Christmas 2014 / New Year 2015




Final Message of 19th Plenary Assembly IMBISA, Gaberone 11 -15 Nov ‘13


Church to Give Guidance

“Evangelii Gaudium” : Pope Francis on Violence


Human Nature – Given or Made?

Is there such a thing as HUMAN NATURE – The meaning of GENDER

The Bishops Speak on “Same-Sex Unions” – Masculine and Feminine Identity

SYNOD 2014 : Family and Evangelization – Answering Questions of ‘Preparatory Document’

Third Section : COMMUNION

Pope Francis on “Collegiality” – The “unfinished business of Vatican II”

Book Review: Collegiality – Structures of Communion in the Church

Editorial :

Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod on the Family and Evangelization’ will be a great challenge to the Church, also and especially in Africa which prides itself on its Family Culture. The Pastoral Department of IMBISA wishes to assist the Church in the region to face up to the fundamental questions in the ‘Preparatory Document’ (Lineamenta), like the grounding of marriage in Natural Law. The working documents prepared for the recent 10th Plenary Assembly of IMBISA will still be useful to us in this endeavour.

The question of Natural Law, so important in Catholic moral teaching, came up during the Living Theology Workshop in South Africa 2013. The speaker took a very critical attitude towards arguments built on Natural Law.

The most famous and most controversial Natural Law argument concerns  the papal encyclical on contraception HUMANAE VITAE (Pope Paul VI, 1968) which the speaker viewed critically (one of the issues at present dividing the Church), while commending  Natural Family Planning  for those couples who can live with it.

But of course there are many other ethical questions which use the Natural Law argument. It seems clear that Natural Law is still important in moral philosophy and theology, but must be reinvestigated and reinterpreted. Is Marriage a matter of human nature, a “given” which we have to accept as part of our human nature or is marriage whatever people say it is? This is a crucial issue in western countries, but a close observer of married life in Africa realizes soon that marriage is no longer accepted unquestioningly here either , at least not by career women and generally not without reservations .

Nature is very much “in” in ecology, environmentalism etc, but “out” in sexual morality.

Is Nature obliging us to respect certain limits, boundaries ethically, or are we free  simply to  re-create ourselves as we want and see fit? This would be a very relevant topic leading to many concrete problems: what are the philosophical and theological foundations of  Human Rights and Human Dignity?   What does a “green philosophy and theology” [based on a clear understanding of Nature]  look like?  Can we arrive at a common understanding across boundaries of established religions and philosophies of social justice, based on a common understanding of our Humanity? What is Gender? Is being Male or Female something “given” by human nature, or is it merely a  matter of social influence (as feminists claim)?

The Roman document asks also questions about the Sacrament of Marriage. To what extent is it understood at all? We might add our own question: if a marriage between baptized Christians is a sacrament which the spouses give each other in faith, is a marriage between baptized, but no longer practising Catholics/Christians who have lost their faith still a sacrament? This is a crucial question since only a sacramental marriage is indissoluble.

The bride may have ardent faith, but if the bridegroom is without faith and goes only through the ceremony to please the bride, is their marriage sacramental and indissoluble?

It would seem that Faith can no longer be taken for granted. If we want to heal and restore the Sacrament of Marriage we must do so on the basis of true facts and must not continue to make dubious assumptions.

All I wish to say in these introductory remarks is that the Extraordinary Synod really wishes to investigate problems of marriage and family at a profound level.

This   IMBISA Documentation is also following up on the recent 10th Plenary Assembly which determined that IMBISA is to be an influential voice in the SADC region on social justice.

Finally, it offers some thoughts on Pope Francis’ words about Collegiality, deliberative Synods and tasks that might be given to (regional) Bishops’ Conferences.


Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops in Southern Africa (IMBISA) Addresses the Subject of FAMILY in Southern Africa Today

We, the bishops of the Inter-regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), gathered in Gaborone, Botswana, for our 10th plenary session from the 11 to the 15th of November 2013 and considered the theme of family in Africa.

The Church considers the Family as the cradle of all institutions, be they civil, political and religious, including the Church itself. Indeed, the Family has thus been appropriately referred to as the “domestic church,” and Blessed John Paul II described it as “the civilization of love,” the sacrament of marriage being the earthly manifestation of Christ’s union to his bride, the Church.

The importance given to the Family is underlined by the fact that both the United Nations and the Church will, in their different ways, give special focus to the Family in 2014, the United Nations celebrating world-wide the twentieth anniversary of the Year of the Family and the Church holding an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican, Rome, the first of Pope Francis I’s pontificate under the theme: Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.

It is on account of the family’s centrality in human institutions that we, the bishops of the IMBISA region, have over the past two decades given special focus to the family in Southern Africa. At the end of our 4th Triennial Plenary Assembly held in Windhoek, Namibia in 1995 on the subject, Church and Family in Southern Africa, we resolved that IMBISA should “continue to promote study on the family apostolate.” “Priority,” we said, “should be given to the family apostolate in an attempt to determine adequate pastoral methods which address the challenges of our social reality in Southern Africa.”

