New Pope, new churching…?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

In the olden days when only priests and ecclesiastical authority could access the Holy Bible, adherents of the faith were required to pay some hefty amount to a pardoner if they wanted a dear dead transferred from hell to heaven. In addition, some people were made to believe that a certain lock of hair (supposedly) of St. Peter’s in a bottle filled with water was either an elixir or a panacea for ills and illnesses. And so, the poor and gullible paid up, but were much poorer and much more gullible than the men of God who fed fat on the ignorance of the gullible, and who became much more robust and well-to-do for their Godliness. Such shenanigans prepared the template for much of what is happening today, where supposed men of God are the ones with the best houses, the sleek cars and cassocks and who jet around the world in private jets assuredly with monies contributed by these gullible poor. At that time as well, the Pope was nearly invincible, and his seeming invincibility was garnished by the Papal Bull of Infallibility. In simple English, the Pope could promulgate a decree that bound what was known as the world. One of such Popes, Pope Leo X built St. Peters Church in Rome with a lot of the monies his priests and pardoners collected from those who believed in the transfer of souls from hell to heaven.

But a lot of these nearly changed when a German lawyer and priest, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of a church. This piece of paper, a compendium of the heavy burden that the laity bore, ‘struck at the very root of ecclesiastical authority…and was an open declaration of war against the Catholic Church’. Unfortunately, the move to reform the church didn’t survive – Luther refused to answer a summons from the Pope for his ‘heretical theses’ – so, powerful interests in the church who stood to lose the perks of their ecclesiastical offices from Luther’s attempt to reform the church launched a counter-reformation.

Therefore, the scale over the years has tilted in favour of the Pharisees and Sadducees who populate the church, and who protect their interests over and above that of the faithful. In fact, and in most cases, church and state work hand in glove to cheat people and renege on their responsibilities. For instance, if they don’t tell teachers that their reward is in heaven, they quote scripture upside down to wit, that God expects us to obey and pray for those in authority no matter how much money they steal or how unjust and oppressive they are. I have heard pastors quote scripture to justify a lot of the greed and worldliness and the abuses they perpetrate today. When people accost a pastor for paying for jets from monies contributed by members of their church, they retort: ‘But my God is not poor…or that my God shall supply all of my needs in glory by Christ Jesus…’ Many atimes they quip thus: ‘Those who labour in the vineyard are partakers of the things of the vineyard…!’ All of these are actually true but why should it be only the pastor or priest or bishop that should be the one to own schools, or buy jets or own acres of land?

The antics of the leadership of the church and of some of its blind followership tell about us as a people. It tells a lot about our mentality in government as well. And this is because if you are in any position of leadership whether physical or spiritual, the litmus test to the efficacy of your leadership or the legacy you leave behind is in your ability to grow your own people to be as successful as you are. If your people don’t have light, you should not have light. If they cannot afford to travel abroad for treatment because the hospitals here are sick, you should not isult them by havig treatment abroad.

On a certain occasion, I was walking down one street in a satellite town or village in Abuja. On the left and right of the dusty road, there were more than 15 churches with a plethora of names that I found mostly ludicrous (this is for want of a better term), leaving me with the impression that these were mere small scale industries competing with the block and welding sheds and the filth and dirt and human excrement on that same road. And in an environment populated with churches and religion as this, you cannot find any corresponding values that lift humanity, except maybe to lead one to conclude that these churches are business centres with potential bishops and pastors and reverends who want to jet around the world and live life large as well.

Therefore, when a Joseph Ratzinga, a German, aka Pope Benedict became Pope, many of us thought that another reformation akin to the Lutheran would somehow take place. But now, with his abdication it does seem that the centrifugal and centripetal forces at play within the Vatican have doused whatever oomph we may have had concerning that expectation. And in the long run, it is to the new Pope that our hopes may now lie. And that probably is because whether we like it or not the Catholic Church represents our common Christian ancestry and heritage. If the Augean stable that it is now can be wiped clean by the new Pope, perhaps we can to some extent expect a corresponding shift in attention to the plight of its adherents worldwide, rather than a perpetuation of the greed and avarice that has plagued the leadership of Christendom.

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