WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

What many U.S. Roman Catholics "don't get" about a Third World Pope!

U.S. Catholics (and everyone else) following the coming Papal conclave need to understand something.

The selection of an African or Latin American pope - as historical and exhilarating as that might be - would not necessarily mean a more LIBERAL pope when its comes to the issues that some (or many) U.S. Catholics (and certainly the secular media) obsess about: The church bans on artificial contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage; women priests; etc. In fact, many Third World cardinals are arguably MORE conservative / traditional with regard to these issues.

(In the next conclave, it's easy to imagine the ultra-conservative Italian / Curial cardinals drifting to an African or Latin American cardinal if they can't secure sufficient voters for their OWN favored candidate. Double-victory: They'd be getting a traditionalist on faith & morals AND the praise of the world for electing a Third World Pope!)

As proof of my argument about very traditional, Third Worlders, just look at the global split within the world Anglican Communion (Episcopalians here in the United States). We've seen a remarkable development in recent years: Some more traditional (often Southern, mainly white) Episcopal congregations seeking to put themselves under the jurisdiction of an African Anglican bishop or archbishop expressly to avoid the trends in the U.S. Episcopal church: Recognition of gay marriage and openly gay clergy; women bishops; etc. Some of this has also sent some traditional Episcopal laity and clergy to the Roman Catholic Church.

But still, it would appear many average U.S. Catholics - who don't follow this stuff! - not to mention secular media interviewers - don't get it. They seem to believe an African or other Third World Pope might re-open the discussion on some of these issues. If the Papal Conclave selects a Third World Pope, I fear these folks are in for a rude awakening.

Bluntly, clergy from many African countries have to deal with more immediate concerns: Sectarian violence, civil war, hunger or even famine, and the resulting impact of all these things on the family unit. Women priests? Are you kidding? (Not to mention that JPII may have closed the door on that issue for generations, with his declaration that the Church simply cannot ordain women to the priesthood; not "will not" but "cannot".)

And with the exception of South Africa - with ruling African National Congress' roots in the secular political Left - homosexuality is simply condemned by authorities, secular and religious.

So why the disconnect? Easy. Given African-Americans' overwhelming support for the Democratic Party, liberal activist Black (Protestant) clergy, and all the rest, people just use Black, as in "African-American" - and "African" interchangeably. Big difference.

A Third World pope would probably be very liberal (in terms of the U.S. political spectrum) on social justice issues: Preferential option for the poor, obligation of wealthy countries to assist the poor ones, etc. In that sense, a pope from Africa or Latin America might drive traditional Catholics (and the conservative secular media more than happy to quote Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II on sexual morality) nuts.

And given the lower age of consent in many countries, and the perception that the United States, in particular, thrives on litigation, and/or has a vendetta against the Church because of its unrelenting opposition to artificial contraception and abortion, a Third Worlder in the Chair of Peter might be less inclined to see the clergy sexual abuse crisis as a priority.

Indeed, when I interviewed Cameroon's Cardinal Tumi a few months ago - broaching the topic of clergy sexual abuse - he kept coming back to how a bishop had to defend his priests, and how God was more forgiving than human beings. He did not want to address the issue of guilty priests being transferred from one parish to another -- or even outside a diocese -- leading to the victimization of other young people.

A Third Worlder looks at these issues through entirely different lens. Will the civil authorities in a country with an authoritarian or dictatorial government move against the Church - often the only, or one of the few, truly independent institutions in a particular country - by accusing its priests of sexual misconduct?

Could a cardinal from the Third World secretly entertain some progressive thoughts on some of the issues dear to more liberal Catholics in the United States and Europe? Maybe not impossible. God knows for sure.

My only point: It's more likely a European (or possible Canadian) cardinal would.

Evidence: The late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Archbishop of Milan), long favored by Catholic progressives for pope, famously said in the final interview before his death that the Church was "200 years out of date". He earlier had indicated the use of condoms might be morally acceptable in SOME cases.

Indeed, it's on that final point, that I could see some limited movement by a future Pope, European or Third World: Sanctioning the use of condoms for a husband or wife in which the partner has AIDS (even though that would obviously cut the procreative component of sex).

Even Cardinal Tumi conceded that possibility during an interview with Deutsche Presse Agentur (German news agency), and we discussed it further when he came to Delaware.

You can hear a few of my recent interviews about Pope Benedict's resignation and the Papal transition, beginning with CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey...

Audio Here

Posted at 7:58am on February 14, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Feb 14, 2013 9:08am
Allan: its not just the African part of the Catholic Church that's conservative, but in general, Christian churches in Africa are generally more conservative than their American or European counterparts.

An example: In the United Methodist Church, every four years the worldwide UM church has a General Conference. The majority of European and American church leaders and delegates favor allowing the ordination of homosexual ministers. What has kept this from passing is that the African part of the UM church (as it is with Lutherans and other Protestant denominations) are growing as the US and Eureopean churches are shrinking. So the Africans' number of delegates has grown as the US and European number of delegates has shrunk, thus the African votes have so far kept the United Methodist Church from changing that position. A similar thing is also happening in South America too.

The growth of the Christian Church, at least in the Protestant part of the church, seems to be in the Third World. It seems strange in a sense, that many churches from Africa and other parts of the Third World now send missionaries here to America as they see our land as a ministry opportunity to bring folks to Christ. Of course we're still sending missionaries overseas too, but it's just a bit weird as America has been the big solid stronghold nation of the Christian Church, but that they now see the spiritual decline of our nation too and are sending folks here to proclaim Christ to us.

