Some SAfrican Catholics want reforms from new pope

AP News
Posted: Mar 12, 2013 10:47 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Some South African Catholics say they hope a new pope will reform their church to allow them to help prevent the spread of AIDS, deal with pregnancies resulting from rape, and think about allowing priests to marry.

Congregants at a progressive parish in downtown Johannesburg say a new pope should balance tradition with the needs of a flock negotiating a modern world dangerous with sexual abuse, AIDS, poverty and contempt of women.

The Rev. Russell Pollitt, parish priest at the Holy Trinity Church, said he hopes the pope sees the importance of "a new openness to dialogue." Pollitt, a Jesuit, said "I don't think the church understands that people just don't take what comes from on high any more, they want to dialogue about issues."

Pollitt said he does not think the Vatican understands the extent of Africa's AIDS crisis.

"The HIV context here is vastly different from the rest of the world, in that it is a heterosexual problem, not a homosexual problem. Here it affects everybody and I don't think Rome gets that," said Pollitt.

Boniface Ifeadi, a laboratory technician studying for his master's degree in HIV management, said he suffered a severe crisis of faith coming to terms with his work and the church's teaching that forbids the use of condoms. Africa has the highest number of HIV-infected sufferers in the world and South Africa is the country with the highest amount of people with HIV/AIDS.

Ifeadi said he resolved his crisis by making a compromise: "For myself, I follow the church's doctrine promoting abstinence but if you are not going to abstain, and many do not, then I have to counsel you to use condoms," he said. "I don't mind if I go to hell if I am helping people to save their lives."

Ifeadi said he has three young daughters and when they become older he said he would ask them first to abstain from sex, but then advise them to use condoms if they decided otherwise. "Use a condom, or am I going to have an illegitimate child in my house?" he asked. He said remaining Catholic is "not easy" but he believes that "as the Old Guard in our church dies out, young and more understanding blood will take over."

Ifeadi said he felt the church should allow priests to marry. "I think it is better to have priests being married than having girlfriends and other suspicious relationships," he said.

Many here who call themselves "good Catholics" appear to live their lives in ways that contradict the church's teachings.

Primary school teacher Mapuso Ramotso considers herself a conservative, wanting priests to remain chaste for example. "I want the Catholic Church to remain the Catholic Church — that's exactly what makes it different from the rest of the churches," she said.

But the middle-aged mother of a teenage daughter said something has to be done about the doctrine on contraception, at least making it optional for married couples. "Life has changed, things have changed and big families have become too much for a lot of people ... who can educate all those children?"

Yolanda Matikinca, a 26-year-old probation officer, said her faith was sorely tried when she read about a family who were thrown out of their church because they had their 11-year-old daughter abort a pregnancy that was the result of rape. The church had counseled that the child should carry the baby and have it adopted — a trauma the parents decided not to visit on their daughter. "So the church punished the family, the victims ... What kind of justice is that?" Matikinca asked.

Holy Trinity serves a multicultural and multinational congregation, in part because it neighbors Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, where Pollitt is chaplain. Pollitt has upset some parishioners by welcoming gays into the church on a continent where many countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality.

"That is disgusting!" said a young man walking out of the church, pointing to a box of pamphlets that ask "Are you or a member of your family Lesbian? Gay? Bisexual? Transgendered? Intersexed? You Are Very Welcome!" It adds "At Holy Trinity, we ... embrace LGBTI people and their families in our faith community."

While the Catholic church has been battered by the scandals of priests sexually abusing boys in the Western world, African priests are more likely to have affairs with women.

Philip Oladijo, a 31-year-old studying for his doctorate in metallurgy, asked why one would change a 2,000-year-old tradition of having priests celibate? "Those who are involved in scandals with women, they should leave the church," he said.

But other churchgoers said priests should be able to marry.

"They are human beings like us. They must also have their lives," said Cesar Carrilho, agreeing with his wife, Alexan, who said "whether they are married or not should not make a difference."

Celibacy has a deeper meaning for African priests. In the Zulu culture, for example, a man who has not fathered a child is considered a child himself, so a Zulu priest can find his authority questioned.

Pollitt suggested Africa could help lead the way to a new conversation about celibacy. He said that while many Africans want to maintain tradition, there are priests "doing things they are not supposed to do. I think an open dialogue taking into account African culture, where marriage is important in terms of recognition as an adult, well Africa might be the continent that brings that more into question."