Cardinal condemns deaths in Congolese protests

People walk as traffic is blocked by security forces Dec. 31 in Kinshasa, Congo. Church leaders in Congo have expressed "profound shock" after security forces fired on Catholics protesting rule by President Joseph Kabila, leaving at least eight dead. (CNS photo/Kenny Katombe, Reuters)People walk as traffic is blocked by security forces Dec. 31 in Kinshasa, Congo. Church leaders in Congo have expressed "profound shock" after security forces fired on Catholics protesting rule by President Joseph Kabila, leaving at least eight dead. (CNS photo/Kenny Katombe, Reuters)

KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- Congolese church leaders, including the nation's cardinal, condemned security forces' attacks on Catholic protesters that left at least eight dead and 120 people detained.

The Vatican Embassy in Kinshasa backed local church officials, saying that "the promotion of social justice and the defense of political and civil rights of citizens are an integral part of the social doctrine of the church."

Advertisement

The Jan. 2 statement said the nuncio was keeping the Vatican Secretariat of State informed, but people should not look for approval or condemnation "because it is standard in the church to respect the competence of the diocesan bishops."

The Dec. 31 protest against rule by President Joseph Kabila was organized by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee. At least a dozen priests were among those detained.

The Dec. 31 protest against rule by President Joseph Kabila was organized by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee. At least a dozen priests were among those detained.

"We condemn with utmost vigor this unjustified violence," the Congolese bishops' conference said in a statement Jan. 2.

"We similarly denounce this attack on freedom of worship, which is guaranteed in every democratic state, as well as the profanation of churches and physical aggression against the faithful and their priests."

The statement said the bishops were "profoundly shocked by such ignoble acts," and would demand a "serious and objective inquiry" into who was responsible.

Police also used tear gas and batons against Massgoers in some of the capital's 150 parishes and violently broke up attempted marches in which protesters demanded fresh elections in the country.

In a statement, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa called the response "nothing short of barbaric." He said people at Mass, armed only with Bibles and rosaries, were attacked with tear gas.

Police also used tear gas and batons against Massgoers in some of the capital's 150 parishes.

"How can we trust leaders incapable of protecting the population, of guaranteeing peace, justice and love of people?" the cardinal asked a news conference. "How can we trust leaders who trample on religious freedom of the people, religious freedom which is the foundation of all freedom?"

A U.N. spokeswoman said seven deaths had been recorded in Kinshasa, and another at Kananga. Congolese authorities denied that the deaths were linked to the protests.

The violence was condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged Kabila's government to show restraint and "respect the rights of Congolese people to free expression."

The Catholic Church makes up around half the 67.5 million inhabitants of Congo, and the bishops have pressed Kabila to step down since his second and final term expired in December 2016.

Later, a church-brokered accord allowed the president to stay in office, alongside an opposition head of government, pending elections by the end of 2017. However, in November, Congo's Electoral Commission said the ballot would be postponed until Dec. 23, 2018.

In a November statement, the bishops' conference said church observers had recorded 56 deaths and 355 arrests in half a year of opposition protests. They urged Kabila to release political detainees and stick to the Dec. 31, 2016, accord.

The rector of Kinshasa's St. Alphonse Parish, Msgr. Hugues Ndongisila, told Radio France Internationale that police had beaten and robbed Catholics when they sought refuge in his church, also shooting out its stained-glass windows. He said the bodies of two dead protesters had later been collected by the Red Cross.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

So what does it matter what a celibate woman thinks about contraception?
Helena BurnsJuly 20, 2018
Former US President Barack Obama gestures to the crowd, during an event in Kogelo, Kisumu, Kenya, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo Brian Inganga)
In Johannesburg, Obama gave what some commentators consider his most important speech since he vacated the Oval Office.
Anthony EganJuly 20, 2018
With his "Mass," Leonard Bernstein uses liturgy to give voice to political unease.
Kevin McCabeJuly 20, 2018
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrives for the Jan. 6 installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
Women often “bring up the voice of those who are the most vulnerable in our society,” says Hans Zollner, S.J., who heads the Centre for Child Protection in Rome.