Review: Christ’s New Homeland – Africa: Contribution to the Synod on the Family by African Pastors

This important contribution for the good of the universal Church is a demonstration of the concerns of African bishops regarding many controversial matters that are going to be considered in the Synod on the Family. It is presented by Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship. He underlines how marriage comes from God and that no human person has the authority to try to reinvent it. He shows how part of the forces that militate against marriage are a form of “ideological colonization.” He wisely expresses reservations about interfaith marriages, and underlines how Catholics involved in second “marriages” cannot be admitted to Holy Communion because that action would be equivalent to declaring their first marriage dissolved.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, Responses to the New Challenges of the Family

Robert Cardinal Sarah, current Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, presents an article full of wisdom: “What sort of Pastoral Mercy in Response to the New Challenges to the Family? A Reading of the Lineamenta.” He points out that the truth of the faith is no longer believed everywhere and by everyone within the Church, noting that some want to adjust teaching to the current sociological trends. He underlines that in the Relatio Sinodi of the past Extraordinary Synod of October 2014 there is not only confusion, but even some serious errors. He notes that paragraph 14 of the Relatio seems to insinuate that insisting on the indissolubility of marriage would be synonymous with subjugating persons. He emphasizes that paragraph 27 contains “unacceptable, scandalous points,” such as the suggestion that “a period of ‘civil marriage’ may be recommended as phase in which a couple’s relationship can mature.”

homelandHe underlines that we find “slippery language in the document in the midst of correct statements.” And that this document lacks “a clear position and all the confusion that we note in the Relatio synodi are obvious signs, not only of a deep crisis of the faith, but also of an equally deep crisis in pastoral practice.” With a bit of pointed irony he expresses his astonishment “that instead of a more in-depth study and an organized, systematic diffusion of this great pastoral effort deployed by John Paul II, some speak as though nothing had been done to be close to families, and they narrow the perspective to an opposition between those who are allegedly fixated on legalism and those who invoke the Divine Mercy.” He underlines how the Relatio synodi reflects the malaise of the Church of the West that is stifled by godless secularized society. He concludes this analysis with a pithy statement: “But is it not strange, sad, and even dangerous to pit divine laws and canonical norms in this way against values, when these norms are the synthetic, comprehensive expression of doctrine in the service of life—precisely what we call pastoral ministry?”

Cardinal Sarah further notes well how Christian families in the Northern Hemisphere are becoming a sociological minority as they experience an oppressive and relentless discrimination. “Everything is against them, the prevailing values, media and cultural pressure, financial constraints, legislation, and so on.” He underlines “the Church herself, through documents like the Lineamenta, seems to be pushing them toward the exit.”  The Cardinal wisely notes, that besides the “little remnant” that is faithful and needs encouragement we have to help those who want to return to the Church. We should help them not through a sort of false “mercy” that lets them sink deeper into evil, but by the truth about life that comes from Jesus Christ. They have to be healed through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Those who have remained faithful should not be scandalized by a pressure that tries to oblige them to recognize positive values in situations that are contrary to the Gospel, because it is not possible to find “human values” or “positive values” in forms of union that are contrary to the Gospel. Those who have been healed and have remained faithful could become powerful missionaries. Cardinal Sarah concludes his article with a ringing assurance that if the Church clearly proclaims the Gospel of the Family the wild beasts that seek to destroy it will flee.

Bishop Barthelemy Adoukonou Emphasizes Concerning Aspects of the Instrumentum Laboris

Bishop Barthelemy Adoukonou, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture in his article “Starting from Living Faith, An African take on the Instrumentum Laboris.” He shows that this document leaves several points of concern: Starting with fundamental methodological limitations, it utilizes the resources of the social sciences to study the current situation of the family without bringing to light the historical choices that led to this disaster, especially the decision to exclude God from everyday life. Bishop Adoukonou calls upon the Synod fathers to deliver a clear message to those many Christians who are striving to live the Gospel. If the Church fails to do that, she would dangerously compromise the future of Christianity in Africa, where she is forcefully challenged not only by a radical, militant Islamism, but also by a Western civilization that is secularist, hedonist, sensualist, and consumerist.

He criticizes the Church in the West for seeking accommodations with a secularist society and trying to impose these accommodations to the rest of the world. Against these accommodations he insists that the only way of healing wounded families is through conversion. The bishop makes a clear reference to some demeaning comments from Cardinal Kasper:

Africa would like to remind the Church in the West that she could not possibly engage in a hermetically sealed dialogue with the postmodern world, while ridiculing other countries as though they were trapped in various forms of obscurantism that no one understands, without seriously compromising her faith and Christian roots…. The acceptance by a plurality of the notion of family found in pleas on behalf of the divorced and remarried or, worse yet, on behalf of homosexual unions is totally unacceptable because it is scandalous, even in the view of pagans and of morally upright atheists, who are astonished by certain “politically correct” proposals of Church leaders, which add to the confusion because they lack evangelical clarity.

He criticizes some unclear formulations of the document that are a cause of confusion.

