Thursday, December 03, 2015

Pope Francis' Huge Failure in Africa

The Roman Catholic Church is rapidly headed towards a future where it will become a largely African based church with rapidly declining support from wealthy developed nations in the West.   The main driver for this is the Church's refusal to update its views on sexual morals and understanding from those solidified in the 12th century (by "church fathers" who be viewed as mentally disturbed by modern standards) and to reject the anti-gay agenda of Christian missionaries of a century or more ago.  Pope Francis seems in many ways to grasp this reality, yet on his just finished visit to Africa he failed to challenge the forces of ignorance and the vestiges of colonial rule.  An op-ed in the New York Times castigates Francis for his failure.  Here are highlights:
Pope Francis, now safely back in Rome, missed a major opportunity on his trip to Africa. His pleas for peace and reconciliation between the continent’s Christians and Muslims were well-received, by both faiths. His castigation of the indifference of the rich, as he stood amid a cardboard slum, was apt. He was widely applauded when he warned of catastrophe if this week’s Paris climate negotiations do not succeed. But when it came to the way gay people are treated on a continent in which homosexuality is illegal in many countries, he offered only a deafening silence.

His defenders will say that gay rights are a Western obsession and that it would have been counterproductive for Francis to raise the matter on such a brief visit to a continent which is hostile to the pope’s desire to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to people who are gay, or divorced or cohabiting without being married. But that is wrong. How gays are treated is fundamental to the future of the universal church — and Pope Francis knows it.

Francis may be the first pope from the global South, but this trip to Africa was a steep learning curve. This was his first trip to a continent of which he knows little — though he is well aware that Africa will be one of the new powerhouses of Catholicism. Church-going may be declining in the old world, but the number of Catholics in Africa has grown by 238 percent since 1980.

Yet that figure underlines the importance of confronting Africa with its prejudice against gay people. At the recent synod on the family in Rome the issue of how the Catholic Church treats its gay members was kept off the agenda, thanks to an alliance between culture-warrior bishops from the United States, conservatives from Eastern Europe and a newly powerful block of African bishops who constituted a fifth of the synod fathers.

But the issue is a double impediment for Francis — and one which he should have begun publicly to address. It is a massive human rights injustice because homophobia is endemic in Africa; most countries there, including the three he visited, have laws against homosexuality. In Uganda a measure signed into law last year by its president compelled citizens to report suspected homosexual activity to the police. Increased levels of violence against the gay community ensued.

For Francis such attitudes are an additional problem inside the Catholic Church, where they are a brake on the changes the pope wants to bring to the unruly institution he governs. It is a deeply entrenched problem when African leaders like Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a man whom Francis has promoted, turn around and declare that “Western homosexual and abortion ideologies, and Islamic fanaticism” are to the 21st century what the twin “beasts” of Nazi and Communist ideology were to the 20th century.

The pope ought to have, at the very least, set down a marker that such bigotry has no place within the church. Instead he has let this vociferous minority paint him into a corner. . . . many of them will take his support for marriage, in his address in Uganda, as implicit support for their anti-gay stance. 

Africa is set to become an increasing force within Catholicism. Pope Francis missed the chance to underscore the breadth of the message of love, mercy and inclusion it needs to embrace to become an accepted member of the universal church.

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