Days after the retired Archbishop of Togo’s Lomé Archdiocese, Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro denounced the preliminary results of the presidential election in the country and called for protests, the Bishops in the West African nation have, in a collective statement, denied claims that they have abandoned their “elder brother.”
“Since the proclamation of the provisional results, the Togolese Bishops’ Conference has not remained inactive in the face of the situation of Archbishop Emeritus Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro,” the Bishops stated in their March 1 statement in which they emphasize that they have “not abandoned the Bishop, their elder brother, to his “sad fate”, as some of the faithful mistakenly think.”
The “sad fate” is in reference to the blockade, which the government security agencies mounted on the roads leading to the residence of the Archbishop, deterring him from leaving the premises to participate in the march he had spearheaded.
The move to block the Archbishop from leaving his residence is “not only a serious infringement of his freedom of movement, but it also prevents the functioning of the health center adjacent to this place,” members of the Episcopal Conference of Togo (CET) decried in their collective statement.
The security barrier also prevented priests “from celebrating the Eucharist in the chapel of the health center for Religious, service personnel and the sick,” the Bishops further bemoan.
In their statement, the Church leaders also address the heavy-handed approach of the security agencies on protestors who had heeded the Archbishop’s call and disapprove of the police’s decision to not only disperse them but also follow the protestors to St. Joseph’s College where they had taken refuge.
They condemn “with a sense of profound indignation, these abusive intrusions into the private and sacred spaces of the Church” and also call “for the release of all those who were arrested in these places.”
In an audio message released Tuesday, February 25, the Archbishop Emeritus of Lomé denounced the country’s presidential election results and called for protests after the incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé won by 72 percent with his (Archbishop’s) preferred candidate, former Prime Minister Messan Agbeyome Kodjo, getting only 18 percent of the vote.
Explaining why they did not call for protests, the CET Bishops said, “It did not wish to expose the demonstrators to the possible risk of repression,” however, they said their silence “does not in any way constitute a disapproval of the courageous step taken by Archbishop Emeritus Kpodzro in favor of a cause that his heart as a pastor considers to be just.”
Further, the Bishops also noticed the “climate of uncertainty and confusion, caused in particular by the lack of confidence of the population in the organization of the elections and the provisional results proclaimed.”
The tense climate was “predictable,” the Bishops said and recalled events that seemingly lead to the current situation in the West African country.
“The refusal of the Ministry of Territorial Administration to grant the request for accreditation presented by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, a refusal which, in the eyes of the Bishops, was motivated by very questionable reasons,” recalled the Bishops.
They added, “The presence of civil society observers, alongside the institutional organizers, was likely to create confidence among voters in the credibility and sincerity of the results of their vote.”
For the crisis to be resolved, the Togolese Bishops urged, “the various protagonists and the bodies involved in the electoral process to work peacefully for the restoration of the truth of the ballot box.”
“Finally, the Bishops’ Conference invites every son and daughter of our country, especially the Catholic faithful, to pray and work for peace in truth and justice. It exhorts them to avoid all provocation and violence, keeping faith in God who will surely help us to emerge from this storm that is shaking our country,” the CET statement concluded.