The African cardinal widely tipped to be the first black pope in modern history faced a firestorm of criticism last night after he laid the blame for clerical sex abuse crises at the feet of gay priests. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who comes from Ghana, told an American journalist that similar sex scandals would never convulse churches in Africa because the culture was inimical to homosexuality.
"African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency. Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind, are not countenanced in our society. So that cultural taboo, that tradition has been there. It has served to keep it out," said Cardinal Turkson.
That an African cardinal is a homophobe is no surprise (certainly not to those of us from the Anglican Communion who have had to put up with the macho breast beating and rantings of bishops such as Peter Akinola). But it may end up as being interesting. John Hooper, for THE OBSERVER, has this to say about what might happen if an African gets the nod in conclave.
Traditionally-minded Catholics might see one major change resulting from an African pope; the tradition of priestly celibacy.
Because of that tradition, combined with the contemporary intolerance of the laity towards unmarried relationships between priests and their "housekeepers", it would appear that the number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood has increased.
Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "A lot of gay young men brought up in Catholic households see the priesthood as a potential answer to the question: 'Why aren't you married yet?'"
In one of his earliest moves, pope Benedict barred sexually active homosexual men from studying for the priesthood. Yet, three years ago, using hidden cameras, the Italian news weekly Panorama captured priests in Rome visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.
That sort of thing would run into very vigorous opposition from the kind of no-nonsense African and Asian cardinals being touted as candidates for the throne of St Peter. Their attitude – of revulsion towards homosexuality – could, however, prompt a distinctly non-traditional reform. Time and again, bishops on visits to Rome have stressed that, in many African cultures, a man without a woman beyond a certain age incites suspicion and lacks authority. That puts a Catholic priest at a notable disadvantage to the local imam in many of the areas where Christianity is competing with Islam for ascendancy. And since that is one of the most important challenges facing the church, a black pope could put an end to priestly celibacy.
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