the Archdiocese of Kasama, on Thursday, June 25 said the Bishops were no longer willing to engage the parliamentarians in “arguments.”

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“There is no need to argue on important matters bordering on the welfare of the nation that should only be left to the conscience of the individual,” the Archbishop said in a message that was published by the Bishops’ official Facebook page.

In the message, Archbishop Chama says that in society, “when a parent counsels a child and the child disputes the counsel, the parent cannot proceed because then it becomes argumentative.”

The leader of the Catholic lay faithful in Zambia, Mr. Chinama, has since demanded an apology from the Catholic Parliamentarians.

“If you are really Catholics, with a conscience which is alive, you need to apologize and seek reconciliation with the Church and God. Your action was aimed at nothing, but on intent of putting the Conference in ridicule and tarnishing its admirable image both at regional and international levels respectively,” he said in reference to the umbrella body of the Bishops, ZCCB.

According to the ZNCCL official, the association of the faithful remains indebted to the continuous and steady growth and active participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

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“In order to remain relevant in Church and society, the laity shall continue sharing in Christ’s kingly office through their secular activities as they promote justice, love and peace,” he said, and added, “It is by doing our daily work well and remaining vigilant, wherever we may be, that would help to promote the Creator’s plan and bring the light of Christ to the world.”