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Archbishop Anthony Muheria, conscience of the church

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MAKAU MUTUA

By MAKAU MUTUA
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Today, I feel like the village herald announcing the arrival of a new prince in the Kenyan Catholic Church.

I don’t write this column lightly, nor do I want to jinx its subject.

I don’t believe in superstition, and so that possibility is remote.

Most Kenyans know, or should know, that the Kenyan Church as a whole has lost much of its moral authority over the last decade.

The Church has allowed itself to be politicised and tribalised.

It’s become a partisan political player mired in the dirty mundane of the everyday.

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It’s become a sinner, the very evil it seeks to cast out in us.

Methinks Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Archdiocese may come to the rescue.

Gone are the days when the Church was led by pillars of social justice such as Archbishop Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki, Bishop Cornelius Kipng’eno Korir, Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, and Bishop Alexander Muge. These stalwarts spoke truth to power and didn’t always get along with Caesar. But those days are long gone, and are to many a misty rumor over the horizon. I bet you many young Kenyans haven’t even heard of Archbishop Ndingi and his lore as the churchman who stared former President Daniel arap Moi in the face and called for democracy and respect for human rights. In the intervening period, many men of the cloth became quislings. The Church self-eviscerated and became a political pugilist, not a shepherd.

Over the last two decades, as Kenya has sunk deeper into skulduggery and corruption, the Church sunk with it.

To be sure, some churches were always political and prone to wagging their tail for the state.

But the Catholics, Methodists, and Anglicans retained a measure of distance, dignity, and autonomy from the state.

Much of that is now out the window. Nothing speaks more volumes about how low the Church has sunk than the millions in donations – bribes – that it receives from corrupt politicians every weekend, and twice on Sundays.

Recently, a Catholic priest in Embu openly endorsed such bribery during mass.

What do you do when the devil possesses the House of God so brazenly? Who will speak up?

The Church can’t say it doesn’t know that the money it receives from politicians is stolen from the people’s purse – it comes from the scandals that we read every day in the paper.

The politicians know why their “tithing” or giving to God, as they euphemistically like to say, tongue-in-cheek.

They know that Wanjiku in the village votes according to the wink-and-nod of the Church.

Thus if politician X drowns church Y in stolen loot, priest or bishop Z will most likely direct the congregation votes to politician X.

It’s not rocket science that politician X is buying the 2022 election by “investing” in God.

That’s how the Church has become the biggest money launderer for corrupt politicians.

This is where I believe Archbishop Muheria comes in.

The man from Murang’a is an engineer by training and even practiced the trade before joining the priesthood.

He’s not just a priest – he’s a learned man.

I’ve listened to him preach a number of times, and I’ve simply been blown away by his vast intellect but rare humility.

He doesn’t perform when he preaches. He connects, especially with the poor. He speaks their language with such clarity that it’s chilling.

He doesn’t – like other clerics – speak in abstract terms about God.

No – he connects your suffering to the here and now, and humanises your torment on earth. He speaks of human possibility in prayer.

He’s in a different league.

Before Nyeri, Archbishop Muheria was the Bishop of Kitui Catholic Diocese.

I don’t know how long he was in Kitui but he can preach in the purest of Kikamba without pausing to find a word.

His rare and once-in-a-generation talents have already been recognised by Pope Francis.

He’s the first African to become an Opus Dei archbishop in Africa.

I say this without exaggeration – Archbishop Muheria has quickly become the moral voice and conscience of the Catholic Church.

If you’ve heard him preach, or seen him on TV, you know you are watching something special.

Very few people know he’s brother to Dr Patrick Njoroge, the governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.

He doesn’t flaunt his thoroughbred pedigree.

Precisely because Archbishop Muheria genuinely enjoys his mission of working with the least among us, he has emerged as the leader of the flock.

I’ve heard him address the issue of church “donations” by politicians.

I agree the Catholic Church has taken the right first step of banning “bundles” and “envelopes” full of stolen loot from being given openly at mass. But the substitute – mobile money donations doesn’t go far enough.

It simply hides the unseemly and dirty “bundles” from public view.

As a spiritual intellectual leader in the Church, Archbishop Muheria should lead the way to restore faith in the Church.

Greater things await him in Rome.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.

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