by Abimbola Adelakun
When Pope Benedict XVI resigned recently, the Italian media did not allow him to ride off on a horse into the sunset like a cowboy hero in western films; his last days were marred by various scandalous reports — one of which says that there is a network of homosexuals within the church.
My teacher told me that in ancient times, when the Greeks made a work of art they considered too good, they would deliberately introduce a fault into it. They believed that if it was too comely, it could become a symbol of perfection and men, only too aware of their own moral failings, would crave its flawlessness. And in the process, would worship it.
He used that anecdote to illustrate how Greek artists’ thinking mirrored God’s. When God made man, He saw his handiwork was good. And in order for man’s perfection not to degenerate to self-worship, God introduced a fault in him: sexual desires. Without it, the professor said, we would have been perfect beings.
I am reminded of this yarn as the College of Cardinals converges to elect a new Pope for the Catholic Church. There is little doubt that sex and sexuality issues would be a major factor in the process. An organisation known by the uncanny acronym, SNAP, representing sexual abuse victims is poised to strike if any of the Cardinals who have a history of shielding abusive priests, or have made insensitive comments about sexual abuses is elected. The Vatican insists SNAP’s policing of their choice will not move them but I doubt they will ignore the prospect of being embarrassed. Over the years, the church itself has considerably played down the legend of the Holy Spirit choosing a Pope. We have come to know that the ancestor making the ethereal sounds under the Oro masquerader costume is just another human being. We also know that the Cardinals are men of like passions who will be selecting a Pope based on their human judgment. It is a political process that cannot ignore their existential challenges. The Telegraph reports that SNAP claims that out of the 12 Cardinals qualified to be Pope, only two – one from Austria and one from Philippines — do not have these skeletons struggling to jump out of the cupboard. The dossiers on the Cardinals were allegedly leaked and these watchdogs boast that they have moles in the Vatican ready to leak more files if the Cardinals should make the “wrong” choice.
When Pope Benedict XVI resigned recently, the Italian media did not allow him to ride off on a horse into the sunset like a cowboy hero in western films; his last days were marred by various scandalous reports — one of which says that there is a network of homosexuals within the church. Newspapers claimed that the accusation of sexual scandals was too much for the Pope to bear and so he resigned. Some reports estimate that there are at least 6,000 priests that have been accused of sexual predation but have been protected from prosecution by the church itself. Just this week, an Archdiocese in LA, California, United States, announced it would be paying $10m compensation to sex abuse victims.
As the church is being confronted with various cases of sexual abuses, various questions keep recurring to interrogate the positioning of the church in the 21st Century. It is not for nothing that contemporary Catholics, according to a research, routinely ignore the doctrines of the Church regarding masturbation, divorce, contraceptives, condoms (for preventing STI), gender equality and gay rights. One question is the retention of the celibacy clause; another is their various anti-women policies. And, if you have been paying attention to the US media, there are also issues around whether the Cardinals will look outside of Europe for a Pope. Possible suggestions are from the US; Brazil, with its huge Catholic population has not been given a chance and perhaps, from Africa.
Celibacy is one of the concerns that will go nowhere for now. It would not only appear defeatist for the church to revoke it, it will hurt their priests who have faithfully sacrificed their sexual passions. Besides, celibacy is not the biggest culprit in cases of sexual predation. Evangelical pastors, some of who are even polygamous, have fallen below standards too. In the US, when an evangelical (married) pastor rants about gays, you know it’s only a matter of time before he is found to have been involved in gay sex.
The Church has consistently argued that celibacy is a superior way of achieving grace. And that it perfectly mirrors the practice in heaven, where people do not marry or have children. Also, it frees priests from familial obligations and in countries like the US, the benefits include no fear of child support and/or alimony. Celibacy, by the way, is not peculiar to Catholicism. There are marginal religions in parts of the world where people live in monasteries and devote their lives to a sex-free existence in pursuit of some higher goals.
The issue of women is still very dicey. A majority of the US Catholics believe there should be female priests and deacons. The efforts of the US Catholic activists at toppling patriarchal traditions that decreed the man would be the head and the woman, the body, are commendable. They kick against the logic that says since Jesus chose only men, women cannot play certain roles by arguing that since Jesus chose fishermen and tax collectors, why is the church spreading its nets across other occupations, some of which didn’t exist 2,000 years ago? I will wager that the same reason the women might not go far is same for why there will be no Black Pope for those who fantasise it: tradition.
To choose a Black Pope will be too radical a move for a conservative organisation that will do all it takes to preserve the hegemonic power that has brought it this far. The Church, like most things European, was created by and for the White (read: Caucasian) male. A Black Pope is almost unthinkable; too hard a sell to parts of Europe where a Black person still remains an exotic object and a curiosity on a slightly higher plane than a lowland gorilla. And since, over the years we have been conditioned to think of God as both White and male, a Black Pope will be a paradigmatic distortion of sorts. For now, we can still console ourselves that at least, we have Cardinals up there who share our hue. “The People’s Scholar”, Dr. Boyce Watkins, would always advise Black folks who want a radical change in White institutions, “You don’t go to other folks’ houses and start moving the furniture around.”
Editor’s note: This piece was written hours before Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected the new pope.
Read the piece on PUNCH
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