Friday, January 25, 2013

Betty Clermont on Africa and the Vatican's Desire for Enhanced Global Political Clout



As an important footnote to what I posted yesterday about the dominant influence of American white evangelicals in the homophobic politics now roiling Uganda, I want to point to Betty Clermont's recent article on the Vatican and Africa at Open Tabernacle. Betty provides critically important information about why Benedict and the Vatican are as intently interested in Africa as are right-wing American evangelicals.


As Betty notes, Africa is strongly on the radar screen of Western economic elites because its burgeoning population represents a new, compelling market for the West, and because it has rich oil and gas fields that Western countries do not wish to see outside Western control. And so she finds it interesting that Pope Benedict has repeatedly sought to depict Africa as the "lung" of the planet, whose spiritual resources have the potential to check unbridled secularism in the developed sectors of the world. 

Her opening paragraphs set out her thesis about Benedict's and the Vatican's interest in the continent:

"A true world political authority" was called for by Pope Benedict XVI during his Dec. 3, 2012, remarks to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, citing his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The same council had "called for the establishment of a 'central world bank' to regulate the global financial industry and the international money supply as a step toward the world authority envisioned by…Pope Benedict." The council’s president is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. 
Africa is the "lung" of the Catholic Church, according to the pontiff, the only area experiencing real growth in membership and priests. Unfortunately for the population of sub-Saharan Africa, this means they will get fewer condoms to fight the spread of AIDS, beefed-up assaults on women's rights and health, a powerful ally for homophobic governments and a Trojan horse of seemingly benign rhetoric and charity masking increased exploitation of the continent’s labor and natural resources.

Betty's interested, in particular, in the attempt of Benedict to argue (in his encyclical Caritatis in Veritate) for "a social order that at last conforms to the moral order," an argument which, as she notes, at least one observer has seen as a pitch for having the Vatican supplant the United Nations as a global political authority.

Which is, interestingly, not at all far from the theocratic vision of the American religious right that is now driving the anti-gay movement in places like Uganda, according to the testimony of witnesses like Rev. Kapya Kaoma, whom I cited in my posting yesterday about Rogers Ross Williams's documentary re: the situation in Uganda . . . . Economic aspiration and the desire for social control by Western elites dressed up in pseudo-religious language, that is to say.

Theological reflection never takes place in a socioeconomic void, does it? Particularly not when its ultimate aspirations are theocratic and when its thinking about the role of religious institutions in politics is heavily influenced by economic elites.

The graphic is an AP photo of Benedict departing Rome for Africa in 2009.

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