John Abimanyi, Daily Monitor
Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, who was part of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, will not be travelling to the Vatican in the election of Pope Benedict’s successor, because he is older than the age limit, 80 years. He talked to John K. Abimanyi about issues concerning the Roman Catholic Church in contemporary times
The Conclave will soon be meeting to choose a new pope. What do you say should be the direction of the Church at a time when it is facing a rift between liberals and conservatives over such issues as ordaining of female priests, allowing priests to marry and homosexuality?
The Holy Spirit is the guide to the Church. He is the driver of the Church. There are no liberals and conservatives in the Catholic Church. It is only those who adhere to the Catholic tenets who are true members of the Catholic Church. Others may be hiding in the church but they are not true members. The Church is not a wall where people are walled in. You are free to walk out if you want.
Bookmakers in Europe have billed high stakes on two African Cardinals, in particular, Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria and Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, to become the next pope. What do you say of comments that it’s Africa’s turn to get the next pope?
I took part in the Conclave only once, to elect Pope Benedict XVI and my experience in the Conclave is that the choice of the pope is guided by the Holy Spirit. He will direct the Cardinals to choose the right Pope. We are not adhering to a faith that is allied to a particular race; the Church is universal. The word ‘catholic’ means universal, so anybody can be pope, regardless of race. The church in Africa has been vibrant even when the pope has not been African.
Talking of vibrancy of the Church in Africa, it’s been said it is here and in South America that the Catholic Church has its strongest roots. Could that be a cue for Africa to play a bigger role in the Church, worldwide?
When you look at the history of the church, through the past 2,000 years, one region has been more prominent, and then another region became more prominent. For instance, during the first centuries, the Church was very strong in North Africa but now it is down. The life of the Church is like weather conditions. In Africa, maybe we are now enjoying our springtime, then later we may be in winter or summer.
The head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, recently resigned his position after allegations of inappropriate conduct towards fellow clergy in the 1980s. How much damage do you think sex scandals have done to the church?
The Church has seen it all; there is nothing new that the Church has not seen. One of the beliefs of the Church is communion. If I steal, because I am in the fellowship, everybody else takes the blame as well. If one member of a group does something bad, he brings disrepute to everybody, even if it is just another member of the church or a cardinal. It is equally sad if one member of the church has two wives instead of one and yet he is married in church.
Did you ever meet Pope Benedict XVI?
I met him before he became pope, at the Conclave when he was elected pope and I think I met him four times on my visits to the Vatican after he became pope.
What did you think of him?
He is a great man of God. He is an intellectual, a scholar. the end of last year, Pope Benedict received criticism for published a book that questioned what people believe to be Jesus’ date of birth and the use of nativity scenes of donkeys and cows as myths.
What is your take on that?
As a scholar, he has the right and ability to make differentiations between issues.
What would you want of the next pope?
The role of the pope is to strengthen his brethren, to lead his brethren in the knowledge of God. That is what I want of the next pope.
What is it like inside the Conclave?
As I said before, it is the Holy Spirit who led us, we went in and cast our votes.
Is there no lobbying?
No lobbying at all. There was no chance of lobbying even if one wanted to. You came in, said a prayer, and cast your vote. There was no room for lobbying.