Let’s Look South?

November 5, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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As I reported earlier, I am struggling to get my mind off the Vatican and the hierarchy. I thought about writing a blog about the collusion of the bishops of Maine in the defeat of same-sex marriage in that state earlier this week. But decided I would be attributing something to them that they probably did not earn. After all, same-sex marriage has been defeated every time it has come up for a vote anywhere in the US, even in states where there are many fewer Catholics than in Maine. In any case, writing about it all would have only reinforced my mania. 

So I’ve decided to make a sort of horizontal move–looking south and east, to what would seem to be the more inspiring leadership of the church in Africa. At the end of October, the Tablet, the “International Catholic Newspaper,” as it describes itself, reported that Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the archbishop of Cape Coast, in Ghana, had been appointed the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,    something that sounds like a  positive development.

The article, by Peter Mickens, describes Turkson as “gracious and accommodating,” with a popular touch. He also tells of his  having attempted to duck his appointment as archbishop of Cape Coast in 1992 because he wanted to finish his Ph.D. from the Biblicum in Rome. After all, as we  should realize, once appointed, he couldn’t defend his dissertation  because it would not be canonically possible for a bishop to be questioned by ecclesiastical subordinates(!)  Even without having completed the degree, Turkson is now more highly educated than any currently serving cardinal by virtue of having completed his course work.

Though rumored to be a rising star, the Ghanaian cardinal is said to have a refreshing lack of ecclesiastical ambition, as his (unsuccessful) attempt to duck the episcopacy shows. A previous Tablet article, about Turkson’s  lecture  at Cambridge University in 2007, “”What African Can Give the West,” shows him to be acutely aware of the need for greater solidarity between the church in Europe and in Africa. The article also addresses Turkson’s “papability” directly:

“If, in the fullness of time, the world sees its first African Pope since Gelasius I (492-496), and if that man were to be Cardinal Peter Turkson, we could expect a number of new trends: a renewal of missionary vigour, a drive for social justice, and a renewed openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”

But a concluding aside in the more recent Tablet article on Turkson’s  appointment as President of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace makes a person wonder:

“But will Cardinal Turkson and his views find a welcome in the Roman Curia? And, more importantly, will the cardinal be given full authority to shape policy in his own office? A sign that he may have trouble doing so was the announcement of the Justice and Peace office’s new secretary, or second in command, two days before his own appointment. This other new man, Bishop-elect Mario Toso SDB, is a former rector of the Pontifical Salesian University and considered a highly qualified scholar of the Church’s social teaching. But it is doubtful that, given the chronology of events, the cardinal was consulted about selecting this Italian confrère of Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB. One wonders who will really be in charge. ”

And what will be the cost of getting the guys in Rome to listen to him? Some of the most striking parts of Rembert Weakland’s recent memoir are  his reflections on the ways in which Pope Paul VI,  a basically good man in Weakland’s estimation, watered down the teachings of Vatican II so as to protect the Curia from feeling criticized. 

It’s really hard to stop obsessing about the Vatican.

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