by Playthell Benjamin
Cardinals Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Peter Turkson of Ghana After Five Centuries Not one African Pope?
The eyes of the world were focused on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican where the Cardinals, the princes of the Catholic Church, had assembled to pick the next Pope. When the white smoke belched from the chimney on Wednesday, announcing the selection of the successor to Benedict XIV, the first Pope in 600 years to retire in office, many people in the Third world hoped that the color of the smoke would not be a precursor of the color of the New Pope. Please God not another old pale, stale, white male they prayed.
As the massive crowd roared in anticipation of the announcement, many observers prayed the Cardinals would select a Pope from sub-Sahara Africa, and the name of the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson has banded about as a possible choice. Cardinal Turkson is no ordinary Prince of the Church; his stature among his peers is such that he has been dubbed “The Social conscience of the Church.” And a case could be made that the Cardinal should have been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize by virtue of the critical role he played in preventing the outbreak of armed conflict after a contested national election in Ghana – a situation that has led to armed conflict and mass murder in other African countries.
At 64 years old Cardinal Turkson looks resplendent in his clerical costume; he is described by those who know him as an active man who jogs, plays the guitar and sings. He is also a respected intellectual who holds several degrees – one from a New York Seminary – and speaks English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew and Greek. He lives in Rome and heads a Vatican Commission. And he is also a favorite of Pope Benedict, whose retirement opened the opportunity for Turkson to become Pope. The hope for a black Pope was ginned up by the fact that ABC NEWS, who covered the entire proceeding, featured an Afro-America Archbishop as commentator on the proceedings.
However despite his outstanding qualifications, as a candidate for the Papacy Cardinal Turkson have pros and cons. For instance, while he is an advocate for the poor he also upholds the backward and silly position the Catholic Church takes on condom use; which is banned. This ban contributes to the population explosion, with all its attendant ills, and also promotes Aids infection in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
In the advance countries Catholics just ignore these kinds of absurd positions their church is taking, which is why church membership is shrinking in those countries. And it is reflected in lower population growth rates and a decline in HIV infection. The most dramatic areas of growth in the church are taking place in the developing countries.
That’s why if the Catholic Church is going to continue to grow they must concentrate their evangelical efforts in the Third World. And it stands to reason that those efforts will be greatly abetted if they chose a Pope from this region of the world, the Southern Hemisphere, as they define that section of the church. Since 40% of church members reside in Latin America, there is talk of a Brazilian Pope, Cardinal Sherer, but since he is of German background he is not a suitable candidate if the church really wants to repent for its centuries of racist sins that resulted in genocide against peoples of color.
This is no less true of the choice they made, an Italian from Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglia, a Jesuit Priest, who was roundly applauded by the massive crowd standing in the rain, shall henceforth be known as Pope Francis. He is said to be a modest man from humble origins. But given the bloody history of the European settlers in Argentina, especially their systematic extermination of the African population and genocidal dispossession of the indigenous peoples, an Argentinian of European lineage, does not address the sins of this European church against the peoples of color in the Americas. That he may be a good, even saintly, man does not nullify this fact.
To address this criminal stain on the history of the Catholic Church a Pope from Latin America must be of Native American stock, a survivor of the mass murders and massive land theft that have resulted in the extinction of many indigenous peoples in the Americas. And because these historic crimes were led by Iberian Catholics under the banner of the cross, with the blessings of priests who traveled with the Conquistadors under the direction of the Popes, the contemporary Catholic Church must bear the burden of that blood stained history. Hence appointing a Latin American Pope of European origin – a descendant of the invaders – is yet another slap in the face to the indigenes.
Those who attempt to argue that these crimes were committed by European Kings, hence the church cannot be held responsible are abysmally ignorant of history. This whole gruesome chapter in human history was initiated by the Catholic Popes. It begins at the dawn of the Age of Discovery, the period spanning which Europeans, led by Spain and Portugal, began to explore the world beyond Europe.
In a series of decrees issued by Popes known as “Papal Bulls” the catholic papacy called for the enslavement of non-European peoples and the confiscation of the lands and wealth. The first of these was the Papal Bull of 1452, Dum Diversas, issued by Pope Nicholas V, which granted the Portuguese King Alphonse V the papal authority to reduce “Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers” to slavery. This included Arabs, Africans, Asians and Native Americans.
