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African Bishops to corrupt Catholic African politicians: “repent, or quit the public arena”

AP Photo

AP Photo

The New York Times reports:

Declaring that Africa needed more “saints” in public life, African bishops issued a strong statement on Friday calling on corrupt Catholic politicians on that continent to “repent” or leave office.They did not name names, but two of Africa’s most prominent Catholic leaders are President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose repressive policies and ruling elite are seen to have led his country to economic ruin, and President José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, whose government is perceived as one of the most corrupt in the world.

“Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office,” the bishops wrote in an unusually direct document wrapping up a month-long synod, or meeting, at the Vatican on the issues facing the church in Africa. “The synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church a bad name.”

With its large Catholic population, estimated at 158 million, Africa in many ways represents the future of the Catholic Church. It is expected that by 2025, one-sixth of the world’s Catholics, or about 230 million, will be African, and Africa produces a large percentage of the world’s priests. Pope Benedict XVI, who visited Cameroon and Angola in March, has often spoken out against the poverty, disease, corruption and violence that threaten African countries, and has said he sees the church as a force for democracy and social justice.

In their document on Friday, the bishops singled out crises in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Darfur and said that “those who control the affairs of those nations must take full responsibility for their woeful performance.”

They added: “Whatever may be the responsibility of foreign interests, there is always the shameful and tragic collusion of the local leaders: politicians who betray and sell out their nations, dirty businesspeople who collude with rapacious multinationals, African arms dealers and traffickers who thrive on small arms that cause great havoc on human lives.”

Echoing a theme in Benedict’s latest encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” about morality and global economics, albeit in more provocative language, the approximately 300 bishops who attended the meeting also called on multinational corporations to stop their “criminal devastation of the environment in their greedy exploitation of natural resources.”

Calling women “the backbone” of the church in Africa, the bishops urged them “to be fully involved” in women’s programs, but said they should “make sure that the good ideas are not hijacked by the peddlers of foreign and morally poisonous ideologies about gender and human sexuality.”

Let’s hope the Bishops’ admonitions have a positive effect. While I am not sure that rulers like Mugabe will suddenly change their stripes, statements like these could have an effect on the expectations that citizens have about their leaders and could influence more humane people to seek public office.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.