Is the Catholic Church Ready for a Black Pope? by Finian Cunningham

Happy St. Benedict the African Day!

Image by A.Currell via Flickr

by Finian Cunningham
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
East Africa
Crossposted from PressTV
February 13, 2013

Is the Catholic Church ready for a black pope? That is the question many inside and outside the world’s largest Christian organization are asking following the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI this week.

The German pontiff, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he was elected in 2005, is the first leader of the Catholic Church in 600 years to retire before death. Most of his predecessors, who trace their official lineage back nearly 2,000 years to Saint Peter, the first pope, have died while still in the top job.

At age 85 and citing failing health, the outgoing pope has triggered a wave of speculation on who will be his successor. That will be decided next month when the church’s cardinals from various parts of the world convene in Rome to elect the new pontiff.

Not only should the next leader of the Catholic Church be black, but also the mere fact that the above question is posed in the way that it is – is the church ready for a black pope? – betrays a deep unspoken racism, not just in the church hierarchy but in the European-American centric world that it reflects. Of course the Catholic Church should have a black leader. What on earth, or heaven, is the deliberation about?

First of all when we say “black” we mean all people who are non-white; those from Africa, Asia and the Americas, that is, outside the Euro-North American realm.

The election of a black pope is a simple matter of justice. Most of the Catholic Church’s one billion membership stems from outside the traditional power base of Europe and its white North American colonial extension. While the church’s numbers have been dwindling particularly in Europe over recent decades, it is growing steadily elsewhere in the world.

Nearly half of the church’s worldwide followers now come from Latin America. With a population of nearly 200 million, Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world.

The church is growing rapidly in Asia too, with major population centres in the Philippines, China and India.

However, it is Africa where the Catholic Church is seeing its most spectacular growth. Over the past century, the numbers of Catholics on the continent have grown from some two million in 1900 to a present day figure of 180 million.

By the year 2025, the African church is projected to rise to 230 million, when one in six Catholics worldwide will be African.

In the space of one hundred years, the balance of demographic power in the Catholic Church, in terms of its ordinary membership, has swung diametrically. Whereas before, three-quarters of the church’s followers resided in Europe and North America, today more than 70 per cent of the world’s Catholics are living in Africa, Asia and Central, South America.

In a word, the Catholic Church today is black.

Therefore, it is entirely proper that the leader of this church should be black. This is not just a basic matter of democratic fairness. To not reflect its membership leaves the Catholic Church open to accusations that it is white-dominated and Eurocentric, in the same way that many other international institutions are failing.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations with its white-dominated Security Council are other examples of this racial divide of the world that does not reflect humanity’s democratic composition and concerns. If these organizations are failing in their humanitarian commitments and duties, then it is plausible that their undemocratic administrative structure is central to the problem.

Apart from the question of democratic principle, there are many other good reasons why the Catholic Church should choose its next leader from beyond its traditional white conclave.

As the infirmed Pope Benedict said in his resignation speech this week, the primary purpose of the church is preaching the gospel, meaning the “good news” of God for mankind. That vocation is fittingly suited to those parts of the world where the church is young, growing and energetic.

After all, the description “Catholic” derives from the Greek word “katholikas” which means “universal”. The church should therefore demonstrate its purpose and meaning by having a figurehead that reflects its presumed universalist body.

The scandals that have greatly wounded the Catholic Church in recent years, causing its membership to hemorrhage, are largely problems emanating from Europe and North America. The clerical child sex abuse that emerged during Benedict’s eight years as pontiff has plagued the church with disillusionment and dwindling numbers. Clerics who engaged in these crimes have been seen to be based mainly in Europe and North America, and the church hierarchy in these countries, including the pope, has been accused of callous negligence towards victims and, worse, cover-up of the scandal.