Such contact with the social reality of family in Southern Africa today was therefore a necessary first stage for our deliberations at the Gaberone plenary assembly. Over 8 months preceding the Assembly, families in the region were consulted regarding the state of the family institution and the family apostolate in their various countries today and on what they believed should be done to improve the situation. We considered it absolutely important that for us to adequately address issues affecting the families of Southern Africa today as shepherds of the faithful, we should before anything else hear directly from the families themselves.

We are therefore pleased and grateful that families in the region did speak openly and frankly about the situations they face and experience. Results from the survey showed that there were positives, which we celebrate and endeavor to strengthen, and challenges, which we committed ourselves to address with the help of the families themselves.

In our discussions we noted with appreciation and a sense of hope the practices and pastoral infrastructures and programs that contribute positively to family ministry. The positives noted included improvement in families praying and attending church together, the improved role that women play in the welfare of the family (including earning income for the family), family members supporting each other, the increased accessibility of the Church to families, small Christian communities – which are made up of families – giving support to families socially and spiritually, availability of a variety of family support services within the church and in workplaces, the support provided to the nucleus family by the extended family where this still exists and the support provided by Catholic institutions such as schools and hospitals.

The challenges to the family and the family apostolate identified in the survey included increasing poverty exacerbated by the worsening unemployment situation in the region and inadequate remuneration for many who are employed, emergency of new types of family including families headed by grandparents, single parents, two parents who are both fathers or mothers to the children through adoption arrangements and children themselves as heads of families, increasing insecurity of families in the face of chronic illnesses that include HIV and AIDS, substance abuse, crime, the onslaught on healthy family communications by social media, the increasing vulnerability of the elderly, women and children, separation of families as members of families leave home or country to look for better job prospects and the spiritual conflict that the faithful experience between the teachings of the church and what many consider as exigencies that include the use of contraceptives, the perceived inescapability of divorce and stubbornly persistent traditional cultural practices that are at variance with the social teachings of the Church.

Hearing directly from the families themselves about their situation gave us, the bishops, useful insight and also confirmation of our own experience of the many families we work with in our different dioceses. We deliberated at length and sought guidance from theological reflection on these issues, reviewing instances in the Bible and in the social traditions and teachings of the church where men and women had comparable experiences in their families and how they addressed them. We reflected with concern the following phenomena, among others, of family in Southern Africa today:

Important family moments such as families eating, praying and eating together are not as frequent as they should be

  • Important cultural practices such as the payment of lobola and weddings are losing their true significance and are being supplanted by greed and expensive glamour which young people wishing to get married can ill afford
  • Diminishing role of family in catechizing family members particularly the young
  • Men playing limited roles in church movements
  • Cohabitation of couples without formally getting married caused in many instances by fear to commit oneself to a relationship for life
  • Disruption of family life through excessive exposure and in some cases addiction to television and the ever-proliferating menu of social media, members of families living like non-communicating silos in the home
  • Increased secularization and de-solemnization of marriage through legislation, policies, practices and language all that do not confirm marriage as the earthly manifestation of Christ’s union to his bride, the Church

To address these and other challenges facing the family in Southern Africa today, we, the bishops, agreed on a three-year Family Action Plan (2014 – 2016) through which the Church and families will together work to:

  1. Strengthen the family desk/family ministry in each of the IMBISA region dioceses to enable it address social and spiritual issues pertaining to family more comprehensively and more effectively
  2. Involve the laity and the movements that address their social and spiritual welfare more in helping the Church keep its pulse on the changing patterns of family and in addressing the emerging needs of this changing family
  3. Engage governments and public authorities in the various countries of the region to advocate for the promulgation of pro-family legislation, policies and practices, for the creation of jobs to alleviate poverty and for the provision of services and safety nets to address health and the increasing vulnerabilities of families

We entrust all families of our region to the loving solicitude and prayers of the Nazareth family and our Lady of peace to intercede for the countries of our region.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour

 Bishops of the IMBISA Region attending the 10th Triennial Plenary Assembly of IMBISA in Gaberone, Botswana, 14 November, 2013


The following is in support of the aim of IMBISA “to become an influential Church Voice in SADC


In most of our countries the people are disappointed by their leaders who failed to keep the promises they made at the time of Independence.

Many consider politics just a dirty game for dishonest, selfish people who play power politics just for their own private interests, without regard for the people who have voted them into office.

Some people are so disaffected that they do not want to vote again and consider elections a waste of time and money. They feel leaders are corrupt and dishonest, they lie unashamedly and contradict their own rules concerning free and fair elections (SADC!).

The only alternative seems to be to join the “ruling party” and take advantage of the situation by becoming clients of the “big men” and sell themselves to them in exchange for “favours”. But people with self-respect do not want to do that.

Liberation might never have happened. People have lost faith in the state, its constitution and laws. It is a lawless, anarchic situation. It is a situation of despair and of complete loss of hope.

The Church is called upon to give hope where there is only cynicism and despair. The Church must show a way forward where people see no light.

But first the Church must restore her own INTEGRITY.

The danger is not that the State will persecute and suppress the Church. The danger is that governments try to “co-opt” the Church and make her part of the system, by giving favours to the Church. Individual church members, clerical or lay, go to state officials and ask for special favours (passports, immigration matters, building permissions, subsidies) and by so doing become part of a corrupt and corrupting network of “good relations” . A basic rule of such networks is that you get “nothing for nothing, and only something for something”. Once you accept “favours” you have to pay for them sometime by doing government favours in return, e.g. by singing the praises of government, paying compliments to leaders, being seen with them in public in animated conversation as between friends, by curtailing your public criticism etc.

