Although the Vatican is a landlocked sovereign state, its culture is very much Italian. The Italian society is riddled with feuds, popes and vendettas. But it is formal and there are rules. Chief among these are silence, privacy and shrewdness. The rules don’t change whether you are from the seemingly friendlier sun-baked south or rigid north.
However, it was surprising to note the Italians’ nonchalant reaction to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. It felt like “the family” – the heaviest influence on the Italian society- had unanimously agreed that his decision to resign was indeed the best way forward. After all, they have been comparing him to Pope John Paul II since he stepped into office and he just did not measure up. Pope Benedict reigned in a world where both his priests and congregation were, and still are, faced with increasing moral dilemmas. A great Pope will need more than prayers to cope.
In 2009, a report on the conflict between church doctrine and fighting AIDS effectively, was published in the book “Das möge Gott verhüten”(“May God Prevent This”) by the former Nun Majella Lenzen, who reported that, “For 33 years, I have helped sick people until I was stigmatized as the ‘Condom Nun,’ because I –against the orders of the church –espoused contraceptives as a possibility for preemptive counteracting the immune deficiency AIDS.” She was pressured in the end to leave her order.
African Catholics hoping for some redeeming word from Pope Benedict XVI on his first trip to the continent in 2009 did not receive it. Strict forbiddance of contraceptives continues. The Pope could revoke it but he hasn’t. He, though not an initiator, is responsible, by omission, for the fact that in regions threatened with AIDS Catholics abstain from the use of condoms as a protection out of fear of punishment for their sins.
The African continent has not been spared the child molester scandals either. The church proceeded to transfer its child abuse criminals not only from parish to parish, but to Africa in droves. In May 2010, the first reports about the intense trafficking of child-molesting priests from Europe and the USA to Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique and the Congo became known. The head of the South African Bishops Conference complained that the continent had been sent priests who were “wolves wearing sheepskin.”
The First Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Dr. Ocampo asked, “If, in a worldwide coercive sect, hundreds of thousands of children were sexually abused and the crimes covered up and prosecution called off at the behest of the sect leader, this criminal organization and its leader would be put on trial. Can this be any different merely because this organization calls itself a ‘church”’and the command to be silent about the crimes does not come from a mafia boss, but is pronounced by the pope? this ‘looking the other way’ is no longer admissible.”
When I had outstayed my welcome once at a dinner, my Italian friend opened the door wide and said, “Ciao!” Thus, I learned that “ciao,” such an innocuous word, is a dismissal and one must not tarry after receiving it.
Now as Pope Benedict XVI leaves to dedicate the rest of his life to prayer and the cross we say “Ciao!” because, as any leader, we expected him to be vigilant and responsible for his subordinates. In the sexual crimes, Benedict XVI was aware of a cover-up strategy and condoned it. We’ll let him settle into retirement but not without quoting the words of Jesus back to him “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mathew 18:6)
Guest writer Annex Achieng was born not so long ago -she’d like to believe-but it’s been decades. She started work as a journalist one day in 1997. Newsrooms then were smoking dens and typewriters were in vogue. The job was interesting but sometimes repetitive. To escape, temporarily, she applied for the much coveted Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) scholarship and won. She flew to England almost immediately via Israel. Annex recently moved to Italy where she writes and works as a foreign correspondent for the East African Newspaper. She considers herself rather fortunate to have met The Queen!