21 March 2017, The Tablet

Communion debate sparked by Amoris Laetitia 'settled long ago' in Africa, says Nigerian theologian

In Africa the problem is not to do with divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments but over what to do about polygamy, says theologian

There is no debate over whether the divorced and remarried can receive communion in Africa because the issue was “settled long ago”. “They can’t”, according to the organiser of a major conference on Africa beginning in Rome this week.

“If you go to the ordinary parishes in most of Africa, you will find that people who are in the situation you’re talking about would not present themselves for Communion because they already accept that these are the rules,” Father Paulinus Odozor, a Nigerian theologian, told Crux News’ weekly radio programme, “The Crux of the Matter.”

Odozor is the main organiser of a three-day conference examining the past, present and future of African theology in the Catholic tradition, which starts tomorrow (22 March) at the University of Notre Dame’s Global Gateway centre.

When questioned about the debate around communion for the remarried that has been unleashed by Amoris Laetitia, Odozor, a lecturer in Christian ethics and theology at the university, said the West was prone to taking one issue and running with it, “without looking at the whole context”.

“It’s terrible, and it can be nauseating … even if there is a debate over divorced and remarried Catholics and Communion, that shouldn’t be taken out of context,” he told Crux.

The theologian explained that in Africa the problem was not with divorced and remarried Catholics receiving the sacraments but over what to do about polygamy.

Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, said that if Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia allows Westerners in “irregular situations” to receive Holy Communion, the Catholic Church in Africa - which has fought a long campaign against polygamy - would lose credibility among its people. 

“If Westerners in irregular situations can receive Communion, are we to tell our polygamists & other “misfits" that they too are allowed?” the South African cardinal posted on his Twitter account on 5 January. 

 Well-known African theologian, Jesuit Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, the principal of Hekima University College in Nairobi, has said that although he believes Amoris Laetitia reaffirms in “uncompromising terms” the church's teaching on abortion, contraception, birth control, and marriage. It is also uncompromising in affirming the centrality of conscience.

“If African bishops are wise,” he told National Catholic Register last year, “ they would realise that the Pope gives them license to be creative in addressing pastoral situations of family life and marriage.”


PICTURE: Communion is celebrated under a tree in South Sudan. Nigerian theologian, Fr Odozor, believes the divorced and remarried in Africa would not present themselves for communion because they accept that "these are the rules." 

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