The Church is also vulnerable if there are scandals (sexual abuse, financial mismanagement, embezzlement of church funds etc.). As long as the Church is trying to please government, government is keeping silent. But if the Church speaks up and denounces corruption, mismanagement, bad governance etc, leaders unearth those sins of the Church and publicize them to embarrass and discredit her mercilessly.

The Church can only demand accountability and transparency if she practices these virtues herself. Is the Church accountable to her own people about the use of donated funds?

We as Church must teach sound principles of dealing with the life of the community, public affairs and society as a whole on all levels. Many Catholics still refuse to accept such teachings and reject them as “politics”.

One of the greatest failures of post-independent governments is that they do not aim at the COMMON GOOD and fail to show SOLIDARITY with all citizens, especially the poor and disadvantaged (they only consider their own interests and those of their “clients” who keep them in power).

These two fundamental values of Catholic Social Teaching are not only to be realized on the highest level of the State, but even in families, Small Christian Communities, parishes, dioceses, in local communities and provinces – everywhere. They are values which traditional African culture knew very well. They just must go beyond clan and ethnic boundaries.

This is not to say that the Church should only operate in public by denouncing politicians and exposing their crimes. There must be direct contacts with politicians, especially the more responsible ones (e.g. Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office – CPLO and similar contact offices). There must be genuine honest dialogue where bishops and other church representatives can “call a spade a spade, and corruption theft and thuggery”.

COMMUNICATION: more thought has to be given by bishops on HOW to communicate these messages to the people. Long pastoral letters once a year which many priests refuse to publicize for fear of incurring the wrath of politically partisan parishioners or local politicians are by no means the only way the CHURCH has of teaching the people her Social Gospel. Simple leaflets, songs, DVDs, social media, video games etc etc can also be used.

Catholics must learn above all to read the Scriptures and understand the prophetic message of Justice contained in both the OT and NT.

The aim must always be to give HOPE to the people, to show them there is an ALTERNATIVE to the present rotten politics and to give them courage to involve themselves in PUBLIC AFFAIRS and not run away from social responsibility. – oWe

 Pope Francis : Violence caused by Exclusion and Inequality

The Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the first by Pope Francis, which is about Evangelization contains the following warnings against bad social trends which are in conflict with the Gospel message we have to proclaim:

No to the inequality which spawns violence

59. Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

60. Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. This serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.

Second Section: Natural Law, Human Nature, Marriage and Family

The following reflections ask if what we call ‘human nature’ is something ‘given’ by the Creator or something we as humans make up ourselves as secularists would assume. In the context of FAMILY we have to study human nature and our identity as men and women, and ask if marriage is part of our human nature or just a human invention which people may change at will.


We find ourselves in existence. We realize we are alive, we are there. We did not bring this about ourselves. Life was just given us. Nobody asked us if we wanted to be born and enter this world as human beings.

We found ourselves as either male or female. We were not asked to choose.

We were created, we are being created even at this moment as we continue to be alive. We understand ourselves as creatures.

What we are (nature) is something “given” beyond our control. Our nature limits us, sets boundaries.

But paradoxically, part of our “given” nature is the ability to transcend our nature, to modify it or rather give it individuality: like millions others I am a human being, and yet I am a unique individual, distinguishable from everyone else.

It is my nature to transcend nature and create culture. I was put into a limited situation so as to push the limitations further and further away and create new space.

Created “in the image of God” I am given freedom as my greatest gift, therefore the ability to discern, to choose and to love.

My “given” nature leaves me no choice; the response must be self-acceptance.

My freedom opens the way towards self-determination.

We are created so as to be creative, imaginative; limitations of our nature are there to be overcome. We travel to outer space. We drive ourselves and our bodies very hard so as to set new records. We investigate the deepest sea and the highest mountains. We want to know more and to live longer than people have ever done before.

Indeed, human freedom does give us powers to give nature its own peculiar shape. We are not animals restricted to the narrow limits of their merely instinctual behavior. In fact it is the greatness of the Creator that he has given us freedom and creativity, a limited share in his divine powers. The temptation is of course that we mistake our limited human freedom with the unlimited divine freedom, that we claim divine powers for ourselves and make ourselves gods.

It seems a purely secular culture does not recognize any limits set by the Creator and does not respect nature as a God-given order. In purely secular thinking, i.e. in a secularized world which behaves “as if God did not exist” humans are not creatures, do not see themselves as created by God and do not accept any limitations as created beings.

They lay claim to a freedom without limitations of any kind. For them nothing is “given” and to be accepted as such, not even their sexual identity, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The gender ideology considers “gender”, i.e. being male or female, as a mere cultural influence which can be changed. Humans are virtually re-designing and re-creating themselves all the time without being in any way tied to a “given” design not their own.

We are free, but our freedom does not have its origin in ourselves. We are free because the Creator in creating us has called us into freedom. Our freedom is His gift. We do not take our freedom, grab it, and liberate ourselves, but receive our freedom as coming from God.

