At his Sound of Sheer Silence blog, Michael Boyle notes that Cardinal Robert Sarah is the new darling of the Catholic right, particularly in the U.S. As Michael notes, Sarah was flown across the Atlantic to deliver a bombastic speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in May. He used his platform there to attack marriage equality and to mount the by now very tired accusation that the West is engaging in "ideological colonization" of Africa by appealing to African nations to respect the rights of women and LGBTQ people.
Since it's perfectly obvious to anyone who reads Cardinal Sarah's comments about these and other issues over a period of time that he is receiving his talking points about them from American right-wing political and religious groups, one wonders why Cardinal Sarah imagines it's someone else who is being "colonized" by Western interest groups — and not himself. Who paid for Cardinal Sarah's trip across the Atlantic, one wonders? Who's promoting him in the media networks of the Catholic right, pushing him forward as a desirable successor to the current pope — as a kind of counter pope even now, who challenges Pope Francis on one issue after another from his Vatican bully pulpit? These are questions that very much need to be asked, it seems to me.
Michael notes that he has been hanging on by his fingernails in a church in which pastoral leaders of the ilk of Cardinal Sarah can be lionized while Pope Francis talks. And talks some more.
Michael has been hoping that Pope Francis represents a viable alternative to the captivity of the church — through its top leaders — to the political and religious right in Europe and North America. But as people like Sarah (or Thomas Wenski of Miami) continue to represent the public face of the church to many people around the world while Francis talks, and talks again, but never curbs the Sarahs or Wenskis of the church, Michael is beginning to have his doubts that he can keep hanging on.
Orlando shook me, and forced me to confront the reality that these are not simply intellectual disagreements--these positions have consequences. It's one thing to be a part of a church that says stuff you disagree with, but it is another thing entirely when you think that the positions being taken in your name are doing affirmative harm to people. . . . .
All of that is bad, but the second dimension to this is that I am beginning to suspect that my plan of waiting for the world to change in the Catholic Church is an exercise in self-delusion. When I see people like Cardinal Sarah, or Archbishop Wenski, I see that the bulk of the institution is steadfastly against anything like the kinds of moves for which I am holding out hope. Pope Francis seems either unable, or unwilling, to break through this wall. I told myself that I could only stay a Catholic if I had a good faith believe that there was the possibility of significant reform. I'm not sure how long I can maintain that good faith belief.
It is another thing entirely when you think that the positions being taken in your name are doing affirmative harm to people: yes, that seems correct to me. The positions promoted by Cardinal Sarah, which in some respects carried the day at the Synod on the Family as Sarah and other African and Asian bishops, in collusion with leading North American ones, blocked all discussion of pastoral approach to LGBTQ people, do active and affirmative harm to real human beings who happen to be LGBTQ. Anyone who remains connected to an ecclesiastical system doing such harm to a targeted minority group — in the name of all Catholics everywhere — surely has a moral obligation to ask how long he/she can collude with the attacks, with the harm.
Simple moral decency demands such self-reflection. As Pope Francis talks. And talks again.