History will Judge the Pope: A Dying Man and the Weakness of an Era:
by Fr. Attah Anthony Agbali
The Pope is dying leaving behind an institution that he headed for twenty-six years a very long years in deed, without any cry for a change of guard. The Western world referenced the institution of the Papacy as an emblem of Western hegemony no doubt. The Catholic Church continues to be burdened by the errors of the past that was not rectified during this papacy. It is kind of Dr. Ashimuneze Heanacho to have raised this issue while respectful of a dying man. However, this time calls for a reevaluation of the papacy during the reign of Pope John Paul II. As much as I, in the eralier dialogue (553) noted the contributions of this Pope to the African polity and Church structure, I am not oblivious of some of the contradictions of his tenure. However, I am of the view that more than anything else his many positive contributions need to be affirmed because it offers a building block for his successors engagement with African social and ecclesial issues. I believe that this Pope has done well as a non-Italian, and an unexpected choice of the second conclave of 1978.
Many contradictions exists no doubt, but many positive choices and changes were made with this Pope. Cardinal Arinze's popularity, in spite of his assumed conservatism, was due to the choice this Pope made of making him a Cardinal and a Curia appointee. No doubt, through Cardinals Arinze and Bernadin, the African genius has been shown to the world. The mere fact that Cardinal Arinze's name is making the round among the possible Papal candidates represent a factual choice of this Pope. The choice of this Pope to pursue inculturation theology as a way of cultural devolution, in spite of the present state of not too formidable practical impact is a testimony to the legacy of this Pope for good or for bad. For instance, when many African Bishops decided it was not time for the convvokation of an African Synod or Council within the Church, this Pope resurrected the idea of an African synod. Therefore, the issue of cultural apostasy that we talk about is not to be hinged upon the Pope. We must critically look at the African ecclesial structures who often want to play the mind of Rome, and thread subtly when they have been given the choices. Do you blame the Pope that apart from the Zairean rite, a fruit of the dynamic efforts of the late Cardinal Malula to Africanize Christianity, many African Bishops have refused to take up the challenge of inculturation to make their theology and worship more in tune with the African spirit and offering it as a local variant of the encompassing Roman model. One can also state that some cosmetic changes are going on today in African Catholic Churches. Changes that are occuring within the worship experiences and religious life of African Catholics are sanctioning African ideals, attuning them to the tradition of the Catholic faith.
In the area of hegemonic domination the Church has had the coloration of being white and western. I alluded to this fact in the earlier piece, it continue to represent a cultural ideal, and at times, in spite of its appeal to a global ideology the Catholic Church of the West remain suspicious of non-Western Catholics, including members of the hierarchy of these local churches. Bishops plead for fund to run their dioceses, and sometime, in spite of the ideal of Catholicism many of them are abused, even if they do not understand it. I was once in a conference of the National Association of Catholic Theology Students (NACATHS) in 1991, when then Archbishop Olubunmi Anthony Okogie (now a Cardinal) related his experiences in an American church, abused by an American priest. Yet Cardinal Okogie was a man of national renowned, an icon in Nigeria. The blackness of the African Priest often place him in third class, even within a church that pronounces justices, appeal for peace, and pretend to be culturally inclusive. Many African priests studying or ministering in Europe and America have different tales of their degradation. I can talk of my own experience regarding a priest in Detroit, whom I was residing with, who bring in different minors and camp them in the Rectory for months treated me like thrash, and afraid that I know his escapade, denounced me to the chancery, and when I voiced what I was experiencing they raced me out of the rectory and began to target me, using dehumanizing tactics. They were afraid that I was a dangerous priest, who is capable of costing them million of dollars. For the fear of dollar they had no qualms attempting to dehumanize me as a person, and of course my own priesthood was considered marginal to this predator pedophile priest, who continue to function in the poor inner city parish, and is held as a model of priestly ideal, as the Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, send seminarians each summer for him to help mentor. I know, of course the trash that he is. Therefore, I understand that the lack of love, the malicious use of Church authority to predate and haunt people, including priests considered as critical, were used under the very eye of the Church ran by this Pope. However, to be honest to the Pope, it is the trash of the American Bishop, with a unique culture molded by Capitalist instincts, not different from the corporate culture that denies access to racial and gendered minorities that is at stake here. Can the Pope possible put all the bishops under surveillance and force them to do their job and be human and be less ambitious.
