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German Cardinal Walter Kasper has yet again addressed the outcry over his controversial comments on Africa, offering an apology that will likely do little to appease critics: “If one of my remarks about Africans was perceived as demeaning or insulting, then I am honestly sorry. That was and is not my intention, and not my view at all.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, an antagonist of Kasper’s in the recent synod, called the comments “profoundly sad and scandalous.” A German bishop quoted by the tabloid Bild Zeitung quipped, “insulting, lying and falsely accusing is not prescribed by the Catechism.” According to one report, word of Kasper’s remarks reached Pope Francis himself.

Kasper initially denied the statements, in which he called African attitudes on homosexuality a “taboo” and said that Africans “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” After a recording of the interview surfaced, he accused the reporter of secretly taping him. In the most recent interview, Kasper lashes out at critics and repeated his accusation that the reporter had subjected him to a “deliberate dirty trick”:

“The fact that Catholic media (and unfortunately a cardinal in person) should participate in it, in order to tear down another position morally, is shameful,” Kasper opined. When asked as a follow-up question who that cardinal was, Kasper unfortunately gave no answer. The retired Curial Cardinal announced, however, that “other journalists” are going to take action against such “undignified machinations.”

Kasper’s new non-apology has made clear that he is committed to following the path of denial and justification taken by Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong after he made his own dismissive remarks on Africa. In that case, Spong refused to fully apologize for his remarks for two weeks after their initial statement. Instead, like Kasper, he continued to reiterate his point while saying he had been misunderstood. Miranda K. Hassett summarizes:

Spong did attempt to clarify or qualify his remarks on a couple of public occasions, but both times succeeded only in ruffling more feathers, without making any impression that he really understood the offensiveness of his remarks. For example, at a public occasion a week into the conference, Spong was asked to explain his remarks. He reportedly replied as follows: “My experience of the Church in Africa, and it is basically of the Church in Kenya, is that the conversions to Christianity . . . were coming from people who were relatively uneducated and were moving out of animistic religions into what I regard as a very . . . superstitious kind of Christianity.”

I, for one, think it wrong to call Kasper’s remarks “racist” (as Cardinal Burke has done). The term serves not so much to describe as to dismiss; it demands a wholesale rejection of the person to whom it’s applied. Kasper’s remarks were astoundingly condescending—and his subsequent denials and accusations have been no less galling—but we need not call him a racist to recognize the troubling nature of the remarks, nor to point out the problems (clear enough already) with his doctrinal proposals.

But what I think, what Kasper thinks, what journalists who hailed the remarks as containing “obvious truth” think matters less than another question: What do Africans think? Never mind the reactions in the Western press, pro and con. What about the opinions of Africans themselves, those whose voices Kasper said were going unheard at the synod?

Well, it isn’t pretty:

The most eloquent cry of protest came from Obianuju Ekeocha, a Nigerian woman who recently moved to the UK. She wrote:

Imagine my shock today as I read the words of one of the most prominent Synod Fathers, who implied that the views and values that our African Synod Fathers have expressed on certain issues will not or have not been listened to . . . .

Ekeocha perceived Kasper’s words as typical of the dismissals she has encountered as an African Christian living in Europe. She’s heard it before, and now she hears it again:

Reading this interview brought much tears to my eyes and much sadness to my heart because as an African woman now living in Europe, I am used to having my moral views and values ignored or put down as an “African issue”or an “African view point.” I have had people imply that I am not sophisticated or evolved enough in my understanding of human sexuality, homosexuality, marriage, sanctity of human life from conception, openness to life and the so called “over-population.”

So as a result, in many circles, any contributions I make in discussions are placed in second or third rung. How can Africa stand shoulder to shoulder with other cultures if our views are considered uncouth or uncool by a standard strictly scripted by Western, worldly and wealthy nations?

Was this woman—a biomedical scientist with multiple degrees who has lived on two continents—smearing Kasper? Was she duped?

Or is something else going on, something the cardinal is understandably reluctant to see? She concludes:

Respectfully and humbly I lay down my appeal at thy feet your Eminence. Consider the tears of the poor who confidently turn to you.

One wonders if Kasper has or will read the words of Obianuju Ekeocha. Even if he does not, he can read the words of others. Michael Ngoaybe, administrator of the “Nigerian Catholics” Facebook group, posted a report on Kasper’s remarks and archly wrote, “Well, I hope while we were quiet, we were praying; and we still are because Holy Mother Church could certainly do with more prayers now than, perhaps, ever before.”

Ngoaybe wondered if Kasper’s remarks marked “that moment when our long-standing behaviour of ‘keeping the peace’ by remaining silent and refraining from speaking and defending the Truth in word and deed, turns around to hunt us.”

Another member of the group, Chioma Akanegbu, commented on the story: “Our Hope is that Christ would uproot the evil that has found its roots deep within the Church.”

Cardinal Kasper has said that Africans “should not tell us too much what we have to do” and described their views on homosexuality in terms of a “taboo”: 

Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Is this merely a reasonable remark, “good theological sense” in the words of one Mottramist writer? Or was there something wrong in Kasper’s remarks? 

Why don’t we turn our ears to Africa for the answer—and this time really listen.

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