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Kenyan Catholic Bishop Discourages Priests “from soliciting for funds from politicians”

Bishop Joseph Obanyi of Kenya's Kakamega Diocese. Credit: Kakamega Diocese

The Catholic Bishop of Kenya’s Kakamega Diocese has “strongly discouraged” members of the Clergy from reaching out to politicians for funds.

In his pastoral letter circulated Wednesday, September 15, Bishop Joseph Obanyi addresses the place of politicians in the Church, a topic that has received attention from Religious leaders in Kenya ahead of the August 2022 general elections.

“Priests and Church leaders are strongly discouraged from relying on, and unnecessarily soliciting for funds from politicians to carry out their projects because this compromises their moral credibility to speak against social evils,” Bishop Obanyi says.

Addressing himself to the members of the Clergy under his jurisdiction, the Kenyan Catholic Bishop adds, “Instead, encourage the faithful to embrace self-reliance as the way of the Church. Let politicians also contribute through the normal channels as also members of the Church.”

In the pastoral letter also addressed to assistant Parish Priests, women and men Religious, Catechists, members of the Parish Pastoral Council, devotional and association group leaders, “and all who may have some responsibility in the Church,” Bishop Obanyi directs that donations from politicians to the Church be made known to the Parish Priest ahead of time, and given within the normal procedures just like other Church members.

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“As the scripture says, ‘the right hand must not know what the left is doing,’ and yet God who sees in secret will reward them,” the Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of the Kenyan Diocese since March 2015 says.

He adds, “I wish to discourage the practice of guests, or leaders suddenly giving donations to certain groups or associations. All of them belong to one Church, unless the occasion was specifically organized for a particular group or association.”

He further directs that where a Parish, sub-Parish, group, association, Small Christian Community (SCC), or a Religious Congregation intends to hold a fund raising for a specific purpose, and intends to invite some political leaders or aspirants as guests, the intention must be communicated in writing to the office of the Bishop at least one month before the intended activity, giving justifiable reasons why that should take place.

Such activity, Bishop Obanyi says, should only proceed after the Parish, sub-Parish, group, association, SCC, or Religious Congregation receives a written approval from the Bishop's office.

“Should an activity to collect funds take place with politicians as guests, the function must take place outside Mass, never in the Church, when the Priest has removed all liturgical vestments and liturgical activities concluded,” the Bishop directs in his September 15 message.

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The Local Ordinary of Kakamega Diocese goes on to caution, “Take note that during the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, any gathering involving politicians is not permitted.”

In his advisory on politicians and political activities in Kenyan churches, Bishop Obanyi reminds the people of God under his pastoral care the suffering that the Church institution endured as places of worship remained closed in the Western part of the country, where the Diocese is located.

He expresses regret that following the reopening of places of worship in the region, Church leaders had started disregarding COVID-19 protocols by allowing political speeches during Religious gatherings, thereby giving a bad image of the Church.

“You are all aware that in mid-June till the end of July 2021, our Churches and indeed all places of worship in the Western region were closed abruptly, citing the rising cases of COVID-19 in this region. It was indeed a difficult time for all of us,” Bishop Obanyi says.

He adds, “You are also aware that among the protocols and guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, and government restrictions, was the suspension of all political gatherings, which is still in force.”

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“It is not lost on Kenyans that apparently political activity geared towards 2022 general elections has taken off in earnest, with politicians attending Churches and funerals, after which they are given opportunity to address congregants, while promoting their political affiliations and ambitions,” Bishop Obanyi says, and adds, “This is setting a very bad precedent and giving a very bad image of the Church.” 

He further reminds the people of God under his pastoral care that places of worship have been required to strictly adhere to the guidelines issued by the Interfaith Council, including reduced number of worshippers per service.

The house of God is a house of Prayer, the Catholic Bishops says, adding that sacred places must never be used for anything else other than worship and prayer.

“The house of God is a place where we listen to Jesus Christ, source of all truth and way of salvation. There is no other word other than the Word of God, there is no truth other than Jesus Christ. To Him alone all due honor and glory must be given,” the 54-year-old Kenyan Bishop says.

He clarifies that there shall be no permission for politicians and political leaders to address the congregation in churches, including the sanctuary, church building or anywhere inside church premises.

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The Catholic Bishop says in reference to politicians, “If they join others in the Masses or services, they should follow all the procedures followed by everybody. No preference is to be given to them over others. The Parish Priest, or any other designated Church leader can only acknowledge their presence with a lot of respect, without asking them to ‘say something’.”

Bishop Obanyi encourages political aspirants who attend Church services in the East African country to use the opportunity to pray about their political ambitions in silence.

“Any politician, political aspirant or political leader who attends Mass or service in our Churches is encouraged to use that opportunity to pray more for his/her intentions and focus his/her mind on God who is the leader par excellence. He/she doesn't have to say anything. God understands their genuine intentions,” the Kenyan Bishop says.