The Catholic Church is a critical player in Congolese politics. From the National Sovereign Conference of 1992 to the protests around the electoral process between 2015 and 2018, to the revitalization of a political opposition weakened by co-option and corruption, it has played a crucial role in the struggle for democracy, notably through the Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) and the Comité Laïc de Coordination (CLC). However, its relatively narrow focus on elections when it comes to street protests, to the exclusion of other important challenges, represents a missed opportunity.
This is the conclusion of this first report in the Mukalenga wa Bantu series on political mobilization in the Congo. Released on Monday, October 3, The Catholic Church in the DRC: a Neutral Arbiter or at the Heart of Protest?, this study by Ebuteli and its partner, the Congo Research Group (CRG), focuses on the political activism of the Congolese Catholic Church and on its own internal democratic challenges.
“The Catholic Church has been the bedrock of protest movements in the Congo since at least 1992, a moral authority and mobilization network,” said Jason Stearns, the director of CRG.
While the Catholic Church has showcased its immense courage in its activism, it has not invested similar energy into non-electoral issues such as social justice. We also argue that the decentralization of the Catholic Church in the DRC has presented internal democratic obstacles, at times preventing the emergence of a common point of view among the bishops. In addition, the Church is faced with its own challenges of transparency and accountability, as its leaders are not elected by parishioners and are rarely accountable to them.
According to Jason Stearns: “The church has focused relatively narrowly on elections, neglecting other important issues, and should work harder to be more transparent and accountable to its members.”
Lay movements, particularly the CLC and the Conseil de l’Apostolat des Laïcs du Congo (CALCC), have played important roles in the street demonstrations, but could also make greater use of direct democracy within their own ranks in order to involve citizens more in the decision-making process.