Our self-determination, if it becomes an expression of our limitless freedom, may deny any limits: if we cannot do away with death we at least want to be in total control of our dying. If we cannot do away with the gender divide we at least want to determine ourselves what we want to be, male or female, as do transsexuals. If we cannot be the origin of our own life power we at least want to be the masters and owners of life, deciding over life and death, and creating life artificially ourselves. If we cannot live with the tension of the complementarity of the sexes, we claim the right to live in a same-sex relationship. If we do not accept that love must be fruitful and lasting we reinvent love by removing the incalculable risk from it and make it “safe sex”.

He calls us so that we respond. He calls us so that we respond with faith and trust. He loves us so that we love in return.

We accept what we are freely as a gift of the loving God. Our given nature determines what we are to be which we accept willingly.

I accept my humanity and personhood. I accept that I am a man or a woman. I accept the incompleteness of being either a man or a woman, but never both at the same time, I accept the need for complementarity.

But within this peculiar space allocated to me there is an infinite variety of ways of realizing what I am. No two people are the same, no two relationships between persons are the same. “There are as many ways to relate to God as there are people,” Benedict XVI said in one of his interview books. No two marriages are the same.

God does not limit my freedom or frustrates it altogether, as some contemporaries seem to think. God is in fact giving me my freedom which always takes the form of responsibility and answerability, since our freedom manifests itself in the way in which we respond to his word and his love. – oWe

 Is there such a thing as HUMAN NATURE ?


There is the key concept of GENDER. What exactly does it mean? According to the definition in Part 1, Article 1 it “means the roles, duties and responsibilities which are culturally or socially ascribed to women, men, girls and boys”.

As so often in this document, what is most significant in it is what is NOT said : women and men are defined by their ‘cultural and social roles’, i.e. by how society has formed and shaped them. What culture and society have done, culture and society undoubtedly can and one day will change. There is no awareness of human nature which is ‘given’ (in our Christian understanding by the Creator). There is no room for feminine and masculine characteristics which women and men are born with. These are considered “gender stereotypes” to be eliminated, hindering men’s and women’s freedom. The nearest the document comes to admitting that there are different characteristics is in mentioning “specific gender needs”.

It is true that nature is not static, but develops: human beings through their gift of freedom create culture. As a result, their roles through the ages as women and men change. Nevertheless, we are born as either men or women, and retain our male or female identity.

Women are excited in this day and age about discovering in themselves qualities and abilities which they did not think they had, or were not supposed to have in the judgment of society. We rejoice with our sisters about these gifts which are also gifts to the community and society as a whole in which they live. But does this mean that they cease to be women with specific feminine and maternal gifts?

“Multiple roles of women…in the reproductive, productive and management of community spheres”. Obviously this refers to the double role of women as mothers and as working women. Why does it not speak about “mothers”? Why does it mention community, but not “family”?

“Sex means the biological differences between females and males”. Are the differences between women and men merely biological? Are there not innate psychological and emotional differences in the relational and inter-personal sphere?

 COMMENT on Statements on “Same-sex Unions”

IMBISA Dopcumentation No 4 , “The Bishops Speak”, p. 76 – 77

A “given” Created Order, Human Nature, Masculine and Feminine Identity…

For most priests and pastoral workers in Africa homosexuality is not a major problem. The Church admits, “Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained”. But even in Africa it does exist, traditionally in certain ethnic groups, or through recent cultural influences and imports. So when dealing with individuals we must be cautious, especially when making moral judgments. We must distinguish between people who find they are sexually attracted to members of their own sex, and others who have actually chosen to live in homosexual or lesbian relationships, i.e. practicing homosexuals.

Africa is horrified by homosexuality and condemns anyone afflicted by this disorder. People suspected of being homosexually inclined or openly displaying their “lifestyle” are publicly despised, insulted, abused and attacked, and the law regards them as criminals and punishes them. The former live in a state of disorder for which they are not responsible; since they are not practicing homosexuals they are not immoral persons. Only practiced homosexuality becomes a moral problem.

The wider issue is homosexuality in the context of the created order or nature. It seems a purely secular culture does not recognize any limits set by the Creator and does not respect nature as a God-given order. In purely secular thinking, i.e. in a secularized world which behaves “as if God did not exist” humans are not creatures, do not see themselves as created by God and do not accept any limitations as created beings.

They lay claim to a freedom without limitations of any kind. For them nothing is “given” and to be accepted as such, not even their sexual identity, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The gender ideology considers “gender”, i.e. being male or female, as a mere cultural influence which can be changed. Humans are virtually re-designing and re-creating themselves all the time without being in any way tied to a design not their own.

Indeed, human freedom does give us powers to give nature its own peculiar shape. We are not animals restricted to the narrow limits of their merely instinctual behavior. In fact it is the greatness of the Creator that he has given us freedom and creativity, a limited share in his divine powers. The temptation is of course that we mistake our human limited freedom with the unlimited divine freedom, that we claim divine powers for ourselves and make ourselves gods.

The question is : where are these boundary lines beyond which we must not move?


The Family in the Context of Evangelization

“What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?” (Preparatory Document, Questions: 1 d)

African Traditional Culture:

Positively, African culture welcomes children. It is a Culture of the Family. Women see their fulfillment as women in giving birth to children and being mothers.

