If there is one thing which preoccupied Museveni’s mind during his New Year address to the nation it was his conviction that the clergy in Uganda is fighting him. Why else would he spend so many words attacking, ridiculing and pouring scorn on religious leaders during an address customarily intended to inspire the nation to embrace the New Year with optimism and hope?
Museveni says: “Some of our religious people are so full of arrogance. They talk most authoritatively on all and everything even when they have not bothered to find out the truth. This is assuming they do not have evil intentions which would be worse. That would make them into the Kayaffas, the chief priest that betrayed Jesus.”
In tackling the clergy, Museveni presents himself as a messiah being persecuted by the religious leaders! He maligns the clergy with the imagery of the treacherous, hypocritical and murderous priests, scribes and elders that framed and eventually engineered the crucifixion of Jesus. In this Museveni is very intentional. He associates the church leaders with evil and denounces them as people without the moral standing to challenge him.
This conflict has been simmering for long. This current phase came to a head when finally Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga railed against the regime’s infiltration of the Church, subversion of priests to rebel against the authority of their superiors, setting spies on Church leaders and threatening their lives. Coming from a man who is usually measured in his tone and words, it became clear that the Archbishop had had enough of the intrusive State functionaries. It was time to break the silence. And he did. The impact reverberated across the country.
Then we saw pictures of Museveni and the Archbishop having a tête-à-tête. Only the two of them know the details of the discussion.
My hope is that the Archbishop went with some literature for the President or at least gave him a reading list. I am hoping that this list included the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka’s famous 1961 Pastoral Letter and of course Archbishop Kizito Lwanga’s own 2011 Pastoral Letter commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Archbishop Kiwanuka’s letter.
Like his predecessor who authored the 1961 letter, Archbishop Lwanga is a scholar of repute. It is our hope that he told truth to power, especially in terms of the Second Vatican Council which stated unequivocally that “in their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing”.
The document asserts that “The Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution”, nor does it belong to her to enter into questions of the merit of political programmes, except as concerns their religious or moral implications.
But where does the Church stand where the State is undemocratic and illegitimate? History is replete with examples of the Church challenging tyranny as part of its evangelical calling to deliver humanity from bondage. In many cases the Church is the last institution standing in the face of tyranny.
I leave the reader with Albert Einstein’s testimony: “Being a lover of freedom, when the [Nazi] revolution came, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth.”