The theft and subsequent release of confidential documents by the Pope Benedict’s personal butler last year also sparked embarrassing scandals over financial sleaze and money-laundering in the Vatican’s lucrative bank dealings – one of the richest institutions in the world owing to centuries of European colonialism. The butler’s disclosures also shed light on petty-power bickering among the Vatican hierarchy, which reinforces the notion that it looks like a rich-man’s club completely out of touch with the concerns of the rest of the world.

It seems a patent matter of justice that a worldwide church should not be made to suffer because of the sins of its white and mainly European leadership. This leadership has inflicted deep damage and should therefore makes amends by at least relinquishing its monopoly on administrative power.

Today’s Catholic Church is not only black. It is mainly poor. Most of its membership – like the world at large – is struggling with violent conflict and economic exploitation in order to feed their families.

In his official meetings with US presidents Bush and Obama, Pope Benedict gave emphasis to the issues of abortion and what might be referred to as “life ethics” such as contraception and gay marriage.

It is true that Benedict criticised the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, but not nearly as forcefully as he should have done. These are after all huge crimes of genocide and aggression that have set a dynamic for many other neo-imperialist wars that are now raging across the Middle East and Africa, Syria and Mali being the most recent cases.

When did Pope Benedict denounce the continual threat of nuclear war against Iran issued by the US and its surrogate Israeli client? Or the illegal and barbaric American and European sanctions that are inflicting so much suffering on the people of Iran? The pope is not just a leader of Catholic Christians, he is supposed to be a voice for all of humanity, whether Christian, Muslim or any other.

What the Catholic Church and the world needs is a leader who speaks up unequivocally and vociferously against the massive structural violence and violations that are indisputably the result of Western government foreign policies. Such a leader needs to condemn the American and European perpetrator presidents and prime ministers of these abominations, not to indulge them with reverential meetings to discuss ethical issues.

The politically conservative German pontiff, known for this theological dogmatism, failed conspicuously to denounce capitalism. As with most of the European and North American hierarchy, the outgoing pontiff seems to be oblivious to the fact that this elite-driven economic system dominated by Washington, London, Paris and Berlin is literally crucifying the planet and its people with poverty, disease, hunger and ecological destruction.

The Eurocentric Catholic Church with its long succession of white popes reflects a world that has become warped and corrupted by elite domination, manifested in capitalism and warmongering imperialism that subjugate the world’s majority in conditions of poverty and conflict. Those chains need to be broken. If the Catholic Church is truly guided by God’s good news, then it must break from the pernicious paradigm of elite domination and open up to the reality and needs of the common human condition.

One final irony is that history shows that Africa – while being a recent growth area for the church – is also crucial to its origins and subsequent spreading of the religion. In years following Jesus, his disciples took his teachings from Palestine to Alexandria, in Egypt, as well as Constantinople, Antioch and Rome. One of the four evangelists and friends of Jesus, Saint Mark, was from Cyrene, in what is now modern-day Libya. Mark along with others brought the early church to North and East Africa. At least three of the early popes – Victor I, Miltiades and Gelasius I – were from Roman-occupied Africa. It was only in the following centuries that the Catholic Church became centered on Rome and most of its popes thereafter were Italian and European.

So the historical precedent for an African pope is strong, as well as the modern need for a more representative church that truly reflects and speaks for the human concerns of the world.

A black pope would be long-overdue good news, and a good new beginning.

Finian Cunningham, is a columnist at Press TV and a Featured Writer on Dandelion Salad. He can be reached at


[DS added the video.]

replaced video May 22, 2017

Could the next pope come from Africa?

Al Jazeera English·Feb 13, 2013

Pope Benedict’s decision to step down has led to a debate about whether the next leader of the Catholic church should come from Africa.

Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege reports.

from the archives:

Rick Rozoff, William Blum and Glen Ford: Africa and The New Colonialism of The Continent

Ethiopian Annihilation of the Ogaden People, by Graham Peebles

The real invasion of Africa is not news and a licence to lie is Hollywood’s gift by John Pilger

27 thoughts on “Is the Catholic Church Ready for a Black Pope? by Finian Cunningham

  1. Pingback: Noam Chomsky: The Gospels Are Radical Pacifist Documents | Dandelion Salad

  2. David , Dom Helder Camara –former Archbishop of Brazil is THE hero of the destitute in South America. i wish he were alive today ! check him out . i believe his predissesor would take up that same mantle if he became the next bishop of Rome. But it looks like Rat-zinger has set up an Italian lineage already .

    the MarkTwain qoute was a fun way to counter your Voltaire –G.B.Shaw optimism . you see …we are from the ”show me state” here in America called Missouri , and us Missourians dont go in for optimism either French enl;ightenment Voltarians nor Shavian Shawists . It is an inside joke , but you catch my drift.

    fact of the matter is is that as a Christian practioniner i hold no hope in any manner of optimism . I am a skeptic when it comes to man saving himself . i agree with Twain the Atheist about the ”damned human race”’. it is a pretty dim view of humanity , but then again history backs it up …does it not. we are a sorry lot . i wrote a piece on this blog called ”Optimism is the enemy of hope ”.

    However , regardless of this dim /realistic view –it just wants to make me work harder to hold out the hope of the good news of christ in word and in deed. ..”in hope against hope” as Paul says .

    • Thanks Rocket, I like the Missouri attitude. I’m inclined to agree with you about optimism and the “happy-clappy” banality of bright-side thinking.

      However, Robert Anton Wilson said some clever things in his time, and one was about the advantages of optimism, that went something like, since an optimist can at least enjoy life and have more fun, why opt for being miserable? optimists tend to live longer, moreover it makes sense to hedge your bet as if things do go right, you haven’t spent all that time suffering for nothing…

      I guess if I had to be brutally honest I’m a mystical realist at heart, insofar as I believe wings are for flying. So why should we expect birds to do anything else? However, I always try to be encouraging, simply because when I was a kid, I’d have appreciated a bit more of that.

      Do you really believe that the church has a future though, when most of the world is likely going to start thinking for itself one day? I see these pious hierarchies as simply counter-evolutionary, at best only some kind of moral beacon, when they’re not trying to play the authoritarian card ~ y’know, I’m the expert, listen to me, what I say; follow me! ~ when it would be so much more honest and intelligent to let people figure it all out for themselves; determine their own destinies, by choice, not from coercion, some metaphysical blackmail or a sense of instilled guilt.

      That’s basically what I think. We should just educate ourselves, free ourselves from prejudice; notice the fine detail, but stay aware of that broader horizon, blaze a trail and find out what we’re really made of.

      • David , there is a grave misconception that Catholics dont think for themselves. Francis Bacon refereed to the Jesuit education as ”Ratio Studiorum”….the finest education one can get. my father who was a doctor got it . he would always play Socrates with me , cause that is how the Jesuits did it . He would say ” are you expressing your own thoughts and conclusions , or that of your generations?” ” are you really thinking critically about this or that ”……( fill in the blanks )

        the Priests i hang out with are part of this Catholic intellegensia, and they like my Dad are big on social justice. If it was not for me being trained in the arts , philosophy , theology , music , literature, psychology , etc… at the small Catholic college i went to, ( a Marianist college ) , i would never have freedom of thought that i have today . that is what i call evolution . the Nuns that taught us higher level mathematics that drove me crazy , were also out getting arrested for protesting war and th death penalty . these are the ”heavys ”that i think are bringing about an intellectual, spiritual , and social justice evolution in its truest form .

        here is a good analogy –in your country and in mine , we have had some bad bad bad leaders in power. but we dont renounce our citizenship ..we change it from within . this is what Rosemary Haughton’s ”Th Catholic Thing” analogy of the 2 sisters is all about . the dancing sister seeks to change the rigid one , not destroy her.

