Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why I Doubt The Next Pope Will Come From Africa

Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson most likely won't be the next Pope and not just because he's made some serious blunders--like seemingly campaigning for the office.

Although I am perfectly aware that Africa is where it's at in terms of Catholic numbers and vibrancy and that the First World is where Catholic numbers and vibrancy are quickly filling the trash bin of history, I doubt very much the next pope will come from Africa.  I think that for a number of reasons, but the main reason is that while the Church is dieing in the pews in the First World, the Vatican Curia is swamped with first world cardinals.  It is still their church complete with their pope retiring with in their walls.  Africa represents a number of problems for the current Pope Benedict influenced curia.

The first of those problems is the concept of celibacy.  It's a concept that doesn't fly in Africa and is too closely linked with homosexuality.  The 'house keeper' phenomenon has already taken out more than one African bishop and is rumored to be rampant and a major problem in priestly discipline at all levels. Africa is a highly patriarchal continent in which producing male heirs is still a number one priority for males.  Celibacy is also an issue when dealing with Islamic expansion as celibacy is not an issue at all in Islam and so an Imam's male virility is never in question.

The second problem involves indigenous shamanic practices and the attendant spiritual cosmology which lends itself to accusations of witchcraft, possession, and strange healing strategies, such as the one that AIDS in men could be cured by intercourse with a female virgin. Even though Catholic Masses have been allowed a cultural latitude no longer allowed in the West, the inroads of Evangelical Churches continue unabated precisely because the theology lines up more closely with Indigenous practices.  A Vatican curia which prides itself on it's European cultural sophistication is unlikely to entertain notions of 'Catholic shamanism'. I should add here that shamanism is distinct in practice and paradigm from Catholic mysticism.

A third problem is the that Catholic social activism is in some senses substituting for workable governments in some areas.  This is ably articulated by Nigerian Bishop, Matthew Kukah in an article from UK's Guardian:

....But not everyone agrees that the ever-higher profile of the church in Africa is a good thing. Some critics, even within the Catholic church, fear that the church is exceeding its proper role and attempting to act as a substitute for functioning institutions of state.
"The problem in our situation is that religion has become an excuse for the total collapse of the architecture of state," says Matthew Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto in Nigeria.

"In Nigeria the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies, the entire ruling elite is corrupt. The opening of the political space at the end of military rule has been accompanied by the insatiable expression of greed by political elite, who have turned out far more corrupt than the military ever were. And people like me are being called upon to help rebuild the society. I am not an elected official, this is not my role.
"There were times when religion responded to the social situation such as we found in South Africa under apartheid. But overthrowing apartheid is not the same as ridding the countries of corruption. Those are not things religion has the capacity to do."

What Bishop Kukah doesn't say is that replacing secular governments with Christian or Islamic theocracies is the agenda of more than one fantical religious movement and this is a situation which does not bode well for the continent.  Africa seems caught between government by corrupt corporate oligarchy or government by non elected religious authority. Given the already extensive influence of the Church in African development, it may be counterproductive for African Catholicism for an African pope at this particular time.

Two of the three listed reasons would be enough for conservatives to look elsewhere for the next pope.  Conservative prelates do not seem the least bit interested in changing priestly discipline regarding marriage, and the idea of fighting off Evangelical poaching by making Catholicism more 'populist' does not seem to be in the cards at all, not when the last two papacies have moved in the exact opposite direction.  As for the third issue, that might actually appeal to a certain Catholic mindset and certain secretive Catholic organizations.

To conclude, I think the time is not quite ripe for an African Pope.  That does not mean I think a Pope from the South is impossible.  I think we could very easily have a pope from Latin America or perhaps even Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines.  What we do not need is a pope from inside the Curia.  We just had that and he proved completely inept at dealing with the Curia precisely because he relied on his Curial connections, even though as time went on their incompetence became a major issue for his papacy. It was their loyalty that mattered, and that is understandable in a corrupt and competitive beauracracy, and precisely the reason we don't need another pope from the Curia.  It can not fix itself.

I find it quite easy to believe that the real tipping point for Benedict's resignation was the report generated by the three non voting elderly cardinals he assigned to investigate Vatileaks.  Blaming the lay butler and the lay IT tech might have relieved some clerical minds, but it also points out how truly untouchable Vatican Cardinals are in fact.  One of the tasks the new Pope must take on is why Curial Cardinals are so teflon coated.  He may not like the answer, and I'm pretty sure if he asks, the safely retired Benedict will give it to him.



  1. I think the Curia may have to go---they strike me as being irreversibly corrupt. And so I agree with you that a new Pope from within that circle just isn’t conceivable. I want a pilgrim pope---I don’t think we need a Vatican---that worked for a world without instant communication and rapid travel. I think the Pope needs a staff, not a bureaucracy.

  2. "A Vatican curia which prides itself on it's European cultural sophistication is unlikely to entertain notions of 'Catholic shamanism'. I should add here that shamanism is distinct in practice and paradigm from Catholic mysticism.

    Perhaps there really is no such thing as "Catholic shamanism." Perhaps the truth is that shamanism is not catholic at all. It is probably more accurate to say that it is tribal.

  3. I wonder on what basis the Vatican justifies having Cardinals. I mean, where in scripture do they find a justification?

    To my mind, the Cardinals, if they had any credibility, would begin by disbanding themselves. And removing the scaffolding of a decrepit Vatican system.

    Why Cardinals? That's where I'd start!

  4. If the official leaders of our church had any interest in following the biblical example, cardinals would be the least of their concerns. There is no Christian priesthood in the Bible. There is no distinction between "lay" and "ordained" Christians in the Bible. The only "Holy Father," from New Testament's point of view, was God; there was one teacher, God, and we are ALL students (cf. Matt 23.8-9).

    That's not to say that the church has to slavishly follow the Bible, and that structural innovations are not permitted. But to attribute these human innovations to God and to insist that they are unchangeable due to their divine origin is a kind of idolatry.

  5. That's where I would start, admitting the hierarchical priesthood is one long add on to a concept that never actually existed in the NT. That of course, would not be tinkering with the scaffolding, but pulling apart the foundation which was placed on top of something else entirely.

  6. IT is tribal, but there are too many close similarities between very diverse tribes not to take it seriously as an expression of either human spiritual ability or a common spiritual history somewhere back in the dawn of time.

  7. I think I would certainly advise against a butler. LOL

    But seriously, I think an entirely lay staff in the Secretary of State and other select dicasteries might be a good idea since this would pretty much put a damper on career clerics and their backstabbing for higher office.

  8. Priesthood is something conferred in Baptism to all of us. And at the very least the three orders of Deacon, Priest, Bishop have been ascribed to certain Greek terms for roles in the early church. So I'm just wondering about Cardinals and the election of a pope. Priesthood is something conferred in Baptism to all of us.

  9. "In the beginning, the Bishop of Rome was elected by the local clergy and laity along with neighboring bishops. In time, this process came under the influence of secular leaders with negative results. Influencing papal elections, powerful lords and kings hoped to manipulate the office of the papacy in order to advance their temporal ambitions. In order to combat the abuses stemming from this lay influence, Nicholas II in 1059 promulgated that only cardinal-bishops would serve as papal electors." -- Nicholas Rademacher, "Pope, Election of," in The Modern Catholic Encylopedia, 653.

  10. Thanks! It supports my contention that there's no biblical or theological basis for Cardinals. In which case: what can be done can be undone. The pope should feel a sense of responsibility to the people not the powerful.