The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday shook the world. One of the people who were surprised by the resignation is secretary general for the Episcopal Conference of Malawi Father George Buleya. He discusses the issue with Bright Mhango.
When the Pope announced his resignation on Monday, you were surprised. Have you recovered from the shock?
I was surprised but not shocked because the law of the Church provides for the resignation of a Pope only that it is nearly 600 years that a Pope resigned in the name of Gregory XII in 1415. Now that the news of the resignation has sunk in me, I see myself respecting and admiring the Pope more and more. It’s a great sign and witness of humility and indeed holiness of life for a leader in that position to voluntarily step aside and pave way for another leader.
So, how will you remember him?
The Church and indeed all people of good will remember him as a humble and holy man, extraordinarily intelligent and a great teacher.
Now with Pope Benedict XVI out of the way, do you expect the church to mellow on its conservative tradition and address longstanding concerns on issues such as contraception, homosexuals and women in priesthood?
The teaching of the Catholic Church rests on truths that are spelled out in the Scriptures and the tradition handed down in the Church from the Apostolic times. The teaching of the Church on such issues as contraception, homosexuals and priesthood is already laid down and can easily be accessed in such doctrinal documents as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Such teachings, I repeat, are not based on personalities nor are they based on what is socially acceptable for the public; they are based on their relationship to the objective truth about humanity and its relationship with God, the Creator. The Catholic Church will therefore continue to ‘conserve’ these teachings and traditions.
With respect to succession, do you think it is now time for an African to head the church?
The leadership of the Catholic Church is not determined on regional or continental basis; it is based on who the Holy Spirit through the Cardinals present at the conclave find to be suitable for the Church at a given time – African or not.
What chances does somebody from outside Europe have to take over from Pope Benedict XVI?
It’s not about ‘chances’ but, anyway, Cardinals from outside Europe are just as eligible as those from within Europe.
Historically, popes have always come from Europe. If we assume that God guides the process of choosing the pope, does this suggest that it is only Europeans He finds suitable for the position?
If you talk about recent history, then, yes, most of the Popes have come from Europe but it’s not true that Popes have always come from Europe. Don’t forget that the Catholic Church dates back to the time of Jesus Christ and the first Pope, St. Peter, the Apostle, was not from Europe; he was from Bethsaida in Galilee in present day Israel. There have been 265 Popes in succession since then and particularly in the first six centuries of Christianity, there were Popes from areas other than Europe as well including Africa! Pope Aniceto (153 to 168 AD) was from Syria, Pope Vittore (189 to 199I AD) was from Africa, Pope Gelasio I (492 to 496 AD) was from Africa, Pope Thedore I (642 to 649 AD) was from Jerusalem.
How does it feel to belong to the global Catholic Church but live with the reality that you will probably never see one of your own from Africa lead the church?
Africans have already served as leaders of the Catholic Church before and in any case it is not about where the leader comes from that matters for we are all children of God.