Any illusions that Western Catholic might have had that the Synod on the Family might at least open up discussions on LGBT rights or loosening up restrictions on divorced and/or civilly remarried Catholics from taking communion were dashed when conservative bishops, led by what one might call “the African contingent” railed against such people as “the smoke of Satan.” It was Cardinal Francis Arinze who gave us these immortal lines, “Most people in continental Europe or even North America, when they hear of a synod they think immediately of divorce-remarriage and will they receive Holy Communion. And they even mention homosexual unions,” Arinze said in an interview. “Africans say ‘Lord help us! Is that what you understand by family? This synod is on the fa-mi-ly.”
Clearly, divorced Catholics and LGBT people are not part of the “fa-mi-ly.”
Western conservtrad Catholics seem to think that African Catholics will be the “great black hope” for the church, since their own local co-religionists are too busy contracepting and marching in gay pride parades:
It’s amusing that the African bishops are calling Western LGBT activists “colonialists,” given that the only reason these “princes of the church” are Catholic in the first place is because of old school pith helmet colonialism. On the evangelical side of things, African pastors are more that willing to link arms with white conservative Christians who were in favor of colonialism and apartheid during the Cold War, such as the odious Graham clan, Pat Robertson, and the Jerry Falwell’s posthumous fundamentalist empire. Talk about false friends. While I am no expert on sub-Saharan Africa, there is copious evidence to suggest that Africa’s obsession with homosexuality is of recent vintage:
Those conservotrads who want to believe that African priests will be to the twenty-first century what Irish priests were to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries might want to think twice. To start off with, it’s worth mentioning that by sending so many of its priests abroad, Ireland was exporting its own dysfunctional religious culture to the rest of the world, including the United States; a disproportionate amount of Irish priests have been accused and/or convicted of clergy sex abuse. For more information on this, please see An Irish Tragedy: How Sex Abuse By Irish Priests Helped Cripple The Catholic Church by Joe Rigert:
Second, sub-Saharan African cultures consider celibacy “unnatural” in the same way they consider homosexuality to be. Laurenti Magesa, a Tanzanian priest and theologian, wrote What Is Not Sacred? African Spirituality says:
In the experience of the African community, nothing unites one person to another, to the ancestral and divine spirits, and to the universe as a whole as much as the conjugal bond; this is where the energy that activates life in the form of conception and birth is most present. Understandably, celibacy is almost always disapproved of, even abhorred. “The single person is disobedient to the ancestors, even to God, since he or she destroys the stream of life.” Permanent homosexuality, infertility, and sterility are, from this perspective, equally abhorrent as spiritual failings because they “plunge the person concerned into misery, they sever him from personal immortality, and threaten the perpetuation of the lineage.
Unsurprisingly, many African Catholic priests simply ignore the celibacy rule and have concubines and children so they can remain in good standing with the people of their community:
Even the noted traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli felt compelled to discuss this story about priests in the Central African Republic who went on strike after Archbishop Bangui Paulin Pomodimo was removed from office for disregarding his vow of celibacy, a situation which appears to be the norm for most priests in that country:
I love how the bulk of the comments blame Vatican II, rather than the fact that not fathering children makes a man in sub-Saharan Africa considered a non-person in his community; I guess they all had to stay on script.
Even more disturbing are reports of African priests raping nuns in order to avoid HIV-infected prostitutes:
http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/485470/vatican%3A_priests_have_been_raping_nuns_to_avoid_hookers_with_hiv (the original story from the Independent newspaper seems to be offline and I could only find blogs quoting from it)
I say all this not to cast aspersion on African priests, who I suspect as a whole are no better and no worse than priests in any other part of the world. Rather, I don’t think African Catholics are going to be the saviors of the faith that white conservotrads want to believe. White conservotrads seem to think that African Catholics are just like them, but with darker skin. The commenters on the afore mentioned Rorate Caeli blog used the old “bad catechesis” card to explain why so many African priests ignore their vow of celibacy, rather than the more sensible explanation that they pick and choose which Catholic teachings to follow, just like Western Catholics.
Aside from the celibacy issue, I think that differing views over liturgy will also become a problem in the future. As readers probably know, conservotrad and traditionalist Catholics think that liturgical dance is the worst thing you can do during the mass, except maybe ordaining a woman to the priesthood. However, dancing has been used for religious functions in sub-Saharan African for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and I would be surprised if African Catholics weren’t incorporating dance into their masses. Once again, Magesa’s words on this issue are instructive:
The word in any of its forms is the most potent vehicle of communication; it becomes even more evocative of communion when it is combined with bodily movement in song and dance, which is not merely a form of entertainment but a healing performance.
Magesa emphasizes that African dance is not done for “fun” or for an “art for art’s sake” perspective as it is in the West, but for very specific activities that benefit the entire community. African dance is liturgical dancing in its most pure and literal form, without the “profane” connotations it has in the West.
Beating up on LGBT people or straight Catholics who are divorced or use contraception may bring conservatives from the West and Africa together, but without a common group of enemies to bring them together, I think they would realize that the cultural chasm that separates them is quite large. If a Synod on the Liturgy is ever convened and the Western bishops rail against the use of dance in the mass, I can only imagine the dust-up that would ensue.