People Daily

The messy ownership dispute pitting the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi and Catholic priest William Fryda took an ugly turn when police officers and goons allegedly stormed St Mary’s Mission Hospital in Lang’ata.

While the years of court battle for the hospital’s ownership has itself been unedifying, the latest development is a new low. Besides the inconveniences, indignities and pain visited on patients at the hospital, the incident paints an unflattering image of the Catholic Church in the country.

When the High Court made a determination on the facility’s ownership last September, the expectations of many including, church faithful, was that it would end the long-running saga. But recent events prove that the row is far from over.

It is worrying that the saga seems to have moved from the more orderly corridors of justice to the jungle where raw power, including use of hired goons to “enforce” the law, rules supreme. This kind of conduct would be bad enough in a secular setting.

But when it involves the church – Catholic priests and nuns no less – it stinks to the high heavens. The illegality of some of the actions aside, it robs the church of moral authority and its expected role as the conscience of the nation.

This is as unChristian behaviour as it can get! What is baffling about the whole saga is the apparent see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude by the church leadership, the Archdiocese of Nairobi in particular. While the its hands-off approach would have been understood when the dispute was still in court, its loud silence following the latest developments is disturbing. The church leadership’s intervention is long overdue.

Its voice and direction is crucial not only to avert a further escalation of the dispute and washing of dirty linen in public. The entire church’s reputation is at stake. Although property and leadership disputes are fairly common in Kenyan churches and other religious organisations, the Catholic Church had hitherto been spared that kind of ignominy.

That can be attributed to its more sturdy structures and steady leadership. It is for that reason that the St Mary’s Mission Hospital conflict is very much unlike the Catholic Church. The parties in the dispute should also be seen to be adhering to the ruling and direction of the court.

The transition needs to be smooth and orderly and should protect the interests of those who have been caught in the crossfire. These include employees who must not be arbitrary be sacked or harassed. It is the role of the church leadership to ensure the transition does not cause further agony and unnecessary pain to innocent people and embarrassment to the church and its faithful.

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