"Diluting the truth" does not go down well in Africa, said Bishop Andrew Fuanya of Mamfe, Cameroon. "Once we speak ambiguous language, the youth get confused and they go astray."
Speaking to the Register on the sidelines of the Youth Synod in Rome Oct. 22, Bishop Fuanya welcomed the October meeting as an important global forum to combine ideas to help today's youth.
But he also urged his brother bishops to "never shy away from the truth" and, in common with his fellow synod fathers from Africa, said he would not vote for any paragraph in the final document that contains the loaded acronym of the homosexual lobby, "LGBT."
Bishop Fuanya said he was "scared of one thing" — that bishops, especially in the West, are so sensitive to public opinion that rather than making "enemies before going back home," they will take "some very fluid positions so that they can be applauded by the media."
The Cameroon bishop also spoke of the importance of tradition as an antidote to ambiguity, called on the Church to denounce ideological colonization, and warned that if the Church in Europe continues to "sleep," it will be invaded by Islam.
Your Excellency, how has the synod gone for you?
I think the synod is going very well. It's my first synod. I've seen the wealth of the Church coming from all the five continents — various ideas, various backgrounds, shows how rich the Church is. And to put all these ideas together and come out with something for our youth, I think is very important.
Secondly, there are certain matters that have to be addressed to the youth globally. But there are other matters that have to be addressed to the youth according to their continents and backgrounds. For example, when I presented my paper, I spoke about the presence of the youth in the Church. In the West, the churches are empty. In my diocese, the churches are full and bursting.
Why is that, do you think?
There are two reasons. The first reason is that the values of the Gospel still correspond to the values of Africa, the cultural values. So, they culturally identify themselves with what the Gospel is saying. That's the first.
The second is that, being a developing Church in a developing country, technology and wealth has not overtaken us. We are still within the confines of managing ourselves, and reasoning out things and trying to forge ahead with the help of God. I'm sure when we reach the stage where we will have everything we need, then many will start thinking they don't need God. This is my own way of looking at it.
What aspects can the West learn from Africa, do you think, from the Church in Africa? What can young people in the West learn from young the young in Africa?
I think there is a very strong solidarity, a movement, in Africa. The Africans still have this attitude of going together, of community. And this is what we find lacking in the West, that individualism is growing in the West more and more. And yet, in Africa, we are still maintaining the community aspect.
It's been said that African voices are being drowned out, that although you're making your voices heard in the synod in the small groups and the general congregations, they're not being included much in the reports. Is that something you've heard?
Well, in my group, we have forced ourselves to be heard, and when we don't see it in the report, we come back to the group… We have pressed our points, and we have shouted enough to be heard. I can't complain about that.
What about your other brother bishops from Africa?
Well, they are not concerned about not being heard. They are concerned that, when it comes to voting, whether any of their opinions will pass. That is more the concern. Of course, they are making their points, but all has to do with the majority.
You've been meeting twice a week — is that giving you a certain force as a group, as a bloc?
Our aim has not been to form a pressure group, or some kind of trade union from Africa to clamor for rights. But it is so the backdrop of our own culture reflects on the synod, and to see that we don't go home and get stoned. We don't want to pass decisions here that our communities cannot accept.
Cardinal Napier, and others, have said the synod seems to be rather Eurocentric, Western-centric, in the sense that the kinds of issues being raised most are about digital technology and also homosexuality. Has the homosexual issue been raised quite a lot?
It has been raised quite a lot, and I think it's a hot issue of the synod.
Are you resisting that?
We are resisting it very strongly. And the reason is that it's not like the universal Church has come to help America and Europe to solve their problem with the youth. We want to reflect on the youth globally. And, unfortunately, we are doing this reflection with the backdrop of the sex scandals that are rocking the Church. So everybody is trying to use the synod to solve that problem but this is not why the synod was called. And so we are trying to put the synod in perspective. What do we bring back to our youth, positively, to raise them up? It's not that we come and say, "Oh, you see, in the backdrop of the sex abuse, we apologize." Yes, but what have we brought to move the Church forward?
The problem I have in Africa is that, when the church is closed, where do my youth go to? They have no work. They have no proper homes, they have no good education. Those who are sick don't have medical care. And because of the lack of these things, they are all trying to migrate. Those are the problems I have. My problem is not that my churches are empty.
