An African cardinal has said the election of a black Pope is a good possibility, just as the United Nations has had a black secretary-general and the United States now has a black president.
Responding to a question at a Vatican press conference today about whether the Catholic Church is ready for a black Pope, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana replied: “Why not?” He added the church has historically been “very successful” in electing “everyone” as pontiffs.
The cardinal referred to modern day precedents in high profile international positions, such as Kofi Annan chosen to be secretary-general of the United Nations, and now Barack Obama as president of the United States. “If God would wish to see a black man as a Pope, thanks be to God,” he said. Turkson, who is himself tipped as papabile (a possible candidate for the papacy), stressed that every priest, when ordained, should accept the possibility that he may become a bishop, cardinal, or a pontiff.
When also asked what he thought of the United States having its first African-American president, the cardinal said it wasn’t surprising given the values and tenets of the country, which stresses that all men are born with equal rights.
Turkson was speaking on the first working day of a three-week synod in Rome dedicated to Africa and the Church. Pope Benedict XVI opened the meeting Sunday with Mass in St. Peter’s basilica, saying Africa represents an “enormous spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”
But the Pope pointed out that the lung can be taken ill, and explained forthrightly how the continent is currently threatened by two dangerous pathologies. The first, he said, is “practical materialism, combined with relativist and nihilist thinking" which, he added, is already widespread in the West.
The Pope said there was “absolutely no doubt” that developed countries have “exported and continues to export its spiritual toxic waste that contaminates the peoples of other continents, in particular those of Africa.” In this sense, he added, “colonialism which is over at a political level, has never really entirely come to an end”.
The second 'virus' that could hit Africa, he said, was religious fundamentalism, mixed with political and economic interests. He referred to how certain religious groups are spreading through Africa in God's name, but which follow “a logic that is opposed to divine logic, that is, teaching and practicing not love and respect for freedom, but intolerance and violence.”
At this morning’s opening session, the Pope broke with precedent to offer some further reflections of his own, stressing the importance of seeing Africa’s problems — particularly reconciliation, justice, and peace — in the light of God. “Our analyses are deficient,” he warned, “if we do not realise that behind the injustice of corruption, and all such things, is an unjust heart, a closure towards God and thus a falsification of the fundamental relationship upon which all other relationships are founded.”
The scourge of HIV/AIDS is also likely to be discussed during the gathering, which brings together 239 bishops from across the continent. In his press conference this morning, Turkson, who is in charge of given an account of the synod to the public, reiterated the church’s support of abstinence and fidelity as opposed to condoms in the prevention of the spread of the disease.
He underlined one reason why he believes condoms should not be used. “Let’s speak plainly,” he said. “We’re talking about a factory product where there are different qualities. There are condoms which arrive in Ghana which burst during sex and so they give the person a false sense of security, and which rather facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
As well as advocating abstinence and fidelity as the best way to combat the disease, the cardinal also proposed spending resources not on the promotion and production of condoms but rather on subsidizing antiretro-viral drugs which are largely unavailable in Africa because of their cost. Anti-retrovirals are used to boost the immune system of HIV sufferers and to suppress the virus in the blood.
“Africa would be happier if the resources were directed there,” he said.
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