Liberia's churches on strike

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh © BBC World Service

Catholic mission in Tubmanburg
The Catholic Church delivers much-needed services

Activities at Roman Catholic institutions across Liberia ground to a halt on Friday as the church observed a day of suspension in protest at allegations against an outspoken bishop by a member of the House of Representatives.

Church-run schools and hospitals are closed and churches are not performing wedding services.

Representative Sando Johnson of north-western Bomi County has now referred to the bishop as "an immoral person who has failed to correct acts of homosexuality in the Catholic Church."

Archbishop Michael Francis has often criticised the government of President Charles Taylor, saying it has a poor human rights record.

Mr Johnson was reacting to the bishop's claims that the killing of five nuns in Monrovia at the height of the Liberian civil war was by fighters of the former rebel National Patriotic Front, led by Charles Taylor, of which Mr Johnson was a member.

The representative accused the archbishop of conniving with the West African peacekeeping force, Ecomog, which served in Liberia, to kill the nuns, and of being involved in one of the worst massacres during the war.

'Sacrilegious'

The Catholic Church issued a strongly-worded statement on Thursday, announcing a one-day suspension of its activities in protest at the allegations against the bishop.

It described the representative's comments as "sacrilegious and sadistic", saying services and institutions to be affected by the suspension include schools, hospitals, ambulances, the media, human rights, marital and relief services.

Bishop Michael Francis (pic: allaboutliberia.com)
Mgr Francis wants less talk and more actions

The Catholic Church runs the most credible church-run schools across the country.

The statement called on Catholics, wherever they are, "to observe the solemnity of the day, taking into consideration the grave consequences the reckless, diabolical and devilish comments and allegation against a true Liberian patriot and statesman could have on the overall peace and tranquillity of the Liberian nation and its people".

'Worrying'

Patients heading for the renowned St Joseph's Catholic Hospital in the Congotown district of Monrovia, the best-functioning hospital in Liberia at the moment, returned home disappointed as the protest action took effect.

"The poor will always suffer the actions of the rich," remarked a middle-aged woman returning from the hospital with her sick baby clutching to her bosom on Friday morning.

"Actions should be taken against people offending others, instead of punishing the masses."

Fighting
Liberia went through six years of civil war

Liberia's Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, described the church's action as "worrying to the Liberian people".

He said he did not understand why comments by a representative "who was speaking personally" could affect the whole country.

Liberia, he said, "is a country of free speech, and besides, there is a separation of powers".

Mr Goodridge implied that if Mr Johnson had offended the Catholic Church he should have been dealt with as an individual "because he was not speaking for the country or the government".

"The executive branch of government does not have power over the legislative branch for which Johnson works," Mr Goodridge argued.

But his explanation has so far done nothing to change public perceptions that the government's silence on the matter amounts to an endorsement of the representative's action.

Friday, 15 November, 2002, 12:10 GMT


uploaded by: Robert W. Kranz  2002