It's a question of survival.
It's a question of survival. And that is why, when I intervened, I said, "The Church has to expand its vision on sociological development, social welfare and development." Because when we start doing that, we create employment for the youth. We give them a reason to stay where they are.
Do you and the African bishops get frustrated about this focus on the 'LGBT' issue, because it's not an issue in Africa, is it?
It is not an issue for now. If I go back to Cameroon and I announce that: "We have to do pastoral care for LGBT," 99% of the youth will ask me, what's that? So, let us not legitimize something in the Church which is not a universal problem.
It is also against the Church's moral teaching.
Yes. So, let's not. The Church must not shy away from the truth. Whether it pleases the youth, or it pleases journalists, or it pleases the powers that be, the Church should never shy away from the truth. And this is my strong point.
I don't think any bishop of Africa will vote any article that has LGBT. We will not vote for it. In our group, we [said] if you want to talk about homosexuality, refer to this number of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Robert Sarah said that the Church's teaching should not be watered down. People have complained at the synod that the language used is not clear, it's ambiguous, it's not really speaking the truth, the authentic truth, as it should be. What do you say to that?
When I addressed the synod, the last paragraph of my address was centered on this. I come from a culture where tradition is handed down from one generation to another undiluted, uncontaminated. And therefore, the youth get very confused when the adults speak with ambiguous language. They want to be clear. This matter of diluting the truth won't go down in Africa … Once we speak ambiguous language, the youth get confused and they go astray. We should make sure that it is the truth that we are handing down, otherwise the synod will produce more confused youth than youth who are getting involved in church life.
And have you heard that view expressed a lot, this desire not to have ambiguity, it to be clear? Or is it really only coming from the African side?
Practically, it is a very strong African point, generally, and you get people from other places also supporting that view.
The youth said it in their pre-synodal document, that they don't want watered-down formulations, they want the truth.
But you see, I am scared of one thing, especially with regard to the Church in the West. It looks like practically each bishop is very sensitive to what the media is saying about him in the synod. And in this way, they don't want to make enemies before going back home. They want to take some very fluid positions so that they can be applauded by media. [But] we didn't come here to defend positions. We came here to look at what the truth of the Gospel is. So, if we have to compromise the truth, then the synod had no use, we didn't need to come here.
What do you think will come out of the synod? What conclusions? Are there going to be recommendations?
One of the bishops from Africa said very strongly in the hall, in the presence of the Holy Father, that the instrumentum laboris (working document) is like a seed that has to die, so that the final document can germinate and grow. So we are all hoping that the instrumentum laboris will die.
What happens if a lot of your concerns from Africa don't find their way into the final document?
We will not vote. I'll not vote for anything that is contrary to the Gospel.
So as a bloc, you could be quite strong in making sure a paragraph won't pass with a two-thirds majority?
Yes, if we stand as a bloc, especially with aspects that are contrary to the Gospel, they are not going to get two-thirds.
You're also of course keen that the issue of ideological colonization— the conditioning of aid to Western secular and often anti-Christian values — is addressed?
Yes. We are saying that governments, or the bishops' conferences of these countries, should denounce these governments' policies towards Africa. So that, as a Church, we are one. There are countries here that practically control Africa. And some of the problems that we have, wars and famine, and all that, is caused by these policies. They should, out of solidarity, denounce these policies, because if we got a fair trade for our resources, we will not be coming to Europe. If only they gave us a fair share for the resources they are carrying out of Africa, we will not need to leave Africa and be coming to Europe.
The issue of contraception and the low birth rates in Europe didn't come up, did it?
No, it didn't come up.
And yet it's a big issue for youth.
It's a very big thing. And I will dare to say that, especially with the backdrop of the Islamic invasion, if you look through history, where the Church slept, got diverted away from the Gospel, Islam took the advantage and came in. This is what we are seeing in Europe, that the Church is sleeping, and Islam is creeping in. Very soon, some of the dioceses here will become titular dioceses, and they will be given to auxiliaries. They existed once upon a time and now they are gone. Europe is being Islamized, and it will affect Africa.