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Colour Blind Catholicism

Racism. It’s evil. No place for it. Anywhere. Ever.

That includes football grounds, of course, where the crudeness of its expression makes it easy to identify – ‘that man there, making monkey noises and gestures, him, yep – racist. Nail him.’

But what about when it’s more subtle? More indirect? Clothed in the language of concern or compassion?

Ever noticed the frequency with which certain news outlets will show pictures of poor black or asian people when discussing population control? Or how often impassioned calls for ‘family planning’ for developing countries focuses almost exclusively on stopping poor black people from having children? The rage against the teachings of the Church on contraception will usually wind its way back to stopping Africans, though sometimes Asians, from breeding.

As for abortion – well, the links are long established.

Of course in such polite company the racism charge is a little harder to stick and so we might instinctively draw back from it. Especially when such arguments are offered with a smile rather than a sneer. Nonetheless, it does sometimes feel as if there is something sinister in the liberal water.

Remember John Sentamu? Thoroughly impressive man who wanted to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Didn’t manage it. Well, he’s not really ‘one of us’, is he? Too much of an ‘African chief thing’ going on, no? As for the growth of those African-dominated pentecostal and evangelical churches – it’s just not how we do things over here, is it? McFarlane, Johns, Ladele – need I say more?

Or in my own Church, pious calls for the Church to enter a dialogue with modern culture, because it is out of date, because it is out of touch with ‘ordinary people’. The faith is in need of a deep rethinking, and it does not speak in (all) our names.

All of which strangely ignores the fact (well, not all ignore it, just refuse to engage with it instead) that, in certain parts of the world, most notably Africa and Asia, the Church is doing remarkably well. Fidelity and joy mark out a people touched by the Good News, that very same Good News which, for our cultured despisers, is out of touch and out of date. Backward, even. Medieval, certainly. Barbarous? Well, who could say.

But come on, we wouldn’t expect any less from them, would we? Of course they believe such backward doctrines, y’know, those doctirnes out of touch with ‘ordinary people’. But the (increasingly non- or anti- Christian) European ‘heartlands’ demand change and for that reason alone change must be right. Not like them Africans, believing what the Church teaches. Nuh-uh. Or any of them, really, they’re all the same. God forbid one of them lot might become Pope. But if they did… heads might just explode.

If this is not overt racism, and I’m willing to be convinced it’s not, then it certainly smacks of detached cultural imperialism. Either way, it stinks. May the Catholic church, in all its splendid catholicity, never become beholden to those who preach it.
Whatever race the next Pope turns out to be, the crowd of faces looking up at him, representing every race on earth, will sing and cry with joy: ‘Habemus Papam.’

Let’s hope those cultured despisers might muster the energy to do the same.


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