Heavy criticism of the West imposing secular values on Africa in exchange for aid emerged as a theme from the continent’s bishops, as the Vatican’s synod on the family kicks off its first week.
From press conferences to individual interviews, multiple prelates voiced concern over what Pope Francis has termed “ideological colonization," in which Western nations have made the acceptance of legislature favoring gay rights and “marriage" contingent on receiving financial aid.
“It’s one thing that the African bishops are very, very conscious of," Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa told journalists Oct. 7.
“What we are talking about is when countries are told unless you pass certain legislation, you’re not going to get aid from the governments or aid agencies," he said, pointing to the danger of “political colonization" being replaced “by a different kind of colonization."
This year’s Synod on the Family, which runs from Oct. 4-25, is the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world."
Cardinal Napier held up the example of the Obama administration, specifically the President’s visit to Kenya in July. During his two-day trip to the country Obama spoke out about the importance of gay rights, despite requests from Kenya’s leaders to not address the issue. Homosexual acts are illegal in Kenya, as well as several other African countries. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State “repeated much the same message" to Africa as well, he added.
In an Oct. 8 interview with CNA, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu and president of the Ugandan Episcopal Conference called the act “criminal," and said ideologies must never be attached to receiving aid, which is meant to save lives.
“The issue of homosexuality should not be linked with saying ‘if you don’t accept this we won’t help you,’ that is criminal, I call it criminal," he said.
“Aid should not be linked with ideological acceptance or rejection. Aid is to save human life. If you link it to ideology it becomes contradictory…it is self-defeating."
Human beings must be helped without any conditions attached, Archbishop Odama said, adding that the survival of human life “is paramount," and that the family exists precisely to promote human life.
“Any other society, any other groups elsewhere should exist to promote life and protect life, so if it intends to limit the life to be protected or to be accepted to a certain way of thinking then we run short," he said.
“So any issue against human life is an issue against humanity in general."
In an Oct. 8 press briefing with journalists, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana lamented how some European countries pressured Africa to accept legislation favoring gay “marriage" after Pope Francis made his 2013 “Who am I to judge?" comment on the way back from Rio de Janiero in reference gay individuals authentically seeking Christ.
The comment, he said, “had huge repercussions in our country (Ghana)," and prompted one European country – which he identified as Britain – “to tell us that if we do not accept this gay marriages and the rest, they were not going to give us financial help."
“We found it rather very sad that some government could take the sovereignty of another country and say ‘if you don’t do this we won’t do that,’" he said, calling the move a “gross violation of what we call the sovereignty of countries."
Similarly, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M, archbishop of Addis Abeba in Ethiopia, told CNA Oct. 8 that Africa’s traditional values must be respected.
He recalled how when Benedict XVI visited Africa in 2011, the pontiff said that the African continent has “their own values you are in fact the spiritual lung of the world and you can become the spiritual lungs of the world because you have traditional values."
Protecting those values, such as life and the love and protection of it, is of utmost importance to the African bishops, the cardinal said, explaining that they have already spoken about these issues and “we will speak about them more I feel."
By Elise Harris