Kenyan Catholic Bishop Faults Government for Suspending Public Worship in Parts of Country

Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe during the Priestly ordination of Deacon Reuben Kemei in Kenya's Bungoma Diocese/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Bishop of Kenya’s Kakamega Diocese has faulted the government for suspending public worship in parts of the country, a move that seems to undermine, the Bishop says, the role of the Inter-faith Council.

Speaking during the Priestly ordination of Deacon Reuben Kemei in Bungoma Diocese where he also serves as Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe said that in deciding to ban physical congressional worship in the 13 Counties of Western Kenya, the government acted arbitrarily without consultation.

“We understand there is a spike of COVID-19 infections in the region. We have advised our congregants accordingly and I do not think religious gatherings will be of any risk to them. All church and other faith-based gatherings in this region have been observing the social distancing rule and all other set measures,” Bishop Obanyi said Friday, June 18. 

On Thursday, June 17, the Kenyan Government announced new COVID-19 containment measures to be enforced in 13 Counties in the Western part of the country, including a downward revision of curfew hours and a ban on all social and congressional gatherings for a month.

“All forms of physical congressional worship (churches, mosques, temples and shrines) in the hotspot counties are suspended for a period of 30 days,” Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe said Thursday, June 17.


Bishop Obanyi whose entire episcopal see lies within the affected areas said the Kenyan government should have consulted widely before deciding to suspend public worship.

“We have an interfaith council that was specially constituted by the government. We have been communicating to our churches through the council and tightening worship attendance measures when need be. This time round the government closed churches without letting us have our word on it,” said Bishop Obanyi.

When the Kenyan government was planning to reopen the country after its first lockdown last year, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta constituted the Inter-faith Council with the mandate to guide the resumption of public worship in the East African nation.

Headed by Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri, the 16-member Council in which Bishop John Oballa of the Catholic diocese of Ngong and Bishop Obanyi are members was also authorized to bring on board “other persons as may be required to assist in the discharge of its functions” such as developing “a prioritized implementation matrix, clearly stating the dates for re-opening” as well as indicate the number of worshippers that can gather in the various places of worship.

In his June 18 message, Bishop Obanyi faulted the Kenyan government for undermining the function of the Inter-faith Council saying, “Once the government put up the faith council, all the religious responsibilities pertaining COVID-19 were handed over. The government has no mandate to close places of worship.”

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Other members who are part of the Inter-faith Council include the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) among others.