Many of us has been hurt by the very church that we love, and dedicate our lives for. Sometimes, we cannot say it because no one understands. Sometimes, even one close friends and families begin to see a renegade when such issues are raised, without understanding the true fact of the matter. As honest Catholics, many were raised to defend the "Mother Church," and thus such apologetic stance as sometimes come to haunt and hurt the Church. Thus, it was significant when this Pope noted to the American Bishop during an Ad Limina visit to the Vatican that they should be open to the laity. The Church response more to issues of media publicity than they respond to the cogent needs of their faithful. It is when the later begins to hurt that they do window dressing. Yes, we hear the Church is both divine and human, and thus in its human dimension and character, it displays weakness and frailty, maybe as the impending death of the Pope now demystify his "occultic appeal." In death we become all one and our human condition radiates who we truly are, in spite of the accoutrement of power. The Pope is human, and the Church is human, but above all the Church subscribes to a doctrine of infallibity when it deals with issues of morals and faith at the ideal level, and often it does not pertain to practice. As a priest I know this, but must people do not separate the baby and the bath water. Therefore, in their imagination, the Church is all divine, and so any manifestation of infidelity draws media and popular attention, when these dirt was there all the while to see. Therefore, it is the popular imagination that attributes to the Church some of the things that it is not, and most times the Church integrates these popular ideals to order its image. The American Bishop's zero-tolerance policy of priests' sex abuse scandal remain a significant instance of such modality.
In highlighting the positive aspects of the Pope's efforts I noted the low points of his Papacy, he has to deal with that in life and in death, as critical observers will always point this out. Now, his legacy is there but he can neither change the opinion regarding what he did and did not do. It seems late. But he seemed to have tried. Now, however, his celebrity should not shield him from his faults or lack lustre efforts, he remain responsible for these before God and society.
Dr. Heanacho pointed out that sometimes to come we engage in the personal choices, that someone like me has made to belong and be a part of the Catholic heritage. In his words:
we should examine the cultural apostasy represented by
the choice you and other Africans make for Roman
rather than African religious accent.
I have no regret with the choices I have made. I have had to ensure the contradictions of my choice as it becomes apparent on a diurnal and nocturnal basis. There is only a partial truism to the the fact that my choice has allowed me to be a part of cultural apostasy. I disagree somewhat. Being a part of such totalizing institution has brought out the struggles for self assertion and cultural self-identity. Therefore, it has helped me to research my own cultural idioms and norms more, writing about them, and attempting a synculturation of these with modernity. There is no way that Africans like me can return to an original purist state of cultural isolation, we are hybridized beings essentially in the world we live in today. It must be noted that at no point has any African cultural group lived in such cultural isolation, rather they have continually integrated novel paradigms into their cultural repertoire over time through cultural adaptations necessitated by intermarriages, conquests, commerce, migrations and other such events that occassioned interactions, and evolving cultural shifts. Thus, in that case, are the people of Nkpologu in the Awka area of Igboland, who moved from around Idah in Igalaland many years past in precolonial times Igala or Ibo? ( a fact mentioned to me by Professor Wilberforce Umenzinwa, of the University of Jos, Nigeria, in 1994). They have changed to integrate within their enviroment while keeping their historical epistemology of origin and cultural pathway. Thus cultural identity is an ongoing negotiation that is driven by contexts and self-interests. I was never born into the matrix of precolonial Igala society, thus I grew up within the change environment of contact, so I am an Igala person, shaped by events before me, Christianity was implicated in that contact situation. Therefore, to go back to a purist Igala society of 1832 prior to European advent is somewhat impossible for me, as I would still be committing what you call cultural apostasy in terms of the era from which I would be regressing into time past. Therefore, being an African Catholic does not make me necessarily a cultural apostate, rather it has helped me to value, through its alienating forces and contradictions, both heritage, in spite of the hegemonic dominance and hijacking of the Catholic idiom under a western vest.
In terms of this present Pope John Paul II, his encouragement of inculturation theology has helped me to focus on the issues of culture and my heritage as an African, Nigerian, and Igala and bring this to the center of discourse. Therefore, from a mere ideological imagining of inculturation, this has become part of my lifeworld, and necessitated my articulation of my Igala personhood, thus by so doing enhancing the place of Igala cultural configuration in global consciousness.
Having made those remarks, I need to state that some of the grey areas of this papacy is not strange to me. I will produce some instances, which validate your assumption of the corporate and hegemonic privileging of the structure of the Catholic Church, as not much different from GM, or some of the contradictions of some of its practices as it affect third world nations.
