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Congolese Catholics urge cardinal to run for president

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa (CNS)

A cardinal in the Democratic Republic of Congo has declared he will not run for the presidency, despite the strong backing of some Congolese Catholics.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, is described as a “sure and credible” choice by a newly-formed group, the Christian Dynamic for Unity and Democracy (DCUD), according to a report by Crux Now.

Serge Gontcho, a spokesperson for DCUD, said: “To build a Congo for our children, all those who have not succeeded should be kept aside and replaced with a new force. That is why we thought about Cardinal Monsengwa, who is very much accepted by the people.”

The incumbent, President Joseph Kabila, has been in power since 2001. His mandate ended in late 2016; the forthcoming election, set for December 23, is two years late.

Catholics in the country have been vocal in their opposition to Kabila. According to the Economist, weekly street protests organised by Catholic churches are in addition to those organised by Catholic activist groups. One, known as the CLC, reportedly met police violence at demonstrations held at the beginning of the year.

The Catholic community in the Republic is sizeable; 35 million, more than 40 per cent, according to a US Department of State report in 2017. Ninety per cent of the Republic of Congo’s population is Christian.

However, Cardinal Monsengwo reportedly denied any presidential ambitions, declaring he “has other things to do”.

Existing commitments are not the only obstacle for Cardinal Monsengwo, should he wish to pursue politics. Prohibitions on priests running for public office were codified by John Paul II in 1983. The Code of Canon Law states: “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.”

The Code also states: “They are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labour unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.”

There have been some notable contraventions. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Nicaraguan politician and Catholic priest, was famously banned from celebrating Mass by Pope John Paul II for defying a church ban on priests holding political office. D’Escoto served as foreign minister in Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government, from 1979 to 1990.

In 2014, the Vatican reinstated D’Escoto as a priest after a thirty-year suspension; D’Escoto had written to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to celebrate Mass before he died. He passed away on June 8, 2017.

Whichever candidates step forward, elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo will not be straightforward. Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya said of the 2011 election: “It should be concluded that the results do not conform to truth nor justice”. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, a global ranking by Transparency International, the Democratic Republic of Congo is highly corrupt, ranked 161 out of 180 countries named.