Kampala, Uganda - Catholic Church leaders in Uganda have banned politicians from campaigning in any of their churches as the nation moves to the 2011 general elections.
The spokesperson of the Uganda Episcopical Conference, Msgr. John Kauta, yesterday said Catholic leaders had resolved not to allow campaigns in churches to avoid confusing the congregation.
"Politicians promise heaven and hell and if we had not barred them, they would have interfered with prayers. Imagine if more than one politician were lined up to address the congregation?" he wondered.
Cardinal Emmmanuel Wamala recently echoed the directive at a graduation ceremony of students of Pere Cadet Vocational Institute at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Gayaza parish in Wakiso district.
Wamala cautioned priests against allowing politicians to disturb the congregation during service.
"The directive is not for some politicians, but it is for all regardless of their superiority. Catholic churches are no-go areas for political campaigns," he said.
He added that any clergyman who disregarded the directive would be 'strictly dealt with'.
The directive already seems to have taken root because priests at Gayaza have in the last two weeks apologised to several political candidates who had sought permission to address the congregation.
Bishop Matthias Ssekamanya of Lugazi diocese too supported the Church's stand, arguing that it would be an abuse of the church's sanctity to allow politicians to campaign therein.
In the 24-page Pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda on general elections in Uganda, the role of the church is well explained.
"The Church represents the moral conscience of the nation and she is expected to spell out what is good or bad, right or wrong in the political life of a given community."
It adds, "The Church may come into conflict with some political groupings or individuals. Those affected by her criticism will accuse her of meddling in politics while others will congratulate her."
Meanwhile the inter-religious council of Uganda (IRCU) last week launched a task force to advocate for free and fair elections next year.
The nine member task force launch which was held at the IRCU secretariat on Namirembe hill, Kampala will influence the outcome of the elections by holding meetings between political parties and sensitize the masses on peace tolerance, peaceful co-existence and reconciliation.
It will also hold dialogues with stake holders involved in the electoral process and provide regular updates to the public on the human rights situation in the country during the polls.
His eminence, Jonah Lwanga, the chairman of the council of presidents IRCU said the task force would bridge the gap between the basic principles for transparent, democratic, free and fair election and challenges facing the 2011 election process.
"Having learnt lessons from the recent party primaries, we have decided to respond to the call to prevent violence and abuse of the electoral process," he said.
Zac Niringiye, the assistant Bishop of Kampala diocese was elected chairperson of the task force deputized the Bishop of Gulu diocese John Baptist Odama.
Other members include Peter Claver Matovu of the Uganda Orthodox Church, Badru Katerega of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Henry Kalule of the Seventh Day Adventist Uganda Union, George Olinga of the spiritual assemblies of the Bahai's in Uganda, Nicholas Wafula of the deliverance church as well as two female representatives who will be announced in the coming week.
Lwanga who is the archbishop of the Uganda orthodox church cited Kenya, DRC and Guinea Conakry where unprecedented levels of violence erupted following disputed elections arising from electoral mal practices such as vote stuffing and disenfranchisement.
The cleric regretted that the country was gearing up elections without minimum consensus on the legitimacy and legality of the electoral commission.
"This is to us is an issue we must try to deal with urgently if the outcome of the 2011 elections are to be accepted by all political groups," Lwanga added.
The council's secretary general Joshua Kitakule said the findings from their recent consultations in Bunyoro, Kigezi and Lango regions indicated that the people had lost confidence in the current electoral commission.
"One of issues that emerged in all these areas is the loss of confidence in the electoral commission, ethics, political extremism and intolerance," he said.
The current membership of IRCU includes the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda, The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, The Church of Uganda, The Uganda Orthodox Church and The Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Other religious organizations notably the independent Pentecostal and evangelical churches participate in the implementation of IRCU programs.