Chama Cha Mapinduzi stalwart Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru yesterday asked the Catholic Church to repent for its scathing attack on him after he called for the withdrawal of its controversial document on next year's election.
The veteran party ideologue and long-serving MP told a press conference at his Kijitonyama suburb home in Dar es Salaam that he still stands by his words that the pastoral letter poses a threat to the country. Taking great exception to having been portrayed as corrupt, Mr Ngombale-Mwiru said "the Church itself is not that clean in its dealings".
The former Cabinet minister, a self-confessed atheist, only stopped short of advising the Church to establish its own political party, but declared that the document, which advises Catholics on how to pick the good leaders to vote for during the next year's General Election, "is not any different from the election manifesto of a political party".
But contacted for comment, Dar es Salaam Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Methodius Kilaini said: "I respect Kingunge very much. I do not wish to argue with him."
Political leaders, both in the ruling party and the opposition, have received the Catholic Church document, which is part of its civic education for the General Election, expected to be held by next October, with mixed reactions. While CCM politicians are suspicious about the Church's intentions, their opposition counterparts have welcomed it as an important contribution to the education of voters to make informed choices in the forthcoming elections.
Yesterday, Mr Ngombale-Mwiru said though he has great respect for the Church leaders, he was disappointed with the accusations they had levelled against him following his appeal in the National Assembly in Dodoma last month to them to consider withdrawing the document.
"I used very polite language when I asked them to withdraw their document. But I was surprised by their virulent criticism and ridicule that I find defamatory and demeaning," he said.
Mr Ngombale-Mwiru said he had felt compelled to call the press conference at his home to reiterate his stand on the Catholic Church's pastoral letter, which he insisted is"divisive and retrogressive."
He said it was wrong for the Church to issue such a document, as "religious issues should remain outside the political horizon".
During the just-ended Bunge session, Mr Ngombale-Mwiru had asked the Catholic Church leaders to withdraw the document on the grounds that it would fuel religious divisions in the country.
However, the Church retorted that those angered by the document were either supporters of the culprits or beneficiaries from the rampant high-level corruption scandals.
The Catholic document has since attracted diverse comments from politicians, professionals and ordinary citizens, prompting some analysts to warn that the mounting debate on the coming elections might lead to sharp divisions along religious lines, if not well handled.
While many Christians have generally supported the document, some Muslims have been apprehensive about it, pointing out that a more neutral group should have issued the election guidelines to the voters.
Mr Ngombale-Mwiru started his defence on Tuesday night, when he told a television station in Dar that his comments in Parliament were only meant to safeguard national unity, insisting that he respects all religious denominations.
Yesterday, the veteran politician, who does not profess any religion, said he was a member of the Roman Catholic Church until he opted out some years back.
He dismissed the argument that those against the Church document were supporters of grand corruption, accusing some "envious people" within his own party of promoting that view.
He accused the clique of resorting to such verbal attacks on others after failing to secure top posts in the ruling party.
The same people, whom he did not name, he claimed, had been fuelling disunity in CCM by issuing statements alleging that the ruling party was full of corrupt leaders.
"CCM remains a clean and able party, save for a few greedy people who entered politics in order to quench their lust for power," Mr Ngombale-Mwiru said, adding: "We rejected colonialism and we will reject such virulent utterances."
Mr Ngombale-Mwiru extolled his vast experience in national politics, having been among the first members of the Mwalimu Nyerere-led Tanganyika African National Union (Tanu), which fought for and gained independence from British colonial rule in 1961.
He boasted that he had been involved in all the major party decisions, including the socialist blueprint dubbed the Arusha Declaration of 1967, the Mwongozo (party directive) in 1971, and the a similar declaration in 1982.
"It is very surprising to see this rather radical turn by the Church that I respect so much," he said.
Flanked by leaders of the CCM youth wing, Mr Ngombale-Mwiru advised young people to stand firm against those he alleged, "are harbouring a hidden agenda" within the party.
Mr Ngombale-Mwiru recalled that though he was expelled from a missionary school, he had, when he served as a regional commissioner, turned down a directive by former Vice-President Aboud Jumbe to support Islamic councils.
"Therefore, I am not against Catholicism as such but I just want to operate within an accepted framework of principles," he added.
The Catholic Church has declared that it will not withdraw its pastoral guidelines to its followers on how to choose good leaders during next month's national civic elections and the next year's General Election.
Last month, Bishop Kilaini, reacting to Mr Ngombale-Mwiru's appeal in Parliament, asked the veteran politician to pinpoint which part of the document, "poses a threat to peace and tranquillity" in the country, as he had alleged.
"It will be very difficult to withdraw the project, as what we are doing is in the public interest. But since he has read it, can he tell us what threatens the peace in that booklet?"The bishop asked.
Our sister paper, the Sunday Citizen, exclusively broke the news of the Catholic document several months ago, reporting that it had been circulated to churches around the country to teach the followers the qualities to look out for when voting for leaders in next year's General Election.
Since then, debate has been raging countrywide, with some critics, arguing that CCM is only alarmed because the document also calls for electoral reforms before next year's elections.
Bishop Kilaini, defending the document, said the church and its experts such as the Christian Professionals of Tanzania, been issuing public statements denouncing corruption, on land ownership, and the running of prisons and police, among other issues, but no one had ever complained.