The Vatican lacks a "sufficient sensitivity to African Churches”
Apr 17, 2005
Also on Oct. 21, I was asked to sit in on a CNN interview with Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa. It was perhaps the third or fourth time I've had an extended talk with him. A Franciscan, Napier comes across as a quiet, moderate man with impressive pastoral instincts.
(National Catholic Reporter, Oct 23 2003) Napier said bluntly that to some extent, the Vatican lacks a "sufficient sensitivity to African churches." He said the pope's trips to Africa have helped in that regard, since every time he comes, Vatican officials are forced to learn something about Africa. Still, Napier said, some understand African realities primarily through "regulations and documents."
He offered the example of Liturgiam Authenticam, which in his view "seemed to ignore that not long before, at the African Synod, inculturation was seen as a positive project." Napier said this is true "not just for Africa, but everywhere."
In Liturgicam Authenticam, he said, "that awareness isn't quite there." He called for "some development along these lines."
Napier made the interesting observation that the way the aging pope has passed on some of his responsibilities to others may be "an education in collegiality," the idea that other officials too could allow lower levels of authority to make decisions on their own.
As for a future pontificate, Napier said he felt it should be a synthesis of Paul VI and John Paul II, focused on evangelization - especially getting those who already believe to live their faith at a much deeper level. The key indicators of how to go about this, he said, were given in the continental synods such as those on Africa and Asia.
What about a Third World pope?
"I think it's possible," he said.
As far as Africa is concerned, however, Napier noted that the African Church is very young, and its leaders do not have some of the diplomatic and international expertise that has traditionally been considered a prerequisite to be pope.
He didn't dismiss the idea of a pope from the Roman Curia, but said it would probably need to be a man with significant pastoral experience.
Napier was asked whether the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa was beckoning the church to reconsider its position on condoms.
"I don't think so, quite honestly," he said. "We don't change our message because there's a particular crisis at the present time."
Napier argued that the real root of the AIDS crisis is irresponsible sexual behavior, which will not be solved by the wider availability of condoms. He noted that Uganda has achieved a massive drop in its rate of new infections, from 39 percent to 6 percent, based on the message that behavior must change.
Napier said pushing condoms to address AIDS would be analogous to a mother telling her little boy not to eat the cookies that are on the kitchen counter, but then telling him to use a stepladder if he plans to swipe them anyway.
"A mother who said that would be ridiculous," Napier said.
On celibacy, Napier said he wasn't sure it would help the priest shortage, since other Christian churches with a married clergy are sometimes "worse off than we are." Moreover, he said, in the developing world it can be hard enough for churches to financially support a celibate minister, let alone a man with a family.
At the same time, however, Napier said that some married deacons are "wonderful guys, terrific resources for the church," and suggested that he would be open to a conversation about ordination of such men.
Napier rejected the idea of women priests.
"It's very difficult to argue for a break in tradition that's 2,000 years old," he said.
What about the idea of another council like Vatican II?
"It's hard to imagine with the number of bishops we have today," he said. "But nothing is impossible if the will is there."
If such a meeting were to take place, he said, it should not be structured like synods and other Vatican gatherings today, which tend to feature "input, input, input," without much reaction or debate.