29 September 2016
Pope meets controversial Democratic Republic of Congo president in Vatican
Joseph Kabila criticised by bishops for using peace process as a political tool for reelection
The leader of the conflict-stricken Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) met Pope Francis this week, just a few days after the country’s Catholic bishops announced they were suspending their involvement in national talks designed to pave the way for elections in the country.
On Monday President Joseph Kabila was received by the Pope for a 20 minute audience, before he then met with Holy See foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. A Vatican statement explained the discussions focussed on the violence taking place in the east of DRC and the urgency of bringing about calm to the country. In a departure from normal Vatican protocol, Francis did not see the president in the reception room where the Pope would normally meet a visiting head of state.
The bishops initially backed the Government’s proposed “national dialogue" in the country as a way of avoiding conflicts and ensuring peaceful elections take place. But the Church is now concerned the talks are being used by Mr Kabila as a political forum for him to stand for re-election. DRC bishops stress he should not be a candidate as a further term would be highly divisive and unconstitutional. Kabila has been in power since 2001, and is constitutionally bound to step down after serving two terms, after winning 2006 and 2011 elections.
Archbishop Marcel Utembi, President of the bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio the bishops were also suspending their participation in order to mourn the 50 people killed in political violence in the capital, Kinshasha, last week.
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