Negatively, childless, infertile women are looked down upon. A woman is a child bearer; if she cannot deliver she is a failure, and will be sent away, or the husband takes a second wife to bear him children, especially male children. She is a means towards an end, a tool and instrument. She is not respected simply as a person and a child of God.

A man almost always marries on condition that she gives him children (but in Christian understanding of marriage he is to marry unconditionally) . For that reason many men do not accept the woman as wife unless she has given birth already, or at least is found to be pregnant. Marriage starts as a trial marriage and test case. She cannot be certain of her position as a wife before she has given birth and proves she can be a mother.

That a husband and wife live out a childless marriage (while possibly adopting orphaned children as their own) and honour their marriage vows, the husband loving his wife even though she cannot give him children, and husband and wife accepting their childless state as a burden and a cross which they have to bear together in communion with Christ, does not happen very often. (In western society infertility is seen as a problem for biotechnology, eg. in-vitro-fertilization).

Neo-African Culture

It retains traditional traits, but is influenced also by western trends. It is a mixed culture. Children are still very much wanted, but there is more deliberate family planning, and generally the number of births is lower than it used to be.

Reasons: more children survive due to modern medicine than in a more traditional setting. Children are not just an asset (labour, provider for parents in their old age etc), but also a burden (high costs of education , mother’s double role in the home and at her workplace) . The means of family planning are available; there is a certain pressure to have fewer children coming from   “population services” and similar NGOs and government agencies.

The custom of paying bridewealth (called lobola in Southern Africa, roora in Shona/Zimbabwe) to the bride’s family is changing. While originally it was meant to be a token of appreciation given by the young man to his future wife’s family (in the form of a number of heads of cattle, in the olden days also labour performed by the man for his father-in-law), it is now largely a cash transaction and has become commercialized. While in its original form it was meant to bring the two families of bride and bridegroom together, it now very often causes tension and friction.

There is a rampant “lobola inflation” : parents, under the pressure of economic decline and general poverty, demand ever higher payments, considered to be the answer to their financial problems. But lobola was never meant to be a source of enrichment for the elderly parents of the bride.

Many young men who are unemployed cannot pay the amounts they are charged by their fathers-in-law. They begin to live with their chosen brides and may have children with them even though the informal union has no social sanction, and the young man feels no commitment or responsibility towards his informal “wife” or the children. Since he has not paid lobola he is not considered the “owner” of the children. At the first crisis he abandons the children and their mother. She then returns to her own family, and makes the poverty of the parental household worse. If she has no income of her own and is not well received by the impoverished parents, she may end up in prostitution (as a concubine, a mistress to a rich man, a “sex worker” on the streets….).

Others live alone as single mothers, formally employed or informally making a living as a vendor, cross-border trader, self-employed seamstress, etc. Having two or three children from their failed marriages, they are not likely to want more children. If they engage in sexual relations with male friends they are likely to use contraceptives, or have abortions in case of “contraceptive failure” which is frequent. This is also a factor in the declining birthrate among urban women.

Lobola inflation” (=overcharging payment for the bride) is socially destructive. It prevents young couples from getting married in a way that is recognized and supported by the community, including the community of the Church. It stops young people from getting married and start a family in a responsible manner, being committed to each other and to the resulting offspring.

Often Catholic parents, tenaciously clinging to “tradition” and the hope of making money out of it, are the culprits. They are not barred from receiving Holy Communion for stopping their children from living in a Christian marriage. Their children, the victims of this parental obstruction, are.

Parents do not give their daughter permission to be married in church unless the lobola payment has been made. According to church law a young woman, once she is of age, is of course free to marry even without this permission. But in fact she will not risk offending her family which she needs as a social safety net in case of widowhood or divorce.

Monogamy – polygamy/polygyny

While traditional polygamy may be on the decline, monogamy is by no means fully accepted by men. Many men, even baptized members of the Church, claim that “a man cannot be satisfied with just one woman” and act sooner or later accordingly, Christian marriage vows or not.

A second wife in this modern polygamous union does not join the (urban) household of the married man who is having a relationship with her, mostly unknown to the first legitimate wife. He “keeps” her somewhere else (in Zimbabwe called “small house”). The exact forms of such a concubinage may vary considerably.

State law in most African countries recognizes both monogamy and polygamy, depending on the choice of the individual. Christian marriages are registered under modern law which presupposes monogamy, while polygamists may register their marriages under traditional law which accommodates subsequent additional wives.

Christian monogamous marriage – a matter of faith

One reason for men hesitating, if not refusing altogether, to enter into a Christian marriage in line with the Sacrament of Matrimony is precisely their polygamous mentality. Even baptized Christians find it hard to commit themselves to one wife, and one wife only, for life. They find it hard to marry “unconditionally and without reservation” though they may not say so.

There is need for open discussion of this obstacle in the minds of many men while they are still young. The acceptance of monogamy cannot be taken for granted.

Only Christ can teach men this single-minded love for the one beloved. Christ’s self-giving love for his one and only bride the Church must be understood if Christian marriage is to become a reality.

Without this faith perspective monogamy is regarded a hard and oppressive law and a yoke impossible to bear.

Sometimes pastors hope that the economic hardship of having to maintain more than one wife and family will persuade men to accept the monogamous option. This may persuade some men some of the time. But a real change of heart is needed, faith and grace, if Christian monogamous marital love is to flourish.

