Politics at the Pulpit: Critics Have Attacked the Involvement in Partisan Politics by Roman Catholic Priests, but the Church Is Fighting Back

By Gama, Hobbs | New African, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Politics at the Pulpit: Critics Have Attacked the Involvement in Partisan Politics by Roman Catholic Priests, but the Church Is Fighting Back


Gama, Hobbs, New African


Who is to become the next president of Malawi is just one of the hot issues sweeping the country as it prepares for general and presidential elections in May next year. But gnawing at the heat of the debate is the involvement of the church in politics.

The Roman Catholic Church, which has the biggest congregation in Malawi, appears to be the main culprit, accused of politicising its sermons by openly supporting or denouncing certain presidential hopefuls from the pulpit.

Amidst public feelings that the Catholic church is trespassing and becoming too loud politically, are accusations that some of its priests are openly preaching against President Bakili Muluzi's United Democratic Front (UDF) and in favour of the opposition parties. This has infuriated Muluzi's supporters who believe he has brought political freedom and economic stability to the country, during his two terms in office.

To show their opposition against the Church's involvement in politics, a group of staunch Catholic faithful at the Limbe Cathedral in die city of Blantyre, has petitioned their archbishop, Tarsizius Ziyaye, pressing him to discipline the priests who use the pulpit to push the political agenda of their favourite politicians. Archbishop Ziyaye is the head of the Catholic Church in Malawi, and the Limbe Cathedral is the main seat of the Church in the country.

The petitioners, calling themselves "The Voice", argue that it is wrong for any priest to use their sermons to support or condemn politicians campaigning for a vote in the May elections.

"The church should not dictate to its followers which parry to vote for. Our priests are not supposed to persuade us to vote for a particular party of their choice," the petitioners said

Their action came a few weeks after a controversial sermon given at the 75th commemoration of the Limbe Cathedral by the parish priest, Philip Mbeta, who directly appealed to the vast congregation (which included President Muluzi himself and his chosen successor, Dr Mbingu wa Mutharika), to desist from voting for any "candidate imposed on the people or who uses handouts to the poor to woe votes. …

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