Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian who has long been involved in Vatican international activities, was named this week as Chancellor of both the Pontifical Council of Sciences and the Pontifical Council of Social Sciences. Ordinarily, this kind of musical chairs, involving longtime Vatican officials and offices, is only of interest to people who are either clerical careerists themselves or who believe they see salvation or damnation in what are often just murky personnel maneuvers. In this instance, however, much may indeed be at stake for the Church – and maybe even the world.
In large part, that’s because Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxemburg who is Relator General (roughly, the main manager) of the pope’s largest current initiative, the Synod on Synodality, declared about Church teaching on homosexuality earlier this year, “I believe that the sociological-scientific basis of this teaching is no longer correct.” In other words, the Biblical view of “male and female he created them,” the authority of Moses and St. Paul, and 2000 years of consistent moral teaching on homosexuality are all without foundation.
Hollerich explicitly asserted that both “science” and social “science” – the formal subjects studied by the two pontifical academies Turkson now heads – have somehow shown the traditional moral teaching to be wrong. Presumably, those two bodies will want to consider such a radical claim between now and October 2023, when the various synodal consultations currently underway around the world will be debated at the official synod of bishops.
Was Cardinal Turkson deliberately placed in his new position to help with this process or was this just another example of bureaucratic bumbling in Rome, which has a well-earned reputation for administrative chaos, even as Pope Francis’ new constitution of the Roman Curia is set to go into effect? There are conflicting signs that need to be carefully examined.
For many people, even many Catholics in the West, homosexuality has become merely a lifestyle “choice,” just the freedom to decide “who to love” – no one’s business but the persons involved and of no larger significance to society as a whole. In the past, a quiet tolerance might have been a mutual compromise in our confused age.
But certain homophiliacs, including figures in the Vatican, are engaged in a crusade to impose acceptance and even gay “marriage” on the world, as if anything else were an outrage against human dignity and as serious as physical assault. This is one of the main threats to religious liberty in our time.
It’s not clear whether Turkson has been chosen deliberately with this situation in view. He was previously Prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, a new office created by Pope Francis in 2016 to deal with “issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.” Within that already large portfolio, the dicastery also addressed environmental questions as they pertain to “human development.” And Turkson is said to have played a large role in drafting the environmental encyclical Laudato Si’.
He’s also known to be quite close to Pope Francis. So it was something of a surprise when he resigned from the dicastery he ran after a visitation of his offices led to rumors of disorder and incompetence. He’s an affable man and intelligent – qualities that have taken him from a simple village in Africa to being regarded as a possible papabile – though he doesn’t seem to have the multifaceted instincts needed to deal with complexity and various goods and tradeoffs in public matters.
Over his years in the curia, he has softened with respect to the more traditional views of African Catholics. He’s gone from being opposed to the homophilia of many in Rome to some vaguer view of things having “changed.” And it’s even said that he’s been behind the pope’s move to condemn all wars “unjust” – a virtual pacifism. Though he’s not a forceful leader, his wavering views may mean further confusions and ambiguities in the Church.
If history is any guide, that may be significant. The two academies Turkson now heads were previously both run by Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo who will go down in Vatican history for asserting after a trip to China in 2018 , “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” The rest of the world sees vast human rights violations in China and massive environmental damage. But Sánchez Sorondo claimed, “The economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States. . . .On the contrary, the Chinese, no, they propose work and the common good.” And even more incredibly, he claimed there were no slums, drugs, or marginalized among the Chinese, who are closely following the pope’s lead on the environment.
All of this, of course, was pure nonsense – dangerous nonsense given China’s aggressive expansion around the world. But that was just a single instance. Over his years running the Pontifical Academies, Sánchez Sorondo was responsible for bringing figures like Jeffrey Sachs, Naomi Klein, Paul Ehrlich, and many others radically at odds with the Church’s social vision to the various conferences and events sponsored by the Vatican. And doubtless this is why some of the Vatican’s initiatives – like those on the environment – while generally good in themselves have been presented not in the moderate, realistic terms of the Church, but often in the most radical forms of current social activism.
It’s one thing when enemies of the Church attack her from outside. That’s only to be expected. But it’s something quite new that high officials themselves in Rome are actively undermining the unique perspective on God and humanity that the Church has professed for millennia. Cardinal Turkson’s appointment may lead to a reform of what have been two very troubling Vatican institutions – or may prove to be one further step in weakening the faith. Time will tell, and for the moment the signs are less than encouraging.
*Image: Pope Francis with Cardinal Turkson, then the prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at the Vatican on November 10, 2017. [L’Osservatore Romano photo]