|Bishop James Harvey welcomes Robert Mugabe before the funeral|
of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005.
Father Eamon Whelan has published a report from UCAN/Southern Cross/SWRadio Africa which raises a number of questions. Here's the report:
When television broadcasts of the beatification of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican showed Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe receiving Holy Communion, many Catholics in southern Africa were scandalised.
Gunther Simmermacher, editor of the South African Catholic newspaper Southern Cross, said that many readers wrote to express their anger and hurt at Mr Mugabe’s warm welcome in the Vatican and his reception of the Eucharist at so public and exalted an event. He said: "How, many ask, can it be that a man who is responsible for the killing and persecution of so many people may take his place at the Lord’s Table?"
Defending the Vatican, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, spokesman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and a critic of the president’s human rights record, explained: “For any Christian, receiving Communion is an act of personal choice made out of conscience before God. As such, it is a matter for the internal forum — between God and the believer.” No person but Mr Mugabe and perhaps his confessor can know whether he was in a state of grace when he presented himself for Communion in St Peter’s Square. It is not our place to interrogate Mr Mugabe internal forum.
"Moreover, as long as Mr Mugabe is not under interdict (as some Catholic pro-choice politicians in the United States are, at the discretion of local bishops), he may continue to receive Communion. We must hope that his personal chaplain will offer him the appropriate spiritual advice."
Many critics also ask why Mr Mugabe was allowed to attend the beatification ceremony of the Pope who in 2003 gave the Zimbabwean ambassador a most devastating public dressing-down over his regime’s reign of terror? He is banned from travelling to the EU, but several times now has come to Italy with his wife to attend events at the Vatican.
Simmermarcher wrote that televised images of “the tyrant being warmly embraced by a broadly smiling prelate was embarrassing for the courageous bishops of Zimbabwe, and to the clergy, religious and laity who strive for a peaceful transition to an equitable and accountable democracy."
Writing for SW Radio Africa, Tererai Karimakwenda says: "The church’s mandate to welcome all sinners, including murderers and dictators, has been defended even by those who were upset by Mugabe’s visit. But it is the level of warmth that was shown to the ZANU PF leader that has been of great concern."
Father Whelan comments:
Mr. Mugabe must have an elastic conscience, He has a price on the head of one of my classmates who is doing great work for the church and people in Hwange diocese in Zimbabwe.
I didn't keep a copy of my comment but it went something like this:
Dear Cardinal Napier
The reception of Holy Communion is a very external act and not at all to do with the internal forum. Defend Mugabe's admission to Holy Communion on some other grounds if you will, but not on the "internal forum" ground. This has been the means some have used to get round the prohibition from the admission to Holy Communion applicable to those who are divorced or remarried, in accordance with Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. Mugabe has some serious external forum issues to look at which pale into insignificance when compared to the difficulties of those who have found their marriages are not all they should be.
Perhaps the suggestion of interdict was made seriously?