Western ideologies

The media, some UN agencies, NGOs like “Population Services”, Africans living overseas (UK, US, Canada, Australia, Newzealand, South Africa) are spreading ideas which are often at variance with traditional African and Christian family values. See the “SADC Gender Protocol” analysed in IMBISA Documentation No 4.

For example, there is a discussion going on at present in Zimbabwe questioning the wisdom of giving contraceptives to young girls as young as ten (!). Certain officials of the Ministry of Education were reported to be advocating such a measure, without even asking the parents. The Minister denied it, but there is little doubt that such “solutions” are being considered in the sub-continent.

Sexual morality, traditional or Christian or both, is disregarded. The only “sin” in this ideology of “reproductive health” propagated by NGOs from Western countries is a) falling pregnant, and b) getting infected with HIV and AIDS.

“Sexual freedom” is considered an absolute value and the ‘personal choice’ made untouchable. This is of course fatal while we are still battling the AIDS epidemic. Against all the evidence, the use of condoms and similar devices is supposed to guarantee “safe sex” even though the same propagandists admit there is “contraceptive failure”.

As a result of the “sexual revolution” the link between sexuality and procreation has been broken. Sex is no longer restricted to marriage, and marriage itself is devalued because sexual contact with just about anyone is now considered acceptable, provided contraceptives are used and abortion is freely available in the (frequent) case of “contraceptive failure”.

In this atmosphere persuading young people to abstain before marriage and be faithful within marriage becomes very difficult.

Because of the negative factors of traditional marriage customs and the negative experience of some women with traditional marriage, marriage is now questioned as a way of life, especially by professional women with an income of their own which makes them financially independent. The Church needs to take the reservations of these women seriously and listen to them. Without dialogue between all partners concerned there is no hope of a more positive development.

Only Christianity (and up to a point Islam) making use of the best features of Traditional African Family Culture can counteract this corroding Western influence.

The task of the Church is to promote monogamous marriage lived as equal partnership, defend women’s freedom to use their gifts and talents in society, while giving them the option to devote themselves to their roles as wives and mothers within the family, no doubt a difficult balance which needs the cooperation of husbands.

Third Section

The role of Bishops’ Conferences in church government in the light of recent remarks made by Pope Francis:

Interview of Pope Francis given to Jesuit magazines, August 2013, Extract on Governance of the Church, Petrine Office, College of Bishops….

The Roman Curia

I ask the pope what he thinks of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the various departments that assist the pope in his mission.

It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally.“The dicasteries of the Roman Curia are at the service of the pope and the bishops,” he says. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help. In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship. It is amazing to see the denunciations for lack of orthodoxy that come to Rome. I think the cases should be investigated by the local bishops’ conferences, which can get valuable assistance from Rome. These cases, in fact, are much better dealt with locally. The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers.”

On June 29, during the ceremony of the blessing and imposition of the pallium on 34 metropolitan archbishops, Pope Francis spoke about “the path of collegiality” as the road that can lead the church to “grow in harmony with the service of primacy.” So I ask: “How can we reconcile in harmony Petrine primacy and collegiality? Which roads are feasible also from an ecumenical perspective?”

The pope responds, “We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope. Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time. In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us. I want to continue the discussion that was begun in 2007 by the joint [Catholic–Orthodox] commission on how to exercise the Petrine primacy, which led to the signing of the Ravenna Document. We must continue on this path.”

I ask how Pope Francis envisions the future unity of the church in light of this response. He answers: “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.”

Collegiality, Synods and Bishops’ Conferences – completing the “unfinished business” of Vatican Council II

The CHURCH is the BODY OF CHRIST through the indwelling of the HOLY SPIRIT; GOD continues to reveal Himself in CHRIST and thus in THE CHURCH. The Church as communion must reflect GOD who is communion and community, triune love and family. A monarchical church denies, or at least fails to make visible, the Trinity, the triune, communitarian love between Father, Son and Spirit.

Of old the Church was represented by a pyramidical diagram, with the Pope at the very apex, with bishops and priests under him, and the common folk under the hierarchy. All power and authority rested with the Pope and through him with the hierarchy. The ordinary people were almost dispensable and had no active function.

This may be something of a caricature. But this concept of a strictly hierarchical Church, very common in the 19th century, prompted Blessed John Henry Newman to remark humourously, ” We would look silly without the laity!”

Vatican Council II has drawn a different diagram: the entire Church, represented by a circle, receives the power of Holy Spirit, and within this circle there are structures of leadership, with the Bishop of Rome at the centre, surrounded by bishops, priests and the faithful at large, all filled with the Spirit of Christ and using their various spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the entire Church.

We still have a situation, about 50 years after Vatican Council II, where authority and leadership is given to, and exercised by, the Bishops individually and the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.

Councils and Synods have always complemented the role of the Pope. But the relationship between the Pope and Councils / Synods has been delicate and difficult. (See the papal interventions at Vatican Council II by Pope Paul VI). The Pope has the last word and can overrule Council or bypass Synods.

The Church as it was formed in the last millenium tended to be monarchical, one reason being that the world at large was ruled by monarchs, surrounding culture always having an effect on the Church and influencing her actual shape and form.

