Before the separation of the Church and State, the absolute power over the citizenry lay with the Catholic pope and his regional governors, bishops.
Then the enlightenment movements came up. Martin Luther, a German professor of theology and Catholic priest, led one that culminated in the modern-day protestant churches.
The Catholic Church and the State were two sides of a coin. Once, Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan and Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, excommunicated Theodosius I, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The ruler had ordered the massacre of Thessalonica and declared that the bishop was his subject like any other citizen but the clergyman insisted he was a subject of only Jesus Christ.
Catholic priests have played key roles in leadership but in Kenya we have only had pastors and bishops from other Christian denominations in politics.
Bishop Margaret Wanjiru of Jesus is Alive Ministries, a former elected MP, is a front-runner in the Nairobi deputy governor race. Before he became an MP, Rev Mutava Musyimi, of Nairobi Baptist Church, was a very active activist and contributed immensely to the 2010 Constitution.
Rev Moses Akaranga beat the then-Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi to the Sabatia MP seat in 2002 and later become the governor of Vihiga. Bishop Stephen Ondieki unseated his brother-in-law, Siaya Senator James Orengo, from the Ugenya MP post.
A notable catholic cleric-turned-politician is George Muhoho, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s uncle, who was elected MP in the 1980s on retiring from the priesthood.
Pope Francis is a spiritual and political leader, heading the Catholic Church and also the State of Vatican.
Constitutions of some countries — such as Bolivia, Honduras and Myanmar — prohibit the clergy from serving as president.
As president of Nicaragua in the 1970s, Daniel Ortega appointed three priests to his cabinet. In Haiti, former president Jean Bertrand Aristide was a retired Catholic priest. In Solomon Islands, Augustine Geve, a Catholic priest, served as an MP and Cabinet minister.
The president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Arob), Papua New Guinea, is a retired Catholic priest, Father John Momis. Immediately after he was ordained in 1970, he joined elective politics. In 1972, he was elected MP.
Fr Momis, now retired, leads a secession bid by Bougainville, for which a referendum is due on June 15. He also was the governor of Bougainville and later ambassador to China.
Fr Momis’s feats mirror those of Archbishop Ndingi mwana ’a Nzeki and Fr John Ndikaru wa Teresia. Archbishop Mwana ’a Nzeki fought Kanu era excesses and supported victims of the 1992 post-election clashes in the Rift Valley.
Fr Wa Teresia fought the relocation of Kel Chemicals to Thika from Nakuru, where it was killing flamingos, hence adversely affecting tourism, in the 1990s. He also fought the relocation of Kangoki dumpsite in Thika.
How much more would these clergymen have achieved in elective politics?
Pope Francis, a progressive and pro-reformist pontiff, should initiate reforms to the Canon Law (an internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church laid down by papal pronouncements), to allow priests to join elective politics and other positions.
Canon 285 of the 1983 Codex Iuris Canonici prohibits the clergy from doing things that are “unbecoming” or “foreign to the clerical state” and diocesan priests and bishops from serving in public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.
Catholic priests are the only segment of the society that can be banked on to fight the endemic corruption since they are not allowed to have families. The main cause of corruption is that the society pressures civil servants and those in authority to “help” (read unfairly benefit) their family, friends and themselves.
Dr Patrick Njoroge, Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, is a good example of servant leadership. He belongs to the Opus Dei community of the Catholic Church, whose members don’t marry and often lead simple lives.
We have other Catholic priests with extraordinary capabilities. Imagine Fr Prof Lawrence Njoroge, Fr Ouma, Fr Gabriel Galan, Fr Maloba or Fr Mambo in politics!
Many other priests have professional backgrounds. Nyeri Bishop Anthony Muheria, an Opus Dei priest, is an engineer, Fr Dr Daniel Kariuki “DK” is Mangu High School’s chaplain, Fr Dominic Wamungunda the dean of students at the University of Nairobi and Rt Rev Col Alfred Rotich the military chaplain.
Mr Gitu is a master’s student at the University of Nairobi with a key interest in international political economy. [email protected]