Cardinal Peter Turkson
By Ange Ngu Thomas
In two days time, 115 Cardinals will begin the most secretive voting ritual on earth to select a new catholic pope. Only 11 of those electors will be from Africa and though theoretically they can elect any of the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, chances are the next Pope will come from one of the 115 secretive voters. Chances that the successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XV1 will come from Africa are slim but there is no reason why we should not “campaign” for one
We need an African Pope for one simple reason, there hasn’t been one in modern times and apart from Southern America, Catholicism is growing fastest in Africa. Catholicism is practically dying out in Europe (and Italy) that has supplied most of the past 265 popes. Their churches are empty, some of their priests like molesting young boys and girls and their money managing ethics are very problematic.
This time around, the demographic configuration which, perhaps, weighs strongly in favour of an African Pope, can hardly be ignored. Come to think of it, in the eight years of Pope Benedict’s reign alone, the number of Catholic faithful’s in Africa with 16 percent of the world’s Catholics jumped from 45 million in 1970 to 176 million in 2012 according to Vatican records. And that is not all. While the number of priests in North America and Europe has slumped to an all time low during the same period, in Africa they grew by 16 percent. This growth in both the congregation and priesthood has prompted many, like me, to jump to the conclusion that perhaps, this is the “Obama” moment of the church. It is time the Catholic church also elects its own Barrack Obama!
In spite of this demographic argument that favours the election of an African Pope, it is still unlikely that the College of Cardinals, who will soon start their conclave in Rome, will elect a black pope because of the extremely secretive method of voting. Though open campaigning is banned, the voting is a highly politicized and not entirely religious ritual. Elections in themselves are a political creation. If the selection of a new Pope had to be “spiritual” as Catholic faithful’s will want us to believe, the cardinals will probably lock themselves in the chapel until an “immaculate conception” type angel appears and “anoints” a new Pope. In real life, that will not and cannot happen so the cardinals need to behave like us mortals and vote for their next leader.
Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson is the continents’ best hope of getting a Pope but a lot of issues will stand in his way. The 64 year old Cardinal Turkson speaks seven languages fluently. Pope John Paul II appointed him cardinal in 2003, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the president of the pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2009 – a power wielding position he still holds today. Even before his surprise resignation last month, Cardinal Turkson in a 2009 interview on the prospects of a black pope remarked “anyone who allows themselves to be ordained a priest must also be prepared to ascend to the Seat of Saint Peter. It is part of the overall package” he said. Now a favourite for the position, Turkson is not so sure an African MUST be the next pope. Turkson hurt his chances when he released an anti moslem video but crucially, he could have fattaly hurt his chances when shortly after Pope Benedic resigned, he admitted he was up for the job. This is unacceptable in the catholic church that frowns on open campaigning.
The best man win probably get elected but why can’t the best “woman?” Well, the Catholic Church is still unclear about the position of women as Bishops and even as priests. My feminists sisters will call that gender discrimination.
St Peter’s Square in Rome. eaat of the Vatican
A few hours after Pope Benedict announced his resignation, another African Cardinal Adrien Sarr from Senegal argued that “I’ve been wondering about such a question since so many years now…but is the Church ready to have a pope from Africa? Is the entire world ready to accept a pope from Africa?”
While some prelates are hopeful, others like Archbishop Stephen Brislin, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, have little hopes of having an African pope at the helm of the Catholic Church. He believes that there is no realistic hope of an African pope.
“The chances are really not that great, although we do have great cardinals such as Turkson. He is an excellent candidate,” Brislin told South African radio, adding that “In the end, it’s all about finding the best person, someone who has the energy necessary for this demanding job.”
In spite of this pessimistic views, Professor Naunihal Singh, who teaches African politics at the Notre Dame University said, “The election of Turkson by the College of Cardinals, most of whom still come from Europe, would be clear acknowledgment that the leadership of the church has to reflect the shifting centre of gravity” The past of the catholic church is in Europe, and its future is in Africa and Asia, he added.
“This is an immensely teachable moment. Once, Pope Alexander VI used his authority to help divide the world for colonial conquest. Now the Church is considering a man for the papacy who was born a subject of the British colony of the Gold Coast. There is a clear sense of the wheel turning around” Professor Naunihal said explains.
The popularity of cardinal Turkson notwithstanding, there are however odds that cloud his election beyond his control. For example, it is widely believed that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, finished second to Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, and it may cause problems if Latin America with 19 cardinals in the Conclave of cardinals and 42 percent of the world’s catholic population, is passed over a second time.
Looks like the world is really not ready yet but we in Africa think this mindset needs to change. The secretive voting cardinals will not be reading this missive but I carry the collective conscience of the continent in “demanding” they vote Cardinal Turkson.