Tuesday, July 22, 2008



The Standard
July 21 , 2008
By Dominic Odipo

The other day I saw a curious article in The Standard on Saturday, this paper’s sister publication.

Under the headline ‘Fearless priest who lived to fight many battles’, it purported to sing the praises of retired Catholic Archbishop, Raphael Ndingi, known in his later years as Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki.

When I came to the end of the article, I was struck once again by the power of the modern media. For the unsuspecting and the ignorant, it only takes such a well-packaged media message to make one believe anything.

To many among us who have been life-long Catholics and who have watched this Church closely since the 1960s, Raphael Ndingi cannot — repeat cannot —be described as having been a "fearless" priest, bishop or archbishop or a "man of courage".

I do not remember any occasion during Ndingi’s stint as a Catholic leader when he stood up publicly to defend or to articulate the Church’s moral leadership or to speak up when the temporal powers were manifestly going astray.

Not a single position that Ndingi took on serious national issues portrays him as a man of courage or fearlessness. Not a single position that the good bishop took marked him out as a unique or distinctive shepherd of his entire Catholic flock.

If truth be told, when we heard that Ndingi would be retiring from the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nairobi, we prayed and thanked the Almighty God for having taken this cup from our hands.

Moral giant

To be sure, it was part of Ndingi’s rotten luck that history condemned him to have to try and fill the shoes of a moral giant. Maurice Cardinal Otunga, whom Ndingi replaced as Archbishop of Nairobi, was no ordinary priest or bishop.

No one who knew both men could miss the huge differences between them. When Otunga reigned, the Catholic Church in Kenya stood tall, proud and truly independent.

When Otunga spoke for the Church, the country listened: Everybody knew that he was a priest and a bishop like no other.

It was no surprise when he was appointed Cardinal, a real prince of the worldwide Catholic community.

When the faithful needed leadership, the Catholic Church, under Cardinal Otunga, routinely provided it. Otunga did not kowtow to the political leadership or to the rich and powerful. One cannot imagine him accepting expensive gifts from individuals and then going to the pulpit the next day to preach moral uprightness or how Jesus Christ is the only Way to eternal life.

Whether the writers of that article knew it or not, there were thousands, if not millions, of Catholic faithful across the country who were disappointed, if not infuriated, by Ndingi’s ministry.

They saw him as ethnically compromised and politically partisan.

They remembered his days at Christ the King Cathedral in Nakuru when he appeared to have taken sides in the ethnic confrontations of the early 1990s.

They compared and contrasted his leadership of the Church with that of Cardinal Otunga and wanted to weep and gnash their teeth.

Fence sitter

Any reasonably informed and detached Kenyan who read the Draft Constitution of 2005 could see that it was seriously flawed.

A lot of those flaws directly affected the Catholic faithful. But when Archbishop Ndingi was asked to state the Church’s position on that draft before the referendum, he chose to sit on the fence. Here was an issue of critical importance to millions of Catholics. But when they looked up to their leadership for guidance, they found nothing.

The ‘fearless’ priest left them on their own. The good shepherd had abandoned his flock.

When a major political deadlock loomed in the Philippines, Jaime Cardinal Sin, then the Archbishop of Manila, did not stand on the fence or abandon his flock.

He told the Catholic faithful to oppose the government’s proclamations and, if necessary, put their lives on the line.

(With Catholic leaders under persecution from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sin played a leading role in the People Power Movement, a four-day uprising in 1986 that deposed Marcos – Ed.)

That is how a fearless shepherd of Catholic flocks is expected to behave when he knows where the right path lies.

If Ndingi did not diminish the Catholic Church in Kenya, then the Church certainly diminished him. History will record that his reign was both undistinguished and uninspiring. We know it will, because we are already writing that history.