        the fact of the matter is is that the so called ”Free thinking ” movement as a product of The Age of Reason and the Enlightenment , as well as Luther shattering the glass, are not really that free at all , when you put them all up against the Medieval Renaissance that culminated in the” Summa Theologica” of Aquanas. Rubenstien’s book ”Aristotle ‘s Children” is an amazing account of this period in Cordova Spain of the Jews , Muslims , and Catholic intellectuals all working together under the tutelage of Archbishop Raymond. …not to mention the great Catholic intellectuals in the Patristic age from the 2nd century A.D. to Augustine . Astounding free thought and the balancing act it took to hammer out consensus on everything from Christology to Sotierology within the framework of Neo Platonic thought and Philosophical Rhetoric .

        • Thanks for this spirited clarification Rocket. I’m not going to argue with that, as I respect your experience. I’d say some catholics may even think far too much! Seriously though, my point is really very simple, that genuine tolerance means acceptance of difference, not who’s right or wrong or has the upper holy hand to keep me or my sister in our place.

          These days we don’t have to risk the inquisitorial pyre, but as Russell once said, there are those who still find ways of showing unkindness.

  3. I should add that very few people seem to realise just how intimately the British establishment and the wealth of its Crown of course, directly supports and enjoys the global hegemony of the Vatican through the Knights of Malta, Hospitalers of St John etc.

    This triple mask of piety, privilege and entitlement is utterly reprehensible, and is the root cause of so many social problems facing us today.

    Power needs a power base, and this posturing Roman foundation is a precipitous pseudo-rock upon which the entire “developed” world, including the US, still rests. Follow the money, follow the trail and it becomes increasingly apparent just who owns most of the land and treasure of our imperialist “world.” This ownership is totally illegitimate, whatever the UN professes or how many “commonwealths” they proclaim.

    We don’t need to destroy global institutions in a mindless arbitrary way, we only need to shred their “title deeds” and thus reform the way they are structured internally; and how they interact with one another externally. Even the burgeoning power of China may become a benign force, if only the leadership would commit to ecosystem conservation, remediation and restoration, to fair trade and to sustainable development.

    Even the US could retain its militarist function if only it were deployed in support of an intelligent conservation ethos, to protect and police marine ecosystems for example, rather than destroying them by its ill-conceived “brute force” network of ecologically devastating infra-structure, and the wholly inappropriate imposition of bases, as for example so tragically in Jeju Island. Even drone technology could be applied beneficially to prevent wildlife poaching and species abuse, thereby eliminating the trade in endangered animals completely.

    Such a radical sea-change in outlook must occur through an ethical accommodation from the grass roots, simultaneously with political leadership from “the top.” Where is this “top?” Some order is better than utter chaos, if that anarchic chaos proves more wanton and destructive than what preceded it, just as we are witnessing now in Syria and elsewhere, like Africa.

    So, can the US re-invent itself? Will it divest itself of authoritarian secret controls? If knowledge is power, let us be sure our knowledge is reliable, lest we build yet more castles of oppression on the sands of sheer superstition, credulity and wishful thinking.

    • David , how in the world did you go from connecting the Vatican to the American Empire? One must understand if anything there is a ”disconnect ” here . The disconnect is simply this : in every country in the world the citizens of that country that are Roman Catholic are aware of being a” Catholic in France” . or say –the Catholic Church in Brazil , Spain ..etc.

      Americans dont think that way . Americans say ”American Catholic ”. They are putting the cart before the horse.

      Now i am not trying to make a for or against evaluation on this , it is just that… trust me when i say as a Catholic and an American , that we are fairly unique in this . that is why you will not see an American Pope .

      We Americans dont even think in terms of anything coming before us . JFK was on the spitfire grill , and put the U.S first over being a Catholic . Thomas More , no matter what you think of him , would never do that. Neither would even the most radical liberation theologians such as Boff in Brazil , or Guiterez or Ernesto Cardinel in central america. Romero, who spoke out against the repression in El Salvador , and was gunned down saying mass ( who should be made a saint ) , never put his country before the Church in either title or name .

