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in Rome shows up Vatican hypocrisy
May 10, 2011
You have to wonder how that conversation went. Vatican
official: "We appreciate that he is under a European Union
(EU) travel ban but as we-re not part of the EU and in terms
of treaty undertakings between Italy and the Holy See, you have
to secure him safe transit through Rome."
Italian official: "For Robert Mugabe? The Robert
Mugabe who rails against the corrupting, foreign influence of the
West? That Robert Mugabe wants to attend the beatification of Pope
John Paul II?"
Vatican official: "Yes."
Italian official: "And you want a man credibly
accused of the commission of untold crimes against humanity as an
honoured guest at a ceremony memorialising sainthood? You want to
enforce treaty commitments between ourselves on behalf of him?"
Vatican official: "That-s right."
Italian official: "I see. And will you be looking
to secure safe transit for Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad too?"
Of course, my fictional Italian official works in
Silvio Berlusconi-s administration, so attributing incredulity
to him may be misplaced. Still, someone has to appreciate the farcical
nature of the Zimbabwean president-s attendance at the Vatican
ceremony designed to send Pope John Paul II on his way to sainthood.
to tell whom it puts in a poorer light, whose principles seem most
easily expended. Is it Mugabe, who at the slightest provocation
blames all Zimbabwe-s ills on nefarious foreign influence
and yet, given half the chance, comes to pay court at this most
baroque, high-European of spectacles? The same Mugabe, who styles
himself a liberation fighter, yet revels in this most inegalitarian
of ceremonies - the making of a saint so that unworthy mortals might
have yet another intercessory with God?
My money is on the official leadership of the Catholic
Church. In inviting and honouring Mugabe, a man who has visited
immeasurable suffering and misery on his people, they betray the
principles of the church. But they also betray the best legacy of
the man they would make saint, because John Paul II most merits
elevation and acclaim not for any mystical miracles in metaphysical
form, but for the courage and fortitude he displayed, in very corporeal
form, in resisting his native Poland-s repressive communist
regime and demonstrating solidarity with workers and ordinary people.
Certainly, it can be understood if Zimbabweans don-t
now expect too much from the Catholic Church-s leadership.
In 2007, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, who in his outspoken
and courageous resistance to tyranny in Zimbabwe represented the
very best traditions of the Catholic Church, was hastily demoted
after being caught on camera in a Central Intelligence Operation
sting having sexual relations with a consenting adult woman. Contrast
this with the Catholic leadership-s general reluctance to
definitively address the many credible allegations of sexual assaults
of minors by its priests.
Most egregiously, the Vatican recalled Ncube and
effectively gagged him, telling him to abstain from any forthright
criticism of the Zimbabwean regime. Ncube spurned offers to settle
him in Italy or Australia where he would be less meddlesome to Zanu
(PF), choosing instead to stay in Zimbabwe as a parish priest.
The Catholic Church-s treatment of Ncube is
reminiscent of its treatment of those who espoused liberation theology
in South America when it was mostly under military dictatorship.
This was a period in the church-s history that does it credit
for the heroism of the liberation theologians, several who gave
their lives, but also reflects shamefully on the official leadership
of the church, which tried to silence these theologians.
Pope John Paul II, who fought tyranny in his home
country but appeared to find it less unconscionable elsewhere, is
on record as having said in criticism of liberation theology that
"this conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary,
as the subversive of Nazareth does not tally with the church-s
The recent Vatican ceremony, with a man such as
Mugabe as honoured guest, with its thrones and ornate silk frocks,
its echoes of the ancien régime, makes one think that the
church certainly should be hoping that the revolution does not await
I don-t pretend to any special insight into
a divine higher power. Still I would confidently bet that the example
of Ncube, flawed but heroic, is far more pleasing than the Vatican-s
the director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
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