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Monday, July 17, 2017

Followup to the African Crisis

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Followup to the African Crisis
The clock is still ticking in the West African country of Nigeria, where Pope Francis has threatened to suspend a divinis any and every priest incardinated in Ahiara--even the entire diocese, if he has to--who persists by mid-July in resisting the episcopal appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke.  Tribal tensions are to blame for the fact that many members of the clergy there don’t want to recognize this particular bishop, or so it is alleged.  The priests themselves have indicated, in no uncertain terms, that there are other factors in play.  But let us accept for the sake of the argument that the Supreme Pontiff believes that an attenuated form of racism is behind the aggravated turmoil, since that is the reason he has given for the drastic steps being taken in addressing the situation. 

Amoris Laetitia, arguably the highest-profile output of this same Holy Father, identifies its own premises right off the bat.  In Number 3, we find the curious yet ubiquitous Bergoglian contention that “time is greater than space” explained in the following terms:

I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral, or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.  Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching, or drawing certain consequences (sic) from it.  . . . Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture, and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.

In support of this evaluation, Pope Francis quotes no less an authority than himself as having asserted, as far back as the year before, that “cultures are quite diverse, and every general principle . . . needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.”  So, sub luce Laetitiae, how should we expect this Holy See to handle the difficulties which a group of priests on a continent with its own distinct “traditions and local needs” happens to be having right now?

If “each country or region . . . can seek solutions better suited to its culture,” how can Pope Francis exclude Nigeria?  If “not every discussion . . . needs to be settled by interventions” from Rome, then why is he putting the proverbial china-shop bull to shame?  One would think that the letter demanded from these priests, coercing on behalf of the Holy Father a personal and pre-worded apology for failing to accept the bishop he appointed, might take into account the “mitigating factors and situations” that may very well be involved here (AL, no. 301).  What if the threatened clerics “know full well” the rule that popes get to do the appointing of bishops, and yet are having “great difficulty in understanding its ‘inherent values’”?

Surely, the Holy Father wouldn’t want these sincere Nigerians to risk committing “further sin” by complying with what he is requiring of them at the moment, and on pain of losing their faculties, no less.  Instead of imposing a draconian deadline or else, the Vatican ought to be sending wise pastors to meet with the men individually, in order to determine which of those involved in the dispute may be morally and canonically culpable for their lack of submission to papal authority, and which are simply realizing in conscience that flaunting Pope Francis is “for now . . . the most generous response which can be given to God, and  . . . (could even be)  what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity” (AL, no. 303) of legitimately cultural limitations.  

How far removed is the Amoris scenario from that which is actually taking place in Africa not very long after the document’s vaunted promulgation?  The ‘god of surprises’ can be awfully predictable, no?  Time is turning out to be greater than the ever-expanding territory under German spiritual suzerainty, but sadly nowhere else. 

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Last modified on Monday, July 17, 2017
Helen M. Weir

Helen M. Weir is a freelance writer who holds a Master's Degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  She belongs to the Militia Immaculatae movement of Total Marian Consecration founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Hero of Auschwitz.