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White Smoke and a Black Pope: Is Turkson the Church’s Future?

- February 27, 2013

According to the smart money, the odds favor the election of Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson as the next Pope, the first from Africa since Pope Gelasius I over fifteen hundred years ago. In the intervening years, several African candidates have attracted interest (Benin’s Cardinal Gantin, in 1978, and Nigeria’s Cardinal Arinze, in 2005), but none has ever been a front-runner among the papabile. In fact, the term “black pope” traditionally refers to the head of the Jesuits, revealing how unlikely the prospect of an actual black pope was for most of the Church’s history….

….Both because of his personality and the potential for a historic milestone, some journalists have taken to calling this papal election an “Obama moment” for the Church. This metaphor is apt only insofar as both will disappoint liberals hoping for significant change. Where Obama positioned himself as a cautious reformer, Turkson is openly conservative. He will not lessen opposition to gay marriage or undo the directive stating that men with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” should not be ordained as priests. On the contrary, Turkson has defended anti-gay legislation in Africa and argued that “alternative lifestyles” should not be considered human rights. When asked about the possibility that the priestly sex scandal could spread to Africa, he replied this was unlikely because African culture discourages homosexuality. Here Turkson makes the conservative argument that blames gay priests, rather than celibacy or a lack of institutional safeguards, for the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. In doing so he ignores not only the results of a United States Bishops’ investigation, which found no support for this position, but also serious reports of African nuns being sexually abused by priests as well.

From Notre Dame political scientist Naunihal Singh writing at The New Yorker‘s News Desk blog. The full post can be found here.