When monarchical government was phased out in recent centuries, gradually by the introduction of constitutionalism and parliamentary democracy, or violently by revolutions and subsequent republicanism, the ‘monarchical’ Church began to appear like a relic of the past and, more importantly, lost contact with her lay members now used to participate in public affairs and have a voice in decisions concerning their own lives. The Church failed to get the energetic support and cooperation of all her members who resented being reduced to merely passive spectators.

Bishops were not colleagues and brothers of the Bishop of Rome sharing a common task, but merely top civil servants carrying out the instructions of the Roman Pontiff which alienated them from their home environment and the culture of the flock entrusted to them. Priests did not form a presbyterate in a fraternal spirit together with their bishops, but were merely subordinate workers receiving orders and instructions. Lay Christians were not seen as brothers and sisters baptized and confirmed, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in them as members of the Church, but merely objects of the pastoral efforts of the hierarchy.

Nevertheless, new structures grew up in the Church: national bishops’ conferences became a pragmatic necessity in dealing with common concerns, especially in relationship to public authorities and other Christian churches. But a bishops’ conference has no jurisdiction and cannot act as a body; it must not become an independent power suspected of threatening universal unity and catholicity. Strictly speaking only the individual bishop has jurisdiction, and he must respect the papal nuncio. Binding majority decisions are ruled out. Voting concerning pastoral and theological matters is consultative only.

If a bishop, though a member of a bishops’ conference, wishes to follow his own course of action, bypassing majority opinion, canon law does not stop him.

The old pyramidical model of the Church safeguards, indeed guarantees the unity, even uniformity of the Church, but it also deprives the Church of much creativity and productive energy. Theologians will forever look over their shoulders to see if the “Romans” disapprove of their thinking, pastors will first of all want to see what is possible within the established Roman norms, rather than ask what the people’s needs are. The laity will see obedience as their first duty and feel hamstrung, unable to accept responsibility and develop better forms of cooperation within the Christian community. New cultural expressions of the faith developed at the periphery will not be understood, or be regarded with suspicion, by the centre.

In the meantime he Church has become truly catholic, universal and global, embracing many cultures and speaking many different languages.

It is no longer possible for just one centre and one voice to articulate the faith for the whole world in just one cultural idiom. There have to be more centres and more authoritative voices in the various regions of the world to speak the Word of God into these particular situations, making full use of the Holy Spirit and His creative power given to each, while retaining a strong, unbreakable bond with the centre, the Bishop of Rome as successor of Peter.

In a secularized world where God seems absent or at least communication with God questionable the Church must first and foremost witness to the presence of God, his self-revelation, and show the way towards communion with the triune God who is communion in Himself. In a world riven by endless divisions and hostilities, the Church must show that communion among diverse peoples is possible. We must therefore emphasize above all what we have in common, our dignity as God’s children, the love that unites us as brothers and sisters of Christ, filled with the same Spirit, before we draw attention to differences of rank or function or mission within the Church, which is secondary.

In a world where peace is at best a delicate balance of power between competing forces, the Church must be seen as a space where there is genuine peace based on mutual respect and brotherly and sisterly love between all members whatever their particular calling within the Church may be. By this I mean respect for the gifts and charisms all members of the Body of Christ have in their various ways for mutual assistance and service and for the good of the entire Body. The Church is first and foremost Family (First African Bishops’ Synod, 1994) and Communion, before it is hierarchical: the hierarchical structure serves precisely to uphold and maintain communion.

Communion shows itself in dialogue, participation and empowerment of all members in line with their various gifts. While the bishop has the last word, he must be the first to listen. This applies also to the Bishop of Rome. As Bishop of Rome he has the final authority, as bishop among bishops he is a brother and colleague and friend. It is this spirit which prepares the way for practical collegiality, which implies respect for the charism, experience and pastoral experience of the local pastors all over the globe.

The Church of the First Millenium, though united through the Bishop of Rome at the centre, was not as centralized as it is today. There were the five ancient patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome was one of them. There were church provinces headed by archbishops, and provincial and national synods which took many of the decisions which today Rome would reserve to itself. So more authority given to synods and regional or continental bishops’ conferences would not be a complete novelty. There are precedents.

The Constitution of the Liturgy of Vatican Council II which broke the monopoly of Latin and permitted the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular, though never intending to abolish the use of Latin altogether, has in fact created a new situation. Especially outside Europe, beyond its culture based on Greece and Rome, vernacular languages have replaced Latin. Rome has lost Latin as unifying power. It has also lost the ability to judge the adequacy of liturgical translations into vernacular languages. Rome is simply not competent to judge translations into Zulu, Tswana, Chichewa, Shona, Ndebele or Nguni, Shangaan or Kisuaheli, Kikuyu or Tonga. This control mechanism, certainly still necessary, must be shifted to a different level of the Church. The obvious bodies to be given this authority are the regional or continental bishops’ conferences. It is also on this level that developments in the form of sacramental rites in line with surrounding cultures should be assessed, modified if necessary and approved of if possible, while keeping Rome informed and listening to their advice.

The principle that the Church is Family and Communion united by the Holy Spirit does not just determine the relationship between the Bishop of Rome and the entire college of Bishops, it applies analogously also to the diocesan bishop and the presbyterate, it applies to the local priest and the faithful who form the local church. It applies to religious communities, Christian communities and associations.

