Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines has written to the US state department urging that it support efforts of the Congolese bishops to oppose the suggested end to presidential term limits in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “As we are both painfully aware, Constitutions have been changed previously in other countries as a means to monopolize political power and a nation’s natural wealth,” Bishop Pates, who chairs the US bishops' international justice and peace committee, wrote Oct. 16. “This political maneuver excludes political opposition and destroys the peaceful democratic process,” he said in the letter to Ambassador Russ Feingold, the U.S. Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bishop Pates attached a letter from the Congolese bishops signed Sept. 14, during their ad limina visit to Rome. Two days earlier, Pope Francis had exhorted them to be “men of hope” for the Congolese people and to contribute “to the happy future” of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mindful of this, the bishops wrote that “the happy future of the DR Congo lies undoubtedly in the strict adherence to our Constitution, which is the basic law and foundation of our young democracy.” The country's current constitution, adopted in 2006, places a two-term limit on the Congolese president; but president Joseph Kabila — who has been in office since 2001 — has raised the possibility that this limit could be amended. The relevant constitutional article, the bishops wrote, “lays the foundation for the country's stability and the balance of power in its institutions.” “Any change would be a step backward on the road to building our democracy and would seriously undermine the harmonious future of the nation. After all the wars and tribulations that Congo has known, we believe that citizens and politicians, who truly love this country as much as any of us, would avoid sending the nation down a dead end road.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered a series of civil wars which began in 1996, and ended in November, 2013. In light of the potential end to presidential term limits, the Congolese bishops asked that all priests read their statement at Sunday Mass and lead the faithful in three days of prayer “to ask that the Lord protect our country and its people.” They also asked that priests and catechists educate Christians “so that they commit themselves to protecting the nation against any attempt to amend Article 220.” In addition, the Congolese bishops announced they were suspending their participation in the Committee for Integrity and Electoral Mediation, but added they will, through their own commission, “contribute to the success of the electoral process in accordance with the Constitution.” In his message introducing the letter, Bishop Pates noted that Secretary of State John Kerry called on Kabila in May to respect his country's constitution and not run for a third term. Kabila became Congolese president in 2001 when his father, Laurent-Désiré, was assassinated. He oversaw the drafting of a transitional constitution in 2003, and the current constitution in 2006. He was elected president in 2006, and elected to a second term in 2011. In 2013, Transparency International ranked the Democratic Republic of the Congo 154 out of 175 among countries worldwide for public sector corruption, on par with the Republic of the Congo and Tajikistan. This means the country is slightly less corrupt than Burma and Zimbabwe, and slightly more corrupt than Angola. Bishop Pates urged that Feingold “take the Church’s letter and actions into consideration as you chart the future of U.S. policy towards the DRC in the run up to the next elections. I hope you will explore ways to support Church efforts to ensure that the DRC Government serves the common good by preserving the integrity of Article 220 of the Constitution. I strongly recommend that you work with the Church to support their electoral education and monitoring programs before, during and after the upcoming elections.” “I want to renew our commitment to work with the United States Government to promote the peace and prosperity of all the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Bishop Pates concluded.