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Opinions of Monday, 21 November 2011

Columnist: Sagoe, Dominic

Our Bishops

The recent communiqué issued by the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference (GCBC) post their recent plenary assembly held in Takoradi from the 2nd to the 11th of November 2011 under the theme 'Good Governance for Peace' has received varied responses from political parties, social commentators, and the general public. The preponderance of discussions of the communiqué have centred on our bishops’ call for biometric verification of voters, and the abolition of the Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) owing to the shortcomings inherent therein. I intend discussing the current posturing of the GCBC cum some significant players in the GCBC, and some of the major comments and allegations the recent communiqué has generated.

The Ghana Catholic Church cum the GCBC has always been a significant player in the socio-political discussion and direction of our dear country Ghana. The roles played by such great clergymen as Archbishop John Kodwo Amissah of the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, and Bishop Joseph Amihere Essuah of Kumasi and later Sekondi-Takoradi dioceses in giving meaning to the tenets of social justice, self-determinism, and pan-Africanism cannot be underestimated. Hilarious stories are told of how Archbishop Amissah and Bishop Essuah stood up to and used to reproach and sometimes repatriate condescending missionaries. A cursory reading of communiqués and pastoral letters issued pre and post independence will further support the assertion that the Church cum the GCBC has always exhibited significant interest in the socio-political discussion and direction of Ghana.
It is an undeniable fact that the peak of the GCBC’s involvement in the socio-political discussion and direction of our dear country was in the days of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and later the National Democratic Congress (NDC). In the revolutionary days of the PNDC, the Church cum the GCBC became the voice of the voiceless. The communiqués and pastoral letters that were released by the GCBC vociferously criticized the status quo and called for reforms. Due to the curtailment of media freedoms, the Catholic Standard, the official newspaper of the Church pioneered the vociferous criticism of the PNDC administration. Those were the days when non-Catholics used to besiege the premises of parishes on Sundays praying for shorter homilies from priests and shorter queues during communion so mass could end early for them to purchase the Catholic Standard in order to read of the latest bash of the PNDC administration from the Church cum the GCBC. The PNDC administration was not spared attacks even from the Catholic laity. Prof. Paul Archibald Vianney Ansah aka PAVA aka Monday Morning Terror aka Prabiw “krakye” vociferously attacked the PNDC administration in his columns in the Ghanaian Chronicle. However, unlike many others who were punished for their views, he was an ‘untouchable’ “because he was Catholic” as one elderly person put it to me some time ago.
Condemnation from the Church cum the GCBC continued with equal zeal even into the democratic NDC government of former president J. J. Rawlings. As fate would have it, the NDC lost power and handed over the mantle of leadership to former president Kufuor and his NPP administration in 2001. It is true that the Church cum the GCBC continued to issue communiqués and pastoral letters during the tenure of the NPP administration. It is however an undeniable fact that the Church cum the GCBC treated the NPP administration with kids gloves. In fact, Archbishop Palmer Buckle who was previously editor of the Catholic Standard did not help matters by creating the wrong impression that he was not only a sympathizer of the NPP but an activist of the NPP. Not even the arrest of Tsatsu Tsikata during mass in the tenure of the NPP administration was worthy of commentary and criticism by the Church cum the GCBC. Indeed, the only time I recall the Church cum the GCBC came down hard on the erstwhile NPP administration was when former president Kufuor, “a widow’s son” decadently threw his “square and compass” into the dustbin and presided over the removal of Religious and Moral Education from the JHS curriculum. I remember Archbishop Emeritus Sarpong almost crying his heart out every Saturday morning on Catholic Digest on GTV until Religious and Moral Education was finally reinstated into the JHS curriculum. In another recent incident which supports the perception that the GCBC is sympathetic to the NPP, the GCBC ignored the tenets of Quaesitum Est/Declaration on Masonic Associations and attempted to confer on former president Kufuor the Knight Commanderhood of the Order of Pope Pius IX. I led the crusade against the conferment of this award on the former president (See & ). In the light of the obvious blunder that had been committed by the GCBC, they kept silent allowing the issue to fester in the public domain. Not even Bishop Osei-Bonsu, the current president of the GCBC who has authored an article titled “Freemasonry and the Catholic Church” wherein he elucidates the divergence between Catholicism and freemasonry spoke to the issue. It is based on his unfortunate posturing of the Church cum the GCBC that many members and sympathizers of the NDC feel short-changed by the Church and the GCBC. This misperception of the GCBC been NPP sympathizers, in my view, explains the negative reactions to the recent communiqué from the GCBC by a section of the NDC.
It has been recently alleged that some leading members of the NPP including Good Brother Frank Agyekum, Hackman Owusu Agyemang et al. met Archbishop Palmer Buckle at a hotel in Takoradi before the issuance of the recent controversial communiqué. Assuming without admitting that this allegation is true, I see absolutely nothing wrong with that meeting. Every Catholic, or even Ghanaian, has a right to seek audience with any bishop(s). Indeed, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom has explored this opportunity by meeting His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson on countless occasions while the latter was Archbishop of Cape Coast.
Moving forward, it is important that the huge Catholic caucus in the NDC organizes itself very well as soon as possible to deal with the simmering relationship between the Church and the NDC. It will be in their own interest to do so. Additionally, the Catholic caucus in the NDC must explore the opportunity of elucidating the positions of the party and government on ‘relevant’ issues to our shepherds. I believe if such an opportunity had been explored, like it is alleged Good Brother Frank Agyekum and the Catholic caucus in the NPP did prior to the issuance of the recent controversial communiqué, the current unhealthy friction would have been avoided.
Furthermore, it is very important that our bishops deal with the notorious “misperception” of been NPP sympathizers. It is imperative that our bishops are perceived as shepherds of Christ’s flock and not only some of Christ’s flock. Our bishops must be unrelenting in their crusade to see a Ghana that can be counted among the best nations in the world. Our bishops must be unrelenting in their zeal to see a Ghanaian people instilled with the fear of God. Most importantly, our bishops must not give way their pioneering role as significant players in the socio-political discussion and direction of our dear country Ghana. Oppugnare est defendere! Long live the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church!!! Long live the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference!!! Long live Ghana!!!!

Dominic Kweku Sagoe,
Amisano, Elmina