So your point about an African Bishop becoming the next Pontiff and being a conservative Catholic is probably spot on.

Allan Loudell
Thu, Feb 14, 2013 9:17am
Absolutely, Mike. That's why I brought up the Anglican/Episcopal example. And, similarly, as you said, in many Protestant denominations, you have that clash between North America/Europe and Africa. Latin America, I think, is more of a mixed bag.

But my point is a lot of average folks in the pews don't necessarily know all this (reflected by montages of comments I've heard of ordinary Catholics on network news).

Allan Loudell

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 10:19am
The media rarely cover religion anymore. When they do, it’s to highlight “hot button” issues, mostly involving sexuality and women’s “rights.” The possibility of a Third World pope has them drooling. Like when a dog drools, the brain is not fully engaged.

The example of what has happened in the Anglican Church is key in this situation. In the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. itself, the gay agenda is driving the Church’s agenda. Not so in Africa. That continent gave us martyrs in Uganda who chose death over saying yes to the sexual demands of a local king. Now, to be told the deaths were of no value stings the faithful.
The media would be shocked to observe a new pope whose foremost concern is the spiritual renewal of the baptized and a resolution of the deep financial plight of the world’s poor and little concern for sexual news headlines.

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 12:52pm

I wonder what Mr. Loudell thinks of the recent buzz that the next Pope should come from Latin America since the fastest growing segment of Catholics is in Latin America.

Isn't it racist to pick somebody based on skin color, or to assert that Latin Americans can only follow somebody with their own skin color?

Allan Loudell
Thu, Feb 14, 2013 1:55pm

With the Church's demographic shift to the Global South, undoubtedly some of the cardinals attending that conclave will at least be subliminally affected by a desire to signal to the world the Church's openness to a non-European as the next Bishop of Rome. I wouldn't call it racism; I'd call it a sensitivity to globalism; after all, the word "catholic" means "universal".

That said, other factors may loom bigger: For example, it would be unthinkable to choose a Pope who didn't have a mastery of many different languages. Practically speaking, it would be tough for a Pope to function without a working knowledge of Italian (although one could see this for the first time in centuries, if a non-European were to achieve the Papacy). After all, the Pope is the Pope by virtue of being the Bishop of Rome.

And, yes the Cardinal-electors presumably would seek a demonstrated spiritual man with pastoral sensibilities, and some level of charisma.

But hovering above much of this: Perceptions of a cardinal's ideological/ecclesiastical positions on the varying issues confronting the Church. As I indicated in my initial posting above, if ultra-conservative Italian and other cardinal-electors - for example - can't get the votes for the cardinal they favor on critical issues, they might go with a non-European they perceive as being in similar alignment. Horse-trading is not unheard of.

Some observers have noted that a conclave tends to choose a Pope who's the opposite of his predecessor in other ways, to correct the excesses of the previous occupant.

For example, after the long pontificate of John Paul II - who became Pope at the age of 58 (the youngest Pope so elected in 132 years!) - they were more inclined to favor an older Pope who wouldn't reign as long, perhaps a transitional Pope. John Paul II: Extrovert, Benedict XVI: Introvert.

Benedict XVI is perceived as not having been a very good Church administrator; perhaps his successor will be someone with demonstrable corporate CEO skills. And so on...

Sorry you asked me a question?

Allan Loudell

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 8:09pm
Wow! Too bad electing a president isn't more involved the way electing a pope is. If people actually considered qualifications rather than stage presence, we may actually get somebody who could actually run the country!

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 4:43pm
You may have sold me on the 3rd World Pope. Keep in mind, that the last time the Pope's office was given to an outsider, it didn't work out too well. Google Avignon.

What the Church needs is a moral conservative and a liberal anti-corporatist. Both set them up as the moral arbitrator of the two wrongs in our society today. Credibility is the Catholics' biggest problem. Here it was the abuse of protecting pedophiles. In Africa and the Third World, it is the perception that the Church won't stand up against well-endowed Corporations. This perception that the Church says one thing but does another, is dooming religion worldwide.

A Third World Pope would correct that.

Mike from Delaware
Fri, Feb 15, 2013 7:58pm
As I mentioned above, the average person in the Christian Church today is not a middle-class, white American. The epicenter of Christianity is South and East of the US: Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. This can be difficult for us as Americans to accept, but it's the truth. This growth is happening in the United Methodist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, and Baptist Churches as well as the Catholic churches, probably the other denominations as well.

So as these Third World branches of the various Christian denominations grow, as their European and American branches shrivel, it is only right, proper, and definitely NOT racist to have more of the church leadership come from the Third World, be it a Pope, or a Lutheran, United Methodist Bishop, or Assembly of God or Baptist church elder to become the leader of that specific denomination. In fact it would be racist and arrogant if it didn't happen.

We in America like to think only we in America can achieve things. Our way is always best, etc. That isn't true. We all are equal in Christ. Christ died on the Cross for all. So let us American Christians have a humble heart and get out of the way and allow God to lead his church. God has a plan.

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 9:34am
Amen, Mike. I can confirm through my travels and overseas contacts that what you're saying is definitely true.

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