Major political parties in the country have applauded Catholic bishops for denouncing an attack on Pope Francis, hate speech and victimisation of the church’s members for cheap political gains ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
In a statement jointly signed by ECM chairperson Archbishop Thomas Msusa (Archdiocese of Blantyre), vice-chairperson Bishop Martin Mtumbuka (Karonga Diocese), Archbishop Tarsizio Ziyaye (Archdiocese of Lilongwe), bishops Peter Musikuwa (Chikwawa Diocese), Montfort Stima (Mangochi Diocese), George Tambala (Zomba Diocese) and John Ryan (Mzuzu Diocese) and Dedza Diocese diocesan administrator the Very Reverend John Chithonje, the Catholic Church said it issued the statement after reflecting on some disturbing developments in the country.
The call by Catholic bishops under the banner of Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) yesterday followed remarks governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) member Hophmally Makande made on August 26 dragging the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, into local politics.
Reads the bishops’ statement in part: “We denounce the recent attack on the person of the Holy Father, Pope Francis and Head of the Catholic Church. We wish to state that an attack on the Holy Father is an attack on the whole Church that is, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic.
“We call upon all political leaders, those governing and those in opposition, to desist from dragging the Holy Father into petty politics.”
The bishops also denounced attacks on the Catholic Church and victimisation of its members, saying the church seeks to foster unity and charity among individuals regardless of religious affiliation.
In his remarks during the rally in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township addressed by DPP vice-president for the South Kondwani Nankhumwa, Makande hit at critics who argue that President Peter Mutharika, 79, should retire due to old age and pave the way for younger leaders. He said if Mutharika is old and not fit to lead, the same should apply to the Pope who is 82.
Reacting to the Catholic Church’s sentiments, DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi, a Catholic who earlier issued an apology on behalf of the party, welcomed the statement and pledged to respect the call.
He said DPP still regrets remarks made Makande and believed that the church accepted their apology.
Dausi, who is also Minister of Information and Communications Technology, said: “We already expressed regret for the comments that were made by one of our members and we sincerely regret. We hope that the church, which preaches about forgiveness, has forgiven us. We accept what the church has advised”.
In a separate interview, main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) publicity secretary the Reverend Maurice Munthali said politicians should respect the clergy as they play a major role in ushering peace and guiding the country towards the right direction.
He said: “The call by Catholic bishops and the entire Roman Catholic Church is most welcome. It is one that the Malawi Congress Party will not only embrace, but to rally behind, because the statement is meant to bring sanity in our politics. Politicians must know their roles and their boundaries.”
United Democratic Front (UDF) publicity secretary Ken Ndanga echoed Munthali’s sentiments that political leaders should respect the church.
He said politics of hate speech and personal attacks should not be entertained. He appealed for issue-based politics.
Said Ndanga: “When you adopt issue-based politics, there will be no name calling, not only against the church, but even other leaders. We really have to make sure that we become a very serious nation in terms of the way we conduct ourselves at the political podium.”
Newly formed United Transformation Movement (UTM) interim secretary general Patricia Kaliati, a Catholic faithful who was recently attacked for her faith alongside her movement’s leader and the country’s Vice-President Saulos Chilima, also welcomed the appeal and asked other independent bodies to condemn hate speech.
She said: “We thank the church and we would like to see Malawi Electoral Commission coming in and also condemning such attacks.”
Commenting on the bishops’ reaction, Lilongwe- based political analyst Peter Chisi said the fact that the statement is jointly signed by the entire Catholic Church leadership in the country is an indication that the church took the attack strongly and seriously.
He said politicians should respect the church and separate religion from politics.
University of Livingstonia political analyst George Phiri also said religions and politics are not comparable.
In the statement, the Catholic Church also reiterated its position in its June 2018 statement that while it encourages its faithful to take an active role in politics by seeking power at all levels of national governance, “the Catholic bishops in Malawi cannot and shall not support or endorse any particular politician or political party”.
Despite that Malawi Electoral Commission will open the regulated official campaign period 60 days to polling date, political parties in the country are in full swing wooing voters to give them their votes.