The Bible and the gun: Priests heed call to join police service
A picture of two Catholic priests in full police uniform after graduating from Kiganjo Police Training College has elicited excitement, amid questions over their role in a largely tainted entity.
Fr John Kariuki Gicharu and Fr Gerald Wanjala were among 5,000 police recruits who graduated after a nine-month vigorous course at the four police training colleges — Kiganjo, Embakasi Administration Police Training College (APTC), Embakasi General Service Training College and Magadi Field Training Camp.
Unknown to most Kenyans, Fr Gicharu and Ndichu graduated alongside three other Catholic priests: Fr Albert Aseli, Fr Joseph Kimamo and Fr Eric Ogolla. They join a growing number of men of the collar from the Vatican-linked church who have been joining the National Police Service (NPS) over the past three years.
Immediately after the passing-out parade that was presided over by President William Ruto on January 10, 2023, the two paid Nairobi Catholic archdiocese Archbishop Philip Anyolo a courtesy call, before they were posted — Fr Gicharu to Nyanza and Fr Wanjala to North Eastern region,
Unlike their fellow recruits whose daily preoccupation would be enforcement of law and order, the roles of these priests will be chaplaincy and counselling.
According to spokesperson Resila Onyango, the officers will be posted to police chaplaincies based at regional police headquarters to deal with issues of mental health, counselling and spiritual nourishment.
“We are taking the issue of mental health of our police officers seriously, and training of priests is one of the strategies to deal with it,” Dr Onyango told ‘People Daily”. She said the priests, who will be paid by the government and will be in the rank of constable before they rise up, will be in charge of regional chaplaincies where they will handle the social and mental wellbeing of police officers.
Like all other recruits who passed out recently, the priests have proceeded on leave before they report to their respective stations, Dr Onyango said.
She added that although the priests would not be involved in daily police operations, they will have powers to arrest, investigate and maintain law and order since they enjoy full privileges of police officers. “First and foremost, they remain police officers and enjoy all the privileges of an officer, unless they resign, retire or are transferred from the service by their bishops,” she clarified.
And Mombasa archbishop Martin Kivuva, who is also the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), said the idea of identifying priests for police training was informed by the need to comprehensively address mental health issues of police officers, which have seen a number of them ending their own lives.
“Contrary to the belief that priest cops will be involved in day-to-day police operations, such as law and order enforcement, they are mainly going to offer officers and their families spiritual nourishment,” said Archbishop Kivuva.
He added that unlike the Prisons and Kenya Defence Forces where chaplaincy has been entrenched, the National Police Service lacks active chaplaincy services.
At around year 2020, the cleric said, KCCB held discussions with the government where it was agreed that a vibrant Catholic chaplaincy be established within NPS, with offices in all regions.
Since then, each year, NPS allocates at least three recruit slots for qualified ordained priests, with KCCB having the mandate to select individuals.
“Bishops of each diocese hold discussions with priests under their jurisdictions to identify those interested. Names of the identified individuals, who must be qualified, ordained Catholic priests, are then sent to the Inspector General of Police for inclusion in the list of cadet recruits,” Archbishop Kivuva explained.
“The ordained constables are answerable to their respective bishops in the jurisdictions they have been posted. This is a collaboration between NPS and bishops to avoid any form of clash,” the KCCB chairman told ‘People Daily’.
Since the chaplains serve disciplined officers, they are paid salaries from the NPS account. “Priests are meant to be spiritual servant leaders who represent God. Police officers are meant to represent their communities. Both need an internal moral compass to do their jobs. The values that priests represent are found in scripture, and the values police represent are found in the law. To be effective, both must internalise the values they represent,” Archbishop Kivuva explained.
He lamented that police officers in Kenya have for a long time been neglected, only featuring in general discussions when they are being condemned.
“For this attitude to change, we need priests who have undertaken police training, said Archbishop Kivuva, who was once a chaplain in Kenya Navy.
Catholic priests who spoke to ‘People Daily’ said the five would play a critical role in nourishing their fellow officers spiritually.
“They will work as police officers while also discharging their spiritual duties,” said Fr Edward Mulama of Holy Rosary Shiseso Catholic Parish.
He said the officers-cum-priests would help establish chaplaincies in police quarters, operating like other officers but also instilling discipline in the service.
The head of Kisumu Catholic Archdiocese, Maurice Muhatia Makumba, who will host one of the new officers, said he would rely on his experience in security and spiritual matters to reach out to officers going through hard times.
“I will be his spiritual father, while I also expect him to work as a police officer under instructions from his bosses,” he said by telephone.
The prelate said he expects more priests to join the disciplined forces in years to come.
All Catholic clerics take a life-long vow of celibacy, poverty and obedience to the Holy Scriptures.