The Catholic Church has made headline news in Canada these past weeks. Sadly, it was focused on the resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish, Nova Scotia upon being charged with possession and importation of child pornography. The news story was not only deeply depressing, but it renewed and increased the hurt, anger, and distrust that many Catholics in North America have with the hierarchical leadership in our Church. It’s becoming harder and harder to not only defend our faith, but to defend our Church. Many have given up trying.
Yet, there is hope in our Church. I’ve been following the Africa Synod of Bishops taking place in Rome from October 4 – 25. There are some interesting ideas coming from the African bishops, ideas that reflect our own Marianist vision in many ways. Unfortunately, the words of these progressively thinking Bishops, speaking out for justice and peace, aren’t making even a small blip in our secular media.
I’ve been reading the coverage of John L. Allen Jr., the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the USA. There is a complete index of his articles online. On October 14 he wrote, “As the Synod of Bishops for Africa reaches its midway point, its key themes seem to include empowering women (both in the broader society and the church), a perceived Western assault on the African family, globalization and its discontents (especially chronic poverty), and dialogue with Islam.”
Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi was described as one of the ‘big guns’ in the African church. Njue asserted that “Africa continues to thirst for good governance”. Bad governance is too often the reality “where unchecked hunger for power has led to impunity, corruption, manipulation of people, and other similar social political evils.” (Cardinal Njue celebrated the opening mass for our Nairobi meeting. We were all moved with his affirmation of the role of the laity in the Church.)
Archbishop John Onaiyeken of Abuja, Nigeria spoke of irresponsible actions of multinational oil companies in Africa. He also observed how it was time for Catholic/Islamic relations to go beyond dialogue to concrete collaboration in issues of peace and justice.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the general secretary of the synod stated “The synod fathers have heard the cry of women…women need to be recognized in society as well as in the church as active members.” Fellow Ghanaian, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, gave an interview to John L. Allen Jr. where he posed this intriguing idea. Instead of a synod of bishops, why not a “pastoral congress of the universal church.”? The full interview is well worth reading, especially for his concrete strategies for integrating women into Church leadership within the present structures. These include actively promoting the education and formation of women, and promoting “women’s affairs” diocesan offices.
Those who attended our International Meeting in Nairobi, were deeply moved by the faith and energy of our sisters and brothers in Africa. Pope Benedict, in his opening address to the Synod, called Africa an “immense spiritual lung” and praised the “extraordinary human wealth” of Africa. I echo his sentiments, and smile at the images of African drums and Congolese choirs in St. Peter’s Basillica!