Eating humble pie: Priest forced to apologise for endorsing Sossion

Tergat Catholic Parish Priest Fr Ambrose Kimutai (left) is in the eye of a storm for publicly endorsing former Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion for the Bomet senatorial seat. [Nikko Tanui]

A Bomet Catholic priest is in the eye of a storm for publicly endorsing former Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion for the Bomet senatorial seat.  

Tergat Catholic Parish Priest Fr Ambrose Kimutai stirred the political storm during the church's civic education meeting held on February 13, whereby he publicly endorsed Sossion in the battle to dislodge Christopher Langat from the seat.

"There is no need to waste time talking and trying to decide who should be Bomet's next senator. I prayed about it and God showed me that Sossion will win the seat. I hereby declare that I will vote for him. I expect the parishioners to follow my lead," he said.

Besides Sossion and Dr Langat, Nairobi-based lawyer Hillary Sigei has also rolled up his sleeves to fight for the senatorial seat.

"Dr Langat once said he was a preacher, as the clergy, we will welcome him and find a church for him to preach in. As for Sigei, we will find him work as the Attorney General (AG) once Deputy President William Ruto ascends to the presidency," said Fr Kimutai.

The priest was, however, forced yesterday to tender an apology to the church, the electoral agency and the aspirants over his controversial utterances.

The apology came after Kericho Catholic Diocese Bishop Alfred Rotich summoned Fr Kimutai for a four-hour closed-door meeting held at the diocese's offices in Kericho town.

Fr Kimutai in a media brief admitted that during the Tergat Catholic parish meeting, he endorsed and urged the electorate to vote for Sossion as Bomet's next senator.

"The stand portrayed me as partisan and thus contradict my role as a symbol of unity and compromise my duty and responsibility of fostering peace and harmony based on justice, " he said.

Fr Kimutai added: " I hereby sincerely apologize to the church, to the aspirant and the electorate who have been hurt by sentiments. They are not the position of the Catholic church."

Preaching peace

Fr Kimutai pointed out that the church has always stood for justice, peace, and equity and is at the forefront of advocating for good leadership and respect for the rule of law.

He added that in the coming Lenten campaigns, he will together with Bishop Rotich and members of the Catholic Justice and Peace department, embark on civic education and promote this year's lantern campaign theme of “Unity in Diversity”.

"The aim will be to promote good neighbourliness and form the consciousness of the people to freely elect leaders of integrity," said Fr Kimutai.

In his part, Bishop Rotich said though the catholic church has penalties in the Canon law for incorrigible church leaders, Fr Kimutai's sentiments were one-off and the church has accepted his apology.

"From here on, we romp on to the lantern campaign. The church has a civic duty and we will launch a program which will go a long way in promoting justice and peace," he said.

In the aftermath of a number of public endorsements of US presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump by Catholic priests and religions, two persistent questions for the church and for Catholic politicians surfaced:

The question was whether it is permissible for a priest or a member of a religious order to publicly endorse a candidate for elected office and Should a priest or a member of a religious order publicly endorse a candidate for public office.

According to Canon Law, the answer to the first question is No.

According to U.S civil law, the answer to the first question is yes — in the person’s capacity as an individual citizen, but not on behalf of a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.

According to Catholic Church practice, the answer to the second question is that you probably shouldn’t, but rarely will you be told you couldn’t (with some exceptions).

The Johnson Amendment, passed in 1954 (named after then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson), says that churches and other organizations that are free from government taxation “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”