Suspicion and Distrust: How Do We Overcome These?
It may feel for some that recent events — like the Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson being convicted for concealing child sex abuse by a priest, or the collective resignation of the Chilean bishops over the abuse scandal in their country — have put the Church in a dim light.
I honestly believe this healthy exposure of moral failures and criminal acts committed in the name of the Church is the best thing that has happened to her since the Second Vatican Council.
For far too long this scourge has stunk in the public square, the pews and altars of the Church, undermining her moral and spiritual authority. Now that it is all coming out into the open, we pray that by handling the matter with much-needed humility, the Church’s leaders will return her on the right path, in time for her much needed springtime renewal.
For now let the winter of kenosis (emptying our own will and becoming receptive to God’s will) continue so that in self-giving the Church may self-cleanse.
Church in South Africa
And the Church of Southern Africa is providing a good example in that regard.
Also impressive is how the Church leadership in South Africa is tackling the other burning issue: that of racism.
I know that many prefer we bury our heads in the sand, pray for these things to go away. But that will not happen without our cooperation and change of heart, without our admitting our complicity — conscious or unconscious — through active prejudice or inherited privilege.
I wish many Catholics would take the opportunity of attending Winter Living Theology (WLT) which is organised by the Jesuit Institute, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Fordham University in late June and July.
I trust as Catholics we shall feel more comfortable when the topic of racism is discussed from the point of view of our faith.
Dr Fr Bryan Massingale, a priest from the archdiocese of Milwaukee and a professor of ethics at Fordham University in New York, looks best placed to lead us in this lecture. He is also an expert in the theological politics of Rev Martin Luther King.
Active Ways of Unlearning
It is becoming clear with every passing year of our post-’94 era that the paper walls we plastered over our social and racial problems are peeling.
Our Rainbow Nation narrative was not founded upon strong social and religious foundations of cohesion and the love of neighbour which is next to the love of God which Christ instructed us to do.
We need to be instructed in ways to demolish the walls of racial suspicion and distrust between us. And since we were taught this suspicion and distrust by the manner in which we grew up, we need to consciously adopt active ways of unlearning it.
And, in my life, that starts with me.
For instance, I often ask myself, though I live in a predominantly white area, why don’t I have more white friends with whom to socialise? Why do I need to go to the black township to do that?
The truth is that I have not unlearned the racial segregation which I was brought up with under apartheid. I still instinctively treat white people with reserve and unconscious suspicion, even those whom I call my friends.
I believe the time has come for all of us to move out of our comfort zones. Things won’t change unless we take the racist bull by the horns.
Perhaps this year’s Winter Living Theology is as good as any platform to make this tentative start.
And from there, perhaps, we may begin to truly love our neighbour and walk, hand in hand, in humility with our God.