The Catholic bishops of Congo issued a powerful statement at the end of their episcopal meeting, identifying priorities for recently elected officials, calling for investigations into recent violence and warning about the possible legalization of abortion.

“It is time for the nation to be governed and for the people to set to work, thanks to management which respects principles and rules of a democratic nation,” reads the statement issued by the Standing Council of the Bishops’ Conference.

The bishops said they are pleased that the federal election process is coming to an end and that, in view of municipal elections, “all the institutions of the Third Republic are operating.”

The bishops identified priorities for the new governors: guarantee territorial integrity and national sovereignty; consolidate national peace and harmony; create a national army and police force to guarantee security for all citizens; eradicate illiteracy; bring the population out of isolation; respect the dignity of the human person; and, open the country to Africa and the rest of the world.

“The country can only be rebuilt on the basis of authentic human values” the bishops said. They deplored “anti-values seen in the course of the electoral process — corruption, greed for money, the absence of moral criteria and fidelity to promises.”

In this regard, the bishops reiterated the local Church’s commitment to educating consciences and teaching the social teachings of the Church.

The bishops also the condemned the recent violence, which erupted in various towns in the Bas-Congo province, between police and the religious-political movement, Bundu dia Kongo. The United Nations reported 134 casualties.

The bishops offered their condolences to the victims’ families and said measures must be taken to prevent similar events in the future. They called for a public investigation into the clashes that broke out Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

On the occasion of the centenary of a Church-State Agreement (1906-2006), the bishops also called for a new agreement that would enable the Church to continue and to intensify its contribution towards Congo’s development.

They lauded efforts in Africa to promote respect for women and ensure equal opportunities but expressed concern about the “Maputo Protocol”. The protocol, they say, “opens the way for the legalization of abortion.”

The bishops also recalled the late Cardinal Frédéric Etsou, archbishop of Kinshasa, who died on Jan. 6: “A man of faith and conviction who followed closely the development of the Church and our country’s return to institutional legality, the cardinal left a legacy of self-giving for the sake of the Gospel to the very end,” they wrote. They thanked the state and the people for their public tribute to Cardinal Etsou.”