The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadouguou, Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo, has declined the invitation of a military junta led by Lt. Col. Isaac Zida to accept the presidency of Burkina Faso (the former Republic of Upper Volta), stating Catholic canon law does not allow clergy to accept political office.
On 28 Oct 2014 protests erupted in the capital Ouagadougou over proposals made by President Blaise Compaore to amend the constitution to allow him to extend his 27-year rule over the former French colony. In developments that mirrored the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2011, protesters took to the streets on 30 October, setting fire to parliament and seizing control of the state television headquarters.
Parliament responded by postponing the planned vote on extending the president’s term, and on 31 Oct 2014 the army seized power, deposing the president. The army, along with opposition parties, civil society groups and religious leaders have agreed to hold national elections in Nov. 2015, and Lt. Col. Zida proposed installing a Catholic cleric as president during the interim.
However, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger said Cardinal Ouédraogo opposed the plan. The spokesman told the Fides News Agency that under Canons 285 and 287 clergy cannot accept political or trade union positions “unless, according to the competent ecclesiastical authority, the defense of the rights of the Church and the promotion of the common good does not require it”.
“The Cardinal wants to tell us that by choosing to imitate Christ in the preferential option for the poor, a priest must avoid creating new forms of exclusion by being too partisan. The risk is enormous, as demonstrated by the experience lived by some local churches. So in addition to the canonical regulation, the position of the Cardinal is eminently pragmatic”, the spokesman said.
Pope John Paul II directed a Catholic priest serving as a member of the US Congress to step down from office, and laicized a Catholic priest who served the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The former President of Paraguay, who had been a Catholic bishop, was required to renounce his orders in order to take political office.