[The Instrumentum Laboris] depicts the Gospel as a burden or an inaccessible ideal, it is impossible for it to point to it as the final goal toward which we would like to lead so-called “cultural values” that are described, in an astonishing rhetorical turn, as “seeds of the Word” (no. 99). An anthropology rooted in an obligatory atheism will never be able to arrive at the New Man that Christ represents.

Then he adds that the document, “goes on at length about topics such as homosexuality, gender, and the divorced and remarried and sprinkles them with “values” that are proclaimed nominally and presented as “seeds of the Word”, which is quite obviously a contradiction.” He concludes calling the coming Synod to clear up all the confusion and to dismiss any alleged “new pastoral sensitivity” whose Christian criteria for validity are unknown.

Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah Summarizes the Instrumentum Laboris, Seeks to Protect the Family

In “The importance of Recent Magisterial Teaching on Marriage and Family,” Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah, Archbishop of Lome, presents a good synthesis of the Instrumentum Laboris, recommending that the Synod fathers strongly protect the family from the contemporary menaces. He concludes by stressing that the divorced and remarried cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion.

Philippe Cardinal Quedarogo, Archbishop of Ougadougu, Burkina Faso, in “The Indissolubility of Marriage – The Foundation of the Human Family,” uses the teachings of Christ to underline the indissolubility marriage as the unshakable ground on which the human family is built. He starts by presenting the challenges that come from the “influence of globalization, secularization, gender ideology, the dictatorship of one way of thinking, and the ideological colonization of the family in these times.” He discusses the challenges presented by mixed faith marriage to the indissolubility of marriage, noting that “Although the Catholic party, in contracting marriage, commits himself in a sacramental marriage whose indissolubility has particular stability, the same cannot be said of the non-Catholic baptized party.” As a consequence, “it must be acknowledged that experience suggests greater pastoral prudence in precisely these cases. Thus our diocesan synod, noting the significant percentage of failures recorded, particularly in mixed marriages, recommended that the parents and pastors of young people stress the major difficulties of mixed marriage.” He notes in particular the most serious problems having to do with marriages with Islamists: “Should mixed and disparate marriages not be forbidden so as to safeguard the indissolubility of marriage? Such a measure may seem excessive, but is a life of faith conceivable without the cross? … For the sake of the faith and of his life with Christ, the believer must be able to make the choice that involves the acceptance of the cross and the renunciation of his own plans.”

Cardinal Quedarogo then discusses the challenges to the indissolubility of marriage that come from the African cultural context, such as sterility, adultery, repudiation, and cases when persons seek baptism just to be married but without having sufficient faith. He concludes stating: “For our African pastors, experience proves that it is necessary and salutary to bring fully to light, not contingent philosophical, anthropological, or cultural views, but above all the patrimony of faith that the Church has the duty to preserve in its inviolable purity.”

Berhaneyesus D. Cardinal Souraphiel, C.M. Examines The Fruit of Marriage and Family

Berhaneyesus D. Cardinal Souraphiel, C.M., Archbishop of Addis Ababa, contributes an essay entitled “Promoting a True Understanding of Marriage and the Accompaniment of Married of Married Couples.” His starting point is the nature of marriage as complementary union of man and woman based on a permanent commitment to each other fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. Marriage serves the good of the spouses, the good of the children and common good of society. He underlines how government recognizes but does not create marriage. He notes how the breakdown of marriage weakens civil society and endangers limited government, as the state takes over functions that proper to the family. The Archbishop of Addis Ababa underlines the social nature of faith, “Because of faith in Christ, our everyday lives should be continuously transformed and conformed to Christ as we encounter God, transforming and conforming society to Christ along the way.”  He presents a good review of the crucial role that the Church has in promoting good marriages, noting that

Some of the serious duties of a pastor include: providing catechesis for the Christian faithful; instructing and assisting parents and guardians in their role as primary educators of the children in the ways of the faithful consistent with Church teaching; providing formation of those who catechize others—including parents or guardians involved in the catechesis of their children.

The Ethiopian Cardinal concludes his essay, with a call to restore good order in marriage by recalling the divine plan and striving to conform to it.

Christian Cardinal Tumi Explains the Essential Elements of Marriage

In “Marriage in Situation of Dysfunction or Weakness – Separation, Divorce, Remarriage,” Christian Cardinal Tumi, Archbishop emeritus of Doula, Cameroon, begins with the essential elements of marriage. He notes that the consent of the future spouses is essential as it is everywhere, adding that in Cameroon the role of the clans to which the future spouses belong “is indispensable in helping the individual understand that he belongs to a group and that he does not live in an airtight container and that the marriage he celebrates is not an individual affair for him to decide arbitrarily.” He makes a precise presentation of the causes of divorce and remarriage and he shows how remarriage is contrary to divine law.

