By Synod Watch staff
In the most famous quote from last year’s Synod, Cardinal Kasper told Vaticanista Edward Pentin that the African bishops “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” His statement, caught on tape, caused a firestorm. Despite that, so far in the 2015 synod, it seems to some that he may get his wish.
In terms of the powerful committee of 10 that will draft the final Synod document, at least as it is now constituted, the input of the vibrant Church in Africa – and in the Global South in general – is badly underrepresented. Interestingly, it is the increasingly moribund Church in Europe has by far the most influence.
Here’s the breakdown:
Europe gets 2 cardinals, plus an archbishop, a bishop, and the leader of the largest religious order of men (the Jesuits).
North America gets a cardinal.
New Zealand (representing Australia too) gets a cardinal.
Asia gets a cardinal.
Latin America gets only an Archbishop (and one who runs a university, not a diocese at that).
Then there is Africa – which gets just a single bishop.
And while English, Italian and Spanish seem to be the key languages of this group, the African bishop is from French-speaking Gabon. (Perhaps he speaks one of those other languages too, but what does it mean that they didn’t choose a cardinal – or even an archbishop – to represent that continent?) Taking nothing away from his many accomplishments, and not to say that committee will ignore him, but some worry that in the universe of clerical hierarchy the Africans have been given the distinction of one of the lowest ranks, and some will certainly deduce from this that the committee and thus the synod, won’t have to listen “too much” to that lone African voice (probably most comfortable in French).
One need only read reports of Cardinal Napier’s time on the committee last year to see how an African cardinal was treated. Will the French-speaking Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan of Mouila be treated better?
This certainly has the potential to become an optics – if not an actual – problem. There is definitely the chance for the appearance of impropriety – which is the last thing this synod needs after so many accusations of machinations during the last one. This is especially true since the bishop from Africa has been so outspoken in his defense of the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and since some think this makes his among the minority perspectives on that committee.
Opinions aside, the fact, and real irony is this. The two-thirds of the world’s Catholic population hail from the Global South (Africa, Latin America and Asia) and these are represented by less than one-third (30 percent) of the committee. The quarter of Catholics represented by Europe have a 50 percent representation on the committee. For those keeping score – the poor Catholics from the Global South get less than half representation by population. The rich Catholics of Europe get more than twice the representation compared to population.
The regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America that together represent two out of every three Catholics, have been allocated only 1 of 5 cardinals, and only 3 out of 10 total spots on the drafting commission. Europe – whose 24 percent of the global Catholic population slips further with each passing year – holds 5 of 10 total spots and 2 of the 5 cardinals.
While many have focused on the fact that the drafting committee is believed to tilt in the direction of the German view on issues of marriage and family, the lack of geographic diversity is perhaps even clearer. It’s a bit shocking, and seems far out of step with the pope’s call for a Church of the poor that includes those on margins and peripheries.