The Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg says he doubts the next pope will be a black African. He says the continent is still viewed with suspicion in many parts of the world.There have been a number of reports that Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria is one of the frontrunners.
From Johannesburg, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the prospects for a black African pope.
He says, “I think that perhaps Cardinal Arinze in his personal capacity might be able to make it. But I think that as a whole we are looked at as a continent, looked at with a measure of suspicion. For that reason, I find it very difficult to say that at this stage in our history or the history of the Church that a black pope would be elected. Secondly, certainly with regard to the Italians, the papacy has always been part of their history and culture. And I think they want their crown back. There are also Latin America and North America certainly. I think they too wish that the throne of Peter could be ascended by one of them. The question of whether an African pope can be elected appears to be extremely remote.”
Asked why he believes the African continent is viewed with suspicion, Archbishop Tlhagale says, “It’s probably part of how the world looks at Africa, politically, in the economic area, there’s always this suspicion that Africa does not know how to manage its own affairs. And therefore one cannot separate that thinking in the secular world and assume that religious people are any more advanced than their colleagues in other spheres of life. So, for that reason one feels that the thinking in Europe is that Africa is certainly no yet ready. Secondly, even though the numbers of Catholics are growing in Africa, that does not necessarily translate into a readiness for a top leadership in the Church. They still think that culturally, Africa is still – nobody really uses words like backward nowadays – but I do think that Africa is regarded or even African Christianity is regarded with being steeped in superstition.”
But is this a form of racism? The Johannesburg Archbishop says, “No, I would disagree with that because when you use the word racism everybody’s going to chop your head off. I think there are cultural differences and one notes that. I don’t know, prejudice, is prejudice racism? I am not sure, but I certainly think that there is prejudice against Africa.”
Archbishop Tlhagale says Paul John Paul the Second's reign had a positive effect on Africa with his “call to a life of moral integrity…and economic justice.” He says the late pontiff’s message to Africans was, “Even though you are latecomers to Christianity, you have a right in the Church.”