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 CNS Story:

KENYA-VOTE Aug-6-2010 (480 words) With photo. xxxi

Church accepts voter approval of Kenya's new constitution

By Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- After spending months urging voters to defeat Kenya's new constitution because it loosens restrictions on abortion and allows for the entrenchment of Islamic courts, Catholic Church leaders have accepted the results of the Aug. 4 referendum on the document, which two-thirds of voters approved.

Despite its acceptance of the outcome, Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, pledged during an Aug. 5 news conference that the church would continue to work for legal reform that would guarantee the rights of the unborn and people of all faiths.

"We respect the outcome of the referendum, where the larger numbers of Kenyans have voted to accept this proposed constitution," Cardinal Njue said in a statement. "However, truth and right are not about numbers.

"We, therefore, as the shepherds placed to give moral guidance to our people, still reiterate the need to address the flawed moral issues in this proposed constitution. That voice should never be silenced," he said.

Kenya's election commission reported that 67 percent of the 8.6 million voters who cast ballots supported the new constitution.

The document replaces a British colonial-era document dating to 1963, the year of Kenyan independence from Britain; that document gave broad powers to the president. The new constitution limits the powers of the presidency and includes sections on judicial reform, land reform and an end to impunity.

The margin of victory likely prevented violence from flaring as it did after the disputed 2007 presidential election that claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Cardinal Njue said the church played a significant role in the debate before the vote despite the outcome.

"We are convinced before God that we have played our role as mandated to us with diligence and respect. God will be our judge," Cardinal Njue said.

The cardinal told Catholic News Service that the win by the government does not take away flaws in the document that were highlighted during the months-long campaign.

"The issues we addressed still remain unaddressed," he said.

In the Diocese of Eldoret, where postelectoral violence in late 2007 and early 2008 was centered, Bishop Cornelius Arap Korir welcomed the outcome but denied claims that the church had lost its credibility because of its stance.

"On the contrary, the church has managed to send its message home -- that on matters where church teaching is put in question, as the case is with the new document, she must always stand strong to defend it," he said.

"The church promises the Kenyan people to continue to be the voice of the voiceless and more on the implementation aspect of the now-accepted constitutional document," he added.

Bishop Korir attributed the calm election to the partnership of various churches promoting peace, justice and reconciliation since the violence ended in 2008.

"What we have just witnessed, peacefulness during the just-ended referendum, is simply the fruits of our labor," he said.

- - -

Contributing to this report were Francis Njuguna and Walter Cheruiyot in Nairobi.


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