OPINION: What’s the viewpoint of Nigerian Catholics? – Tunji Ajibade

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Pope Francis

It’s known that the position taken and reforms carried out by Pope Francis at the Vatican fall in line with many of the demands and policies in Western countries, but some obviously run counter to the wishes of the majority of the congregation in Nigeria as well as the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In that case this writer asks: What is the viewpoint of the Catholic Church in Nigeria on some of the debates and the reforms? Or, does the church leadership in Nigeria concur with all the steps taken by the Vatican?

Disagreements thrive in most church denominations these days. It’s often about what the scripture says and what it doesn’t say. Some will even like to re-interpret what it does say in order to meet what they see as modern trends. Others believe though that the scripture remains the same no matter the stage in human experience. Orthodox churches are mostly involved in the debate; they did keep the controversy internal for years before it blew into the open. The Anglican Communion, Nigeria, for instance, has openly threatened to cut contacts with the mother church at Canterbury, England, over disagreements on some controversial issues. And after his latest trip around the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has this to say about the unity of the Anglican Church worldwide: “I think, realistically, we‘ve got to say that despite all efforts (to reconcile all views) there is a possibility that we will not hold together…” That leads to the Catholic Church worldwide and the debates that have been generated over controversial issues.

Since March, 2013, when he arrived office, Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, has taken some steps and made some comments that many consider to be earth-shaking, that’s going by the positions taken in the past by the Church on diverse issues. Pope Francis has sounded like he wants the Church to drop some of its conservative toga on certain fronts. He’s met with opposition on that- some think he’s going too far, others feel he hasn’t gone far enough. Now, religious matters are ever delicate. Emotions of adherents who see things differently are at stake and these days, adherents tend to disagree more than they agree on several issues. New lifestyle, new laws, human rights, discarded tradition are some of the causes, and the Catholic Church is not exempted. Debate about acceptance or rejection of homosexuals by the church, divorce, ordination of women as priest are also mentioned.

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When Pope Francis arrives the scene and makes his views publicly known more than his predecessors, he generates more debate. After a meeting of the Church’s Synod of Bishops in October, 2014, for instance, the Pope said the Catholic Church must help parents stand by their gay children, urging top church officials to pay attention to the “signs of the times” as well as listen to ordinary Catholics. That places him firmly within the reach of liberals who want the church to interpret the Bible in a way that fits occurrences such as gay marriage that church members confront in their family life. The Pope has also been quoted by the Argentine daily, La Nación, as saying, “We come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation… We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter.” That October meeting has since revealed that church opinion is divided as to making traditional teachings meet modern disposition and behaviour. Conservative cardinals in the church reject suggestions for acceptance of gay people, a thing that places them firmly on the opposite end of Pope Francis. But there’s more.

The Pope has said in another setting that divorced Catholics are often treated as if they have been excommunicated. On that, the National Catholic Reporter quoted him thus: “In the case of divorcées who have remarried, we posed the question: What do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: Will we allow them to go to Communion? Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated.” Then days before the last Christmas, the Pope hosted top Vatican staff, the Curia, and in his speech listed 15 “sicknesses and temptations” that he said ailed the body. The Curia, he said, “needs to change…a Curia that does not criticise itself, that does not bring itself up to date, that does not try to improve, is a sick body.” He mentioned greedy desires of the clergy to further their own careers, as well as others that live a double life, as part of the sickness.

Apart from these observations, Pope Francis has engaged in efforts to reform the church and make it more open. As an Argentinean, he doesn’t want Rome to exclusively decide on most issues; he has opened the door wider on priestly celibacy; he wants the Vatican Committee to reform Catholic Church finances and that it should aim for transparency and be more charitable. When protests were raised across the world about molestation of children by priests, Pope Francis took more decisive steps to allow priests so accused to face prosecution as against the practice of covering up that the Church has been accused of by some critics. He has said he is not satisfied with the quality of bishop nominees; he has also made it clear that he wants more humble priests, and less fancy titles. When the UN chose to focus its searchlight on the Church on some issues more than before, he reacted by promising to make the Church more responsive. In spite of this, some of the outcomes of debates have shown that although he is pope, Francis knows he cannot change all things so swiftly without causing disunity in the Church. But he has been praised for many of his reformist initiatives.

The question continues to be asked though if he’s doing enough on women’s rights by the UN officials, while some Church members think he has gone beyond known bounds on the same issue. It’s because some of the matters involved challenge the doctrine and the teaching of the Church, the same things that have pushed the Anglican Church to the brink. Pope Francis’s positions have always attracted reactions, even by the clergy in other nations. This writer thinks the Catholic Church in Nigeria has been more publicly silent on many of these issues than it ought to be; or should it be assumed that the church sends its stance in envelopes to the Vatican rather than comment on them publicly? One thinks however that on some of the issues that clearly run counter to the common disposition of its congregation in Nigeria, as well as the laws passed by the Nigerian government, the leadership of the Catholic Church in the country should be so openly clear that both members and non-members of the church are aware of its official position. Such openness or lack of it has consequences.

One possible outcome of being publicly silent can be gleaned from this comment by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush of The World Post: “The Pope’s statements on equality for gay people have even factored into the political rhetoric in the US, where Catholic lawmakers who voted in favour of a same-sex marriage bill in Illinois quoted his powerful phrase, ‘Who am I to judge?’ The US President, Barack Obama, also quoted Francis in a policy speech in December about income inequality and poverty. Likewise, centrist and left-of-centre politicians in Italy seeking immigration reform have referenced the Pope’s strong statements about caring for immigrants in their speeches.” And one more reason for the Catholic Church in Nigeria to speak up is because if the Pope makes his position known publicly, there is no reason why the leadership of the church in Nigeria should not publicly express how they see the same issues.

It’s known that the position taken and reforms carried out by Pope Francis at the Vatican fall in line with many of the demands and policies in Western countries, but some obviously run counter to the wishes of the majority of the congregation in Nigeria as well as the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In that case this writer asks: What is the viewpoint of the Catholic Church in Nigeria on some of the debates and the reforms? Or, does the church leadership in Nigeria concur with all the steps taken by the Vatican? Just as the Anglican Communion in Nigeria has always made its views openly clear to Canterbury, its Nigerian congregation, and the general public, the Catholic Church in Nigeria should send a clear message that the Vatican can’t miss, and one which leaves the generality of Nigerians with no doubts.

 

 

 

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