“One of the major problems we face in South Africa are violent protests. Part of this violence is due I think to our absence as Church leaders”, said His Exc. Mgr. Sithembele Anton Sipuka, Bishop of Umtata and President of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), in his inaugural address to the Plenary Assembly of the SACBC, which opened yesterday, July 31, in Mariannhill, reported Fides News Agency.
“When people are left alone in desperate situations they resort to emotionally desperate and destructive measures”, remarked Mgr. Sipuka. “If we journey with them we can facilitate a more constructive engagement with elected leaders. Some may recall during apartheid how some protests that were potentially destructive but turned constructive, thanks partly to the presence of Church leaders”. According to the President of the SACBC, the positive experience of the struggle against apartheid has been largely lost because “we have retreated to the sacristies and occasional pastoral statements”.
On the Church front, Mgr. Sipuka recalls that “issues of concern have centered on sexual misdemeanors of clergy and the religious. The year began with the summit on sexual abuse of minors in Rome called by the Pope and I represented the Conference. The sign of hope here is that there is the decisiveness to deal with this problem. All Bishops represented by their Presidents were called to Rome to find working and lasting solutions to this problem”.
According to Mgr. Sipuka, clericalism, by most accounts has been identified as a big mother pig to clergy child sexual abuse. Simply stated, clericalism means the use of clerical status or power for selfish reasons”. “It has been suggested that trusting and collaborating with laypeople is a solution to the problem of clericalism. Yet lay people themselves also contribute to the culture of clericalism by according priests exaggerated deference and honor, which make them unable to challenge the priests and to call them to account. It is these two attitudes that must be tackled in fighting clericalism; abuse of clerical power and unhealthy deference by laypeople”.
“With regard to eSwatini and Botswana, the other two countries that form part of this Conference, I want to begin by appreciating the two missionary Bishops leading the Church in these countries. Apart from the loneliness they must be feeling, there must also be a sense of helplessness in their prophetic vocation because they can easily be shown the door and be deported if they become too prophetic. Yet there are so many situations that require their prophetic voice”, stressed the President of the SACBC, referring in particular to the unfair management of public finances in the Kingdom of eSwatini (former Swaziland).