The former President of Haiti, himself a former priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in his book, "In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti (New York: Orbis, 1991) notes:
"I fear often that those in the hierarchy of the Church who believe in compromise are willing to compromise in one direction only, and that is with power. They do not want to compromise with those of us in the Church who have a different vision of the Church's role."
Often, we fear that the cold behavior of our older brothers is dictated by another man, a man who lives in another country, a country not his own, a man who wears long white robes, and stands, an equal, beside the Church's beloved yellow and white banner. You know whicm man I mean, brothers and sisters.
"That man in Rome is our brother in Jesus Christ. he is a brother to the poor of Haiti, and those of us in the Little Church. I wish hyim well in his life, and in his sacred mission. I wish him well and honor him and love him as I love all my fellow men and women. But he does not love me in return, brothers and sisters, and we all know that love comes closes to achieving its ideal- which is Jesus' love for his Church and his Church's love for Jesus- when it is requited.
"Now, the question that I have puzzled over, as I have tried to lead my life over the past three years, has been, why does this man not love me? Why does he not cherish and protect me as I would do him? Why does he wish to exile me from the loving heart of our sacred family, the Church? How can my brother not love me when I love him so purely and passionately, as I do my family, our Church?
"Because I have suffered so much for so long in order to keep that profound love pure, I cry out now like a rejected lover. I suffer bnow the deep pangs of unrequited love. This is a private pain, the pain of the son banished from his mother's hearth...for me it is not an easy subject to put my pen to. Let it pass.
"Let us turn the light on the face of the man who lives in Rome, my beloved brother. Who is this man, in truth? What is my family, the family he heads, the church, in truth? Let us be honest, let us be clear minded....From him at the center extends all powers within the Church throughout the world, that is true. Yet I must remind myself, and my little lamp helps me understand, he is just a man, a man doing a job."
"Just a man doing a job. Now I can see him more clearly. What is the paradigm for the Pope in the secular world today? I ask myself. Why, it's all too clear. Of course. All the shadows around him, the smoke and mirrors, fall away. Who is this man? He is the Chief executive officer of a multinational corporation. And what is the job of a chief executive of a multinational corporation? To protect the international interests of the company, to ensure its continued existence, to safeguard its officers from dissension among its rank-and-file employees and shareholders and to providem at the furthest reach of the corporation, a product that a consumer will purchase. His job is to ensure efficiency, continuity, and profit, while maintaining the status quo within the company. I think this is a fair job description for the man who lives in Rome, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Yet he and his colleagues have a secret weapon that no corporate officers can boast; United Fruit never had this weapon, nor did Gulf+Western or the National City Bank. That weapon is belief, the long established belief of the people- the final consumer- in the word of the Church. The man in Rome and his colleagues are able to wrap company policy up in the proud yellow and white of the Church. They can pronounce and prectify efficiency action using the beautiful words of the Bible. They can dress up their officers and parade them around the Church as men of God. They can take the policies of United Fruit, Gulf+Western and the National City Bank, all multinational corporations like the Church- with the same interests- and package them along with their own policies, and call that package truth."
Further, I concede to the fact that the points raised by Dr. Heanacho has been greatly documented by the former Jesuit and controversial writer, Malachi Martin in his book- The Keys of This Blood: The Struggle for World Dominion Between Pope John Paul II, Mickhail Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West (New York: Touchstone, 1990). It is true that while Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, was idolized as an icon of the Polish Solidarity movement, other liberation theologians, especially the Sadinista priests in Nicaragua were sidelined and maligned. Fr. Ernesto Cardenal who was among the dignitaries lined to welcome the Pope was denigrated by the Pope's refusal to have a handshake with him during his 1983 Papal visit to Nicaragua. This fact indicated double standard, because such pressure was not brought to bear upon the American Jesuit priest who was in congress. a fact that might indicate double standard. Actually, it was the presusre deriving from the Nicaraguan priests involvement in politics that led to the pressure from above that denied American Jesuit priest, Fr. Robert Drinan congressman from Massachusset from recontesting for congress in 1981(see Malachi Martin, The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, pp. 49, 117).
In all of these, like anything else the Papacy of Pope John Paul II meet with critical challenges, but he tried to handle it as best as he could. However, that does not exonerate the essential questions of history and the judgment of consciousness. History will surely judge the Pope.