      Now , there are exceptions here in the states with the Catholic Worker movement . We dont buy into the jingoism of patriotism . But most Americans do . And we pale compared the Spanish in their devotion . One time i went to mass and there was a bunch of Spanish people there and their devotion blew me away . i mean really blew me away !

      So , if you can show the connect i will listen .

      in regards to ”where is the top”? i would like to recommend Boff’s ”Church, Charism, and Power”. This bold Franciscan lays it out why the Vatican must be turned upside down like a pyramid , by putting the poor and destitute on the top. Cardinal Ratzinger silenced him for a year.

      • I get what you’re saying, although I do not share your passion and enthusiasm for franchised “churches” unless they are home-grown, pure and uniquely indigenous lodges of light. My point is simple enough ~ there is only one establishment, with common ambitions but several faces, even in Russia or Beijing or wherever.

        All the lines are connected, primarily through resource ownership and brute possession. We can go right back to the betrayal of Jacques de Molay by Phillip of France and Friday the 13th. Prior to all that Islam was the massive game changer, and even now as yet, we do not really understand it’s likely implications for the spiritual consciousness of mankind.

        Washington and the Vatican have a great deal in common. They are both obsessed with power. Moreover, the influence of powerful “catholics” in the US has been enormous. That has changed lately with the developments that have rocked the contrived foundations.

        Inverting pyramids may seem like a just idea, just as guillotines were deemed necessary in the Reign of Terror 1793/4 but how practical is it? We must reform and rectify our moral compass through the concept of just and representative leadership. Humans will always need leaders.

        Rocket my friend, the only republic I trust is the Republic of Genius. That is a perpetually conditional constellation of limitless possibility, and thus worthy of enduring respect.

        • David , in all due respect you are sounding like Voltaire to G.B Shaw. The Republic of Genius is more Protagoras and the Sophist maxim ”Man is the measure of all things”. i will hurl Mark Twain back at you ”the damned human race”.

          The inversion of the pyramid is very practical , and Boff’s book was enough of a Franciscan threat as to silence him for a year. The whole point of the book is to make sure there is no Opus Deu nor a Robespierre reaction .

          if the influence of power Catholics in the U.S. is that big than why did Father Coughlin get silenced too? believe me when i say that Catholics in America are Nominalists .

          the furthests Catholics ever got was the Catholic League of Decency during the Harding administration working with the Hays commission .and that never lasted long . America is a Puritan -Protestant country and looks upon Jews , Catholics, and now Muslims with great suspicion .

        • That’s very amusing, and I enjoy your criticisms. OK fair enough let me think about this some more, my brain is reeling with too much ongoing 9/11 internet buzz today!

          Anyway what’s wrong with Protagoras and all those grand old boys? Popper was extremely keen on their pre-Socratic philosophical ingenuity. I get your point about Protestant America well enough, it is essentially Harold Bloom’s “gnostic” position is it not?

          I think it is silly of me to get too wrapped up in confusing red white ‘n blue perspectives, when obviously you are right about authentic catholic social conscience. I don’t question or dispute any of that, and am happy to defer to you about any stuff I just don’t know.

          My real beef is with establishment cynicism ~ all that clubby, cozy, toady and crony, papal-knight social climbing, gongs and “honours” and Fellini dress parades, that simply swell the ranks of bigoted misogynists with their privileged, criminal ecocidal lifestyles. Some life! I just loathe & detest all that pretentious sanctimonious Hollywood posturing and indifference to real Nature ~ or real humanity for that matter.

        • David , Protagoras was post –Socratic . Popper loved the Pre, but mostly the silver age of post with the skeptic school of the Phyronnists.

          Hey , i heard John Hogue being interviewed last night . Hogue wrote ”Messiahs”. an interesting work . he thinks that the next Bishop of Rome will be Italian . If Hogue is right it will spell trouble . we need that guy from Brazil . His work on social justice is amazing .