His Excellency Antoine Ganye Sheds Light on Polygamy

His Excellency Antoine Ganye, Archbishop of Cotonou, begins “Monogamy and Polygamy – Challenge and Concern for the Truth of Love in African Cultures” with a discussion of the foundational cultural role of monogamy, insisting that polygamy in Africa is circumstantial and not structural. Culturally it is seen mainly as a remedy for infertility, noting that the first wife is considered a legitimate wife and the others are only concubines.  He shows that monogamy is grounded in God’s creational plans in accordance with the nature that He has given to mankind, while showing also that it has spiritual, psychological, familial and economic advantages. He analyzes with attention the conversions of polygamists and he is very clear that they cannot be baptized if they do not leave this situation.

With regards to baptism and polygamy, however, the archbishop presents an odd position: “Although the sacrament of baptism is a door of salvation, one must also face the self-evident fact that salvation is not reduced to the sacrament. God has broader views and meets each of his children in a way peculiar to him. From this perspective, the polygamist can indeed attain salvation without, however, receiving baptism and being incorporated into the Christian community.” He concludes his work by arguing that the Church has to continue her missionary work to polygamists, but it is more urgent to work with children and young people and to teach about the value of monogamy.

Theodore Adrien Cardinal Sarr Discusses the Challenges of Interfaith Marriages

Theodore Adrien Cardinal Sarr, Archbishop emeritus of Dakar, contributes a study on “The Challenge of Mixed and Interfaith Marriages.” He notes that this is one of the great challenges confronting the Church in Africa. In particular he shows the real difficulties that exist on marriages between Christians and Muslims. “While the Christian is formed to contract and live a monogamous, indissoluble marriage, the Muslim grows up thinking that a marriage can involve polygamy and end in divorce. Even if the Muslim party accepts the Christian view at the start, married life and its difficulties may bring about changes of opinion and, therefore, conflicts between spouses.” He also points the serious difficulties with the education of the children and that the dangers of apostasy by the Catholic party, especially women, are real. Those marriages as he points out, “involve serious difficulties for the common life of the spouses and dangers for the faith.”

Archbishop Samuel Kleda Stresses the Importance of Marriage Preparation

Archbishop Samuel Kleda, Archibishop of Doula, submits several valid considerations on the “Pastoral Care of Wounded Families.” He reaffirms the teachings of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage and stresses the importance of a serious and long term preparation for marriage. He shows the particular tensions that affect marriages arising from the particular circumstances of Africa, presenting interesting cases in which marriages can be validated in accordance with canon law that arise from the pastoral conditions of Africa. (The radical sanation of an invalid marriage is its convalidation without the renewal of consent, granted by the competent authority and including a dispensation from an impediment, if there was one, and from the canonical form, if it was not observed, and the retroactivity into the past of canonical effects (can. 1161, §1).

Jean-Pierre Cardinal Kutwa Lays out Why the State should Support the Family

Jean-Pierre Cardinal Kutwa, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, concludes this collection with “Why should the State Support the Family?” After presenting a fine introduction on the nature, vocation and mission of the family, he presents the reasons for state policies favoring families, showing how the family and the political society are interdependent. He underlines how the family is entitled to inviolable rights that the state cannot undermine, defending the very important principle of subsidiarity as it is applied by the family. Subsidiarity, as we know, is the principle that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. This defense of limited government and personal freedom supports the related principle of solidarity, or the moral imperative to be present to our brothers and sisters in need. He underlines that the State should guarantee

the freedom to start a family, to have children, and to raise them according to the parents’ own moral and religious convictions; protection of the stability of the conjugal bond and of the institution of the family; the freedom to profess one’s faith, to transmit it, and to raise children in it with the necessary means and institutions; the right to private property; the freedom to do business or to get a job and housing; the right to emigrate; access to medical care, assistance for elderly persons and for families in great difficulty; the protection of public safety and public health, especially with regard to dangers such as drugs, pornography, and alcohol abuse; the freedom to form associations with other families and thereby to have representation with the civil authorities.

All of these natural rights and responsibilities flown naturally from the family as the primary natural society based upon marriage. The Cardinal notes further that all other forms of cohabitation do not deserve the status of the family.


This excellent collective work first and foremost is a sign of hope because it shows that in the midst of the contemporary distortion of Christian doctrine in many countries in the world, the Church if Africa remains faithful to Christ, upholding the constant teachings on life and marriage. It also provides important insights to those contributing to the Synod of the Family, particularly in the works of Cardinal Sarah and Bishop Adoukonou, both of which shed light on many difficulties that will confront the Synod.

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro is the director of Human Life International's office in Rome. He was ordained a priest for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York on Nov. 14, 1987. From the beginning of his priestly ministry, Monsignor Barreiro was involved in the Pro-Life and Traditional Latin Mass apostolates. He received his licentiate and doctorate degree in Systematic Theology from the University of the Holy Cross, in Rome, Italy. For a period of time in the 1990s, Msgr. Barreiro served in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Since September 1998, Msgr. Barreiro has been the Executive Director of the Rome office of Human Life International. In Rome, he started an apostolate with priests and seminarians from all over the world who are studying in the Eternal City. Msgr. Barreiro has published hundreds of articles on theological and life issues, and historical subjects in popular and scholarly publications. He was appointed a Chaplain of His Holiness on March 26, 2004.
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