In all of these the “servant leadership” of Jesus “who came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45), must be realized.

More effective collegiality, synods that really co-determine the future path of the Church and bishops’ conferences that take on real responsibility for their regions are not just signals that the balance of power within the Church is shifting, away from the centre, towards the periphery; it is not just a sign that the local church is winning in this long drawn-out tug-of-war with the centre. This move is prompted by more than politics and power.

It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving us closer to the way Jesus was leading, and therefore serving, his disciples and the people of God at large. Jesus is leading, not just by example, but by self-giving, by carrying our burden, including our failures and sins, as the one “who took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8: 17), by absorbing hostility in a loving embrace to the point of death.

In fact the Church must get away from following closely political models of leadership. The call for “democratization” of the Church is ambiguous. Democracy is often no more than domesticating the struggle for power and making it non-violent. This is genuine progress and to be welcomed, but it is still a struggle for power by ambitious people. It is still “rulers lording it over them” of which Jesus says that it “should not be like that among you” (Mark 10: 42 – 43).

What people mean when they call for “more democracy in the Church” is genuine participation and sharing in responsibility by ordinary members of the Body of Christ. They use modern day political language, but mean really something else. If, however, they were really to aim at a greater share of sheer power they would be in error, and follow “human thinking, not God’s” (Matthew 16 : 23). The Church is “sui generis”, i.e. has her own unique way since in her is found, tentative and not yet complete, the “Kingdom of Heaven (of God)”.

So a regional Bishops’ Conference like IMBISA should perhaps ask the question in what way this new direction which the Church seems to be taking is going to affect its relationship towards individual member Bishops and its manner of working in general.

 Book Review

Collegiality – “Unfinished Business” of Vatican Council II

John R Quinn, Archbishop of San Francisco (retired), “EVER ANCIENT – EVER NEW” – Structures of Communion in the Church, Paulist Press, New York, 2013, 57 pp

What are bishops’ conferences for? The purpose of national ones is obvious and very pragmatic: bishops of one country need to agree on pastoral policies and be able to negotiate as one body with government and make contact with other churches. The purpose of regional, supra-national conferences may not be so obvious, though the mobility of the faithful makes it necessary that the shepherds follow their sheep and work together in arranging pastoral care for them.

It was while my mind was occupied with these questions that this small, but insightful book came to my attention. “From its inception the Church thought of itself as a communion,” the former president of the US Bishops’ conference writes in the introduction. His prime witness is a theologian who at various times was known as Prof. Joseph Ratzinger (as such he was one of the most influential theologians at Vatican Council II), Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church “ Lumen Fidei” describes the Church as “communion”. The Church of the New Testament had already this consciousness. “It was not a group of isolated, independent communities” (Ratzinger).

The author buttresses his theological argument with historical precedents, illustrating it with examples from the Church of the first millennium. “Synods ‘were an expression of the fact that the Episcopal office itself must be assumed and exercised as something collegial in its very essence and in its origins’ (Magee, Patriarchal Institution). The local church was integrated into the living communion of the neighbouring and regional churches, and synods were events that expressed collegiality and communion’(10).

The Bishop of Rome is one of the four patriarchs (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem), and as successor of Peter he preserves the unity of the whole Church. These two functions are separate. “Unity of faith is the Pope’s function.; this does not prohibit independent administrative agencies like the ancient patriarchates…..The extreme centralization of the Catholic Church is due not simply to the Petrine office but to its being confused with the patriarchal function which the bishop of Rome gradually assumed over the whole of Latin Christianity” (Joseph Ratzinger, Primacy and Episcopacy, from: Das Neue Volk Gottes [The New People of God], 1969, quoted by Quinn, p. 18). There is no reason why such patriarchal structures should not be revived in the Church today; this would strengthen inculturation as well as evangelization (19). “Someday perhaps Asia and Africa should be made patriarchates distinct from the Latin Church” (26). Bishops’ Conferences, national or regional, could be today’s embodiments of those ancient patriarchates with a substantive role in three areas: church law, liturgy and the appointment of bishops (Ratzinger, ibid.).

Since the ‘bishops together with the Pope have supreme and universal authority in the Church’ a deliberative synod would be a ‘sign of the responsibility of the Episcopal college for the government of the whole Church’ (35). Ecumenical councils are of course the preeminent structure for this shared responsibility. “Vatican Council II was a dramatic witness of a communion that was truly ecumenical – of the whole world” (39).

Pleading for synodal structures for the exercise of collegiality, the author maintains, ‘is not a repudiation of papal primacy , which itself has taken different forms over the centuries’ (44).

One might add that collegiality should not only prevail between the Bishop of Rome and all other Bishops, but also between the diocesan bishop and his priests, and the parish priest and his lay leaders, since the entire Church is ‘ best described as communion’ . Pope Francis consulting with his eight chosen cardinals is leading the way. The Church is being freed from monarchical structures .She is not a monarchy, but must become herself, ‘sui generis’, incomparable and unique.   – oWe

 IMBISA Secretariat wishes all Member Bishops and their Dioceses the PEACE of the newborn Christ and a Blessed New Year














This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s