        • Thanks Rocket, I’m ready to stand corrected but just looked it up and Wikipedia describes him as preSoc, circa 490bce & as you say a sophist, that is according to Plato…

          What was Twain’s context for that quote about the “damned human race?”

          And who exactly is this Brasilian guy you admire?

    • Vera , the 21st century IS the dark ages . We have more ways of so called communication , yet we are more cut off from each other than ever. Genetic engineering looms on the horizon . it rains from a poisoned sky. More life killing weapons are created daily. Our foods are being modified . Things look more and more like a Blade Runner world . We vote in war criminals in every branch of the government , in virtually every government on the planet . Our rights are being chipped away every day in the name of patriotism . We allow torture to continue . We glorify violence non stop on the big screen . The sex slave trade is globally pervasive . Multinational corporations sins are reaching the heavens literally , and polluting the entire world as those from Beijing across the global horizon are eating away the ozone to the point where people have live with masks over their face to try and breath. The Brazilian rain forest climate control center of the world is being cut down daily , meanwhile the Saharan desert is being thrown all out of whack .

      And this is all done in the name of scientific progress, in the name of ushering in a brave new world, a utopia that has become a nightmare distopia. All done by the 1% that seeks to control the earth and harvest human beings like cattle. And the Occupy Wall street movement gave up, because all they really wanted was a job in a cubical and a mortgage in order to live a life of stellar mediocrity. Yes, my friend this IS the new Dark Age

  4. Finian , as a Catholic [myself] David is right . There is nothing democratic about the Church . my gut tells me that the next Bishop of Rome will be from Brazil .

    here are the reasons why –to stave off American fundamentalism in latin America .

    the Church has had Black Popes before . There is one on the short list. i dont think the next Pope will come from Europe though .

  5. There is nothing democratic about the Vatican hierarchy, Finian! It is a lethal franchise of inequality and imposture.

    The purported demographics are virtually irrelevant for two reasons: first, equal representation must include women; second, the assumption that being black would guarantee the best candidate is not only racist, but spurious; because as we have witnessed in the US, a “black” president can prove to be every bit as venal and complicit as any “white” man or woman.

    The child abuse abominations are in no way restricted to Europe and North America, but have been shown to be endemic. South America, world wide. The documentation is explicit!

    The black argument is further weakened by the notion that this hierarchy is actually deserving of any respect, even among its blind dupes and most devoted adherents. It has had millennia to deliver the “good news” and so far as I can determine, has failed on every count.

    Not only does this pseudo-religion enslave and impoverish people through its institutionalized dogmatic tyranny, exploitation and diabolical sexist influence on elected politicians, through its dirty business and gangster finance, and liturgical sleaze but ~ it has been actively instrumental in the actual abuses unleashed by those very governments everywhere, genocidal abuses against the disenfranchised, indigenous minorities, the vagrant poor, radical reformers, women generally and the politically “incorrect.”

    Pinochet was a good catholic, so was Franco, the list goes on and on. What was J Edgar Hoover? Multiple CIA directors were as devout as the criminal enterprises they perpetrated, were proportionately hideous and villainous in the extreme. Unprecedented atrocity upon atrocity, squarely and firmly have been deposited on the holy doorstep of this cabal of swindlers. Rwanda…Congo…? Need I go on?

    Poverty is a chronic disease of the soul as well as the body. Let’s be rid of it!! Do away with the curse of class and race and sexism forever, by eliminating its direct cause: the illusion of moral exceptionalism, anthropocentric specism and elite privilege.

    The only thing another pope can do to help or improve things is to dissolve the entire vile, miasma of deceit and oppression ~ banish it for once and for good, and turn toward the conservation of the natural world ~ our real sustenance. If that honourable and just Magician should happen to be a “black man,” so be it and good luck, and may God speed, from whither and whence She/He/It may dwell.

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