Pope Nicholas went even further in the Papal Bull of 1455, Romanus Pontifex, which gave the “Right to Conquest” to Affonso V and clearly spells out what was implied in the Bull of 1452. This decree gave the Portuguese king the following rights:
‘’to invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions and all movable and immovable goods whatever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”
The Papal Bull of 1493, sought to address the growing rivalry between the two major Catholic powers, Spain and Portugal, for possession of the new lands they were discovering. Issued the year after Columbus’ successful voyage to the America’s, when a new world had suddenly come into the picture, the Pope decided to mediate between the two Catholic seafaring nations by dividing the new lands between them.
Known to history as “The Line of Demarcation,” Pope Alexander VI drew a line through a map of the known world and gave the King of Portugal Brazil, the East and West coast of Africa, and the eastern and southern coasts of Asia and India. That’s why Brazilians speak Portuguese and there are East Indians with Portuguese surnames like Denish De Sousa.
In recognition of Christopher Columbus’s voyage the Pope awarded all of the lands west of the line to Spain, that’s why Spanish is spoken everywhere in Latin America except Brazil. As a result of agreements with the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies –the Padroado for Portugal and the Patronato for Spain – the catholic clergy was under the direction of the Portuguese and Spanish crown in the New world colonies and served the needs of the conquistadors who raped, murdered and pillaged the native peoples of color all over the world with the blessings of the Pope.
Thus the destruction of the cultures and societies of the Americas and Africa, the pillaging of their wealth, and the slaughter of millions of innocent souls commenced with papal blessings. The cruelty of the Spaniards resulted in such a high death rate all over the Americas – from pestilence and murder – among the Indigenous populations that it became clear if things continued unabated they would soon die out.
It was this fear that motivated Bartholomew de la Casas, a Spanish priest of the Dominican order, to take action. From his first visit to the New World on Columbus’ third voyage in 1498, Las Casas was appalled by the Spanish treatment of the Native Americans. He had imagined himself coming to a paradise where the Spanish and “Indians” were working together to build a new Christian community. What he witnessed was horrifying and he was certain it was anti-Christian and evil.
He returned to Spain and began a long campaign for humane Christian treatment of the Native Americans. By 1510 he had been ordained a Priest and he began to plead with the Spanish kings to turn to African for slave labor because the Indians were dying out from the rigors of the Spanish slave system. Many were committing suicide to escape it.
On the other hand Las Casas believed the African was strong enough to survive the arduous labors of slavery. Hence it as De Las Casas, who became the Dominican Bishop of Cuba in 1541, was the mid-wife to the African Slave trade; a crime against the African people that financed the industrial revolution in Europe, laid the basis for the great wealth of the USA, and devastated vast areas of Africa. It is a crime against humanity of such a magnitude that African peoples on both sides of the Atlantic are still suffering from the results five centuries later.
Bishop La Casas in his Study. Midwife to the Slave Trade
Hence the Catholic Church could have made a real gesture of penitence for its myriad crimes against African peoples by electing a Pope from black Africa, one of the fastest growing segments of the Catholic Church. Nigerian Church leaders are hardcore conservatives on church doctrine, and they think they are right. In fact, with 20 million believers and growing, they brag about the fact that while western countries have empty churches and struggle to find young priest, Nigerian churches are overflowing and they are producing so many priests they are exporting them to other countries.
Then there is the fact that the biggest church in the world is theBasilica of Our Lady Of Peace, in the Ivory Coast. This stunning architectural marvel rising out of the African bush is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a testimony to the passion African Catholics feel for the church. All of these factors provide a compelling case for the election of an African Pope.
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. The World’s Largest Cathedral
There are two African Cardinals that are eligible and qualified to become Pope: Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Peter Appiah Turkson of Ghana. By elevating one of them to the papacy the church would begin to pay long overdue penitence Catholics owe African peoples for the role their church played in launching the Slave Trade and the establishment of slavery in the Americas.
Entire Catholic orders owned slaves and priest kept harems of African and Indian woman, often producing bastard off spring who inherited the status of their enslaved mothers. With the selection of Pope Francis – whose Italian ancestors were recruited to Argentina in a racist eugenicist inspired scheme to “Europeanize” the Argentinian populace, bleaching out the Afro-Indio stain – chances are that neither of the African Cardinals will ever be elected Pope; which would be a tragedy for a church preaching righteousness. It all depends on how long the 76 year old Pope Francis lives.
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.