I know that there are a few people disappointed today that the new archbishop of Rome is not a Black man. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned, there was much speculation about Cardinal Peter Turkson becoming the new pontiff. This would election of Cardinal Peter Turkson would have been a first for the Catholic church and many were excited about the possibility. Yesterday, the white smoke was revealed and the Argentinean, Francis I is now the Pope.
I watched the media coverage last night and listened with great dismay at the constant refrain about what a change in direction Francis I represents for the Catholic church. The moment he was announced, like many, I went straight to google to learn more about him. With 85 million Catholics in North America alone, and 1.5 billion followers worldwide, the power and influence that Francis I will wield is immense. I quickly discovered that despite all of the rhetoric about Francis I being a reformer, the new boss is the same as the old boss. Pope Francis has been given the label of reformer because he prefers a simple lifestyle, which included refusing a car and taking the bus and spendin much time ministering to the poor. While his outreach to the poor is admirable, this does not mean we should ignore the problematic aspects of his ministry.
Francis I believes that same sex marriage “is a machination of the Father of Lies” and that a same sex couple adopting a child, is an act of discrimination against said child. He is anti-abortion and of course, anti-contraception. As far as I can see, this Pope is just as problematic as those who have gone before.
Had Cardinal Peter Turkson been elected the Bishop of Rome instead of Francis I, things would not have been much different. In AIDS ravaged Africa, Turkson is against the usage of condoms except in situations in where one half of a married couple is infected.
He even chastised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for calling on
African countries to end the criminalization of homosexuality:
[The Church pushes] for the rights of prisoners [and] the
rights of others, and the last thing we want to do is infringe upon the
rights of anyone. But when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an
alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights? [ Ban Ki-moon] needs to
recognize there’s a subtle distinction between morality and human
rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified. [source]
His record does not get any better when it comes to abortion. Turkson is right to suggest that western interest in Africa is often problematic and highly laced with either paternalism or outright colonialism.
Programs pushing contraception and abortion on the developing world under the guise of women’s health care and “reproductive rights” may have an underlying racist agenda, Cardinal Peter Turkson said.
“Since when did abortion become a health issue?” he asked, though he noted some argue that without proper access women will “seek it through the back door.”
If people are serious about women’s health care there are many more things needed than abortion and contraception, he said.
“Why not ask the Africans what they need? Why not ask the Asians what they need for women’s health?” he said.
“It’s not for people sitting here (in the West) to decide the issues for people in developing world are abortion and contraception. These are not health issues.” [source]
In the case of something like abortion however, it’s fair to say that Turkson’s allegiance to the Catholic Church makes his position suspect at best. Yes, women have many health concerns in Africa but it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest that reproductive health, which includes abortions and contraception are not important.
When you compare Tuckson with Francis I, it’s clear that there is little difference because they both strongly support church doctrine, which is both homophobic and anti-woman. Did the world really need another Black man in a position of power who is willing to parrot the party line? Tuckson may be a Black man but that does not mean he is worthy of support.
Homophobia and women’s health issues are not relegated to White people. Tuckson knows this very well but he continues to support oppressive forces which work to marginalize and negatively impact the lives of many people. Just because the face in power looks like yours, does not mean that they are on your side. Tuckson’s beliefs have already hurt many people and his ability to do harm, would have been magnified had he become the archbishop of Rome.
If we are to have a face in power that looks like us, what we need is not another puppet, but one committed to liberation and true social change. I don’t see anything to be disappointed about with Tuckson being passed over, anymore than I do with Francis being selected. If the institution itself remains unchanged it matters not who runs it.