Pope Benedict XVI’s claim yesterday that condoms actually aggravate the problem of AIDS may seem an explosive claim internationally, but it’s barely made a ripple here -- in part, because it simply repeats an argument made so often by Africa’s Catholic bishops that it long ago lost any shock value.
Seen through Western eyes, the Catholic church in Africa often presents an intriguing mix of deep conservatism on some issues – especially sexual morality – and remarkably progressive views on other matters, such as economic justice, peace, and the environment. Cameroon’s Bishop George Nkubo, who heads the mostly English-speaking Kumbo diocese in the country’s northwest, illustrates that mix. Commenting on day one of Pope Benedict XVI’s first voyage to Africa, Nkubo strongly backed the pope’s line on condoms and AIDS, insisting that in his rural diocese, the easy availability of condoms encourages promiscuity and a false sense of invulnerability. Only personal conversion, he argued, including sexual self-discipline, offers a long-term solution to the AIDS crisis. Yet in almost the same breath, Nkubo called upon the church in Cameroon, and across Africa, to be more outspoken in its ‘option for the poor’ and its resistance to oppression. He also said that any bishop who does not offer concrete witness to solidarity with the poor is ‘failing in his duties.’Nkubo was among the bishops on hand to greet Benedict XVI this afternoon in Yaoundè, Cameroon’s capital.
VATICAN CITY -- A 9-year-old Brazilian girl and the doctors who performed the girl's abortion needed the Catholic Church's care and concern, not its condemnation, said a leading Vatican official.
Political scientist and philosopher Ernesto Galli della Loggia, a lay professor at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, is one of Italy’s foremost commentators on Catholic affairs despite being a self-professed nonbeliever. His editorials appear regularly in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading daily newspaper. His analysis of Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the bishops of the world, in which the pope comments on the uproar surrounding the lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who has denied the Holocaust, was published on March 14. The following is an NCR translation.
For its exceptional character, and for the words it contains, the letter of Benedict XVI to Catholic bishops reveals much more than the personal anguish of a pope who, with regard to the Williamson affair, has been attacked and harassed by his own, and who sees how even in the church – for that matter, even in the Vatican itself, as the editor of L’Osservatore Romano has made clear – people “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).
Pope Benedict XVI is making his first visit to Africa March 17-23, travelling to Cameroon and Angola. John Allen is in Africa covering the pope, and in this piece he previews the challenges awaiting Benedict on the first leg of the trip in Cameroon. Allen’s daily coverage will appear at NCRonline.
Assuming Pope Benedict XVI has his eyes open when he touches down in Cameroon tomorrow afternoon, he’ll quickly discover that he picked a great place to dip his toes into Africa.
Guidebooks typically call Cameroon “Africa in miniature,” a reference to the sprawling ethnic, linguistic, geographical and religious diversity in this nation of 19 million, located on Africa’s west-central coast, which is roughly the size of California. (Sports fans probably know Cameroon best for its legendary soccer team, the “Indomitable Lions,” which has qualified for the World Cup more often than any other African squad; it made a storybook run into the quarter-finals in 1990, losing to England in penalty time.)
The problem with first impressions, as the saying goes, is that you only get to make one.
As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his African debut March 17-23, visiting Cameroon and Angola on his first swing through Catholicism's most dynamic "growth market," he faces a series of dilemmas:
- How to raise consciousness about the continent's travails without feeding African resentments that Westerners only report bad news;
- Signaling that despite his European baggage, the pope "gets" Africa — for example, that his crusade against a Western "dictatorship of relativism" is largely moot here, since the grass-roots reality is not secularism but rather vibrant religious pluralism;
- Keeping lines of communication open with his local hosts without glossing over a serious "democratic deficit" in their regimes;
- Encouraging the vibrancy of African Catholicism without turning a blind eye to its growing pains — including a sometimes shallow sense of Catholic identity and the lingering tug of tribal and regional divisions.
In moves that may further aggravate Jewish/Catholic tensions, a Vatican envoy has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will not enter Israel’s main Holocaust museum during his May 8-15 trip to the Holy Land, though he will stop at a memorial connected to the site, and the pope has also sent a letter to the world’s Catholic bishops defending his controversial decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist prelates, including one who has denied the Holocaust.
Effectively stealing some thunder from his own forthcoming encyclical on social themes, Pope Benedict XVI insisted last week that underneath the current global economic crisis lurks greed, rooted in original sin, and that reform of global economic architecture will be of little use without the conversion of individual hearts.
The head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X said his order is not ready to accept the Second Vatican Council, which the Vatican has set as a condition for full reintegration in the church.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Swiss-based society, said Vatican II has brought "only losses" among Catholic priests and the faithful. He made the remarks in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Courrier published Feb. 26.
Pope Benedict XVI recently lifted the excommunications of Bishop Fellay and three other bishops, who were ordained against papal orders in 1988, as a step toward dialogue and reconciliation. The Vatican later said the society would have to recognize the teachings of Vatican II and of post-conciliar popes to be in full communion.
In the interview, Bishop Fellay was asked if the society was ready to meet the condition of accepting the council.
The dissident theologian Father Hans Kung has criticized Pope Benedict XVI as isolated and unable to take creative steps to deal with a series of internal church questions, including priestly celibacy and birth control.
Father Kung said the pope's recent lifting of the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops illustrated the pontiff's desire for a smaller and purer church, and his inability to make necessary reforms.
"The church risks becoming a sect. Many Catholics no longer expect anything from this pope. It's very sad," Father Kung said in an interview published by the French newspaper Le Monde Feb. 24.
His remarks drew a sharp comment from the dean of the College of Cardinals, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who told Vatican Radio he felt "wounded" when he read the interview.
"Fraternal criticism has always been possible in the church, from the times of Sts. Peter and Paul. Bitter criticism, on the other hand, especially when it's so broad, does not contribute to the unity of the church, for which Pope Benedict is working so hard," Cardinal Sodano said.