Poor Dark Africans

The global furor over Fiducia Supplicans, as I write these words, shows no signs of abating; and Pope Francis, who is ultimately responsible for this problematic document, shows no sign of conceding that it was—shall we say—inappropriate. At the very least, it is a solution in search of a problem: as I have said in another context, in 50 years of faithfully attending Mass in the Catholic Church, I have never once heard a homilist offer a vigorous exposition and defense of Catholic teaching about sodomy, much less call to account the numerous Catholic politicians and celebrities of one sort or another who condone, nay, encourage it. On the other hand, I have not infrequently heard anyone favoring, say, the death penalty, restrictions on immigration, or nuclear weapons, denounced from the pulpit. The pope, however, dismisses those who question the wisdom of Fiducia Supplicans as members of “small ideological groups.”

He does allow, however, that Africa is a “special case”: “For them,” he says, “homosexuality is ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view; they don’t tolerate it.” One might begin by noting that disapproval of and refusal to tolerate sodomy is not peculiarly African; it is, rather, a feature of Sacred Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian moral tradition. The implied contrast between backward, benighted Africans and enlightened, sophisticated Europeans seems to tell us less about the shortcomings of the former than the failure of Christian integrity among the latter.

Even more dismaying, however, since “pastoral sensitivity” is a vociferously trumpeted priority of this pontificate, is the tone of condescension and the failure to consider why Africans might find sodomy a particularly serious sin. Surely someone among the brilliant circle of advisors with whom Pope Francis has surrounded himself ought to have had the wit to point out how toxic homoerotic inclinations have been in the history of African Christianity. In 1886, for instance, 22 young Catholic men were burned alive by King Mwanga for refusing to renounce their faith and submit to the demands of his lust. May we suggest that, perhaps, African Christians have a more realistic assessment of where sodomy leads than, say, the current head of the Dicastery for the Faith?

R. V. Young is Professor of English Emeritus at North Carolina State University, and a former editor of Modern Age: A Quarterly Review. His Shakespeare & the Idea of Western Civilization is forthcoming in January from Catholic University of America Press. He and his wife are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dunedin, Florida. They have five grown children, 15 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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