Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 1st 2015 Contents BG18 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt OCTOBER 1 • 2015
Let me admit from the outset that
as a baby I was baptised a
Roman Catholic and, for many
years in my early childhood, I
was a faithful acolyte to priests
as they said mass every day. I
stopped regular attendance at mass when a
priest could not satisfactorily explain to me
what I regarded as blatant discrimination and
favouritism to a moneyed-class.
The discrimination and favouritism were
reflected in pews at the front of the church,
reserved for people with money. Their names
were emblazoned on the pews. And, though
they seldom came to church, except for big
ceremonies, faithful congregations were left
to stand while these pews remained empty.
The explanation that one day at an older
age I would understand the economics of the
church did not satisfy me. I saw what looked
like discrimination and I opted not to continue
to be involved in it, particularly as I had no
influence to stop it. My asking questions pro-
vided no encouraging response.
I had also found the practices of the church
and its domineering influence on the Catholic
school I attended too dictatorial and intrusive.
These were not religious teachings. They were
strictures imposed by the church that had
nothing to do with God or faith. They were
designed to constrain inquiring minds and
harness blind adherence to the church. Among
them were compulsory confessions of sins
whether they had been committed or not.
Reflecting on that period now, I marvel at
what possible sins 11 year-old boys and girls
could commit that required confession and
I also look back with some amusement at
the notices posted by the bishop on the church
door every Friday at noon advising what films
at the local cinemas were "unsuitable for good
Catholics". Those notices became an immediate
"best seller" list of movies for boys like me
who wondered what we were being censored
In my adult years, I questioned more of the
Among them was the defrocking of priests
who could not sustain their lives without the
love of a woman and their desire for marriage.
I had four childhood friends who were deprived
of their calling to the priesthood because they
fell in love with a woman and wished to marry.
In each case, the Catholic church lost from
its service decent men, devoted to the church,
full of Christian charity and firm believers in
Other Christian religions have no such
requirement of their priests and they are no
worse for it; indeed they may be better since
their priests have the comfort and support of
their families in tending to their congregations.
The fact is that the requirement for Catholic
priests to be celibate was introduced by one
Pope based on the fear that the material legacy
of the priests, at that time, would be left to
their families and not to the church.
Among other troubling matters is the rel-
egation of women to a life of service as a nun,
but never as a priest. The blatant, archaic and
foolish constraint resonates with discrimination
that has echoes of fundamentalist teachings
of other non-Christian religions that are con-
demned for such discrimination.
There is, of course, also the matters of abor-
tion and annulment of Catholic marriages.
The idea that in no circumstances can Catholics
countenance abortion has, unnecessarily, bur-
dened hundreds of thousands of people across
the world. The refusal to annul marriages
when partners have themselves determined
that only unhappiness results from its con-
tinuation also takes man-made rules to the
point of ridiculous.
As an agent of change for all these arcane
practices, Pope Francis is a phenomenal char-
acter. That he is a man of personal humility
who eschews the trappings and luxuries of
high office is well known. But it is his pro-
nouncements and his instructions to the
Catholic community and to people world-
wide that distinguishes his Papacy. He has
brought to his task an enlightenment and a
commit to preach a gospel of change that is
timely and courageous. There should be no
doubt that, in the hierarchy of the church,
particularly amongst the entrenched estab-
lishment, many oppose the positions he has
The meaning of Pope Francis must surely
be that he has brought a new vision and a
new purpose to the leadership of the Catholic
church from which the world will benefit.
It is known now that the thaw in the cold
relations between Cuba and the United States
of America was facilitated by the Vatican under
his leadership. The establishment of diplomatic
relations between these two long-estranged
nations and the steps toward normalization
had both his active participation and his bless-
His back-to-back visits to Cuba and the
US underscore his interest in the challenges
and opportunities of the Western Hemisphere
as "a son of this continent".
Without calling Cuba s name, he told meet-
ing of the US Congress: "It is my duty to build
bridges and to help all men and women, in
any way possible, to do the same. When coun-
tries which have been at odds resume the path
of dialogue -- a dialogue which may have been
interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons;
new opportunities open up for all. This has
required, and requires, courage and daring,
which is not the same as irresponsibility. A
good political leader is one who, with the
interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in
a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good
political leader always opts to initiate processes
rather than possessing spaces."
He had no fear in telling the Castro gov-
ernment that there should be religious and
political freedom in Cuba, and in urging that
the country should become more integrated
with the rest of the world.
In this area of US-Cuba relations alone,
Pope Francis has made a worthy contribution
to peace and development in the Americas.
His admonition to the US Congress should
be framed in the annals of all time and for all
mankind: "If we want security, let us give
security; if we want life, let us give life; if we
want opportunities, let us provide opportu-
nities. The yardstick we use for others will be
the yardstick which time will use for us."
There is much more to Pope Francis than
can be explored in this space, but his meaning
to the Catholic church and to the world as an
apostle for better is already clear.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
ambassador to the US and a candidate for
the post of Commonwealth Secretary-Gen-
The meaning of Pope Francis
Pope Francis kissing the
feet of a prisoner.
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