Bishops criticize aid with strings attached as ‘cultural imperialism’

VATICAN CITY – Development aid that is tied to promoting abortion, contraception and cutbacks in social and educational programs represents a form of “cultural imperialism” from the West that must end, said some African bishops.

Nations and institutions, especially in the West, must stop trying to impose on Africa policies and ideas that fail to respect human dignity and life, said Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar, Senegal.

These foreign concepts represent “a kind of cultural imperialism,” he said.

Cardinal Sarr, who is one of three delegated co-presidents of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, said just because certain countries have determined such policies are good for their own countries does not mean those ideas and practices should be imposed on Africa.

“We as a church and as Africans have great respect for life starting from conception,” he said, lamenting the fact that some foreign organizations promote abortion as part of their reproductive health programs for women in Africa.

He and three other synod members spoke at a Vatican press conference Oct. 14.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, another co-president at the synod, said funding for HIV and AIDS programs often mandates a certain portion of the money be spent on condoms.

Also, approval for foreign aid to promote industry and development may require a government to cut back on education, welfare and health care spending, he said.

“But the most insidious form” of this cultural imperialism is a shift in what determines what is moral, said Cardinal Napier.

It used to be if something was against the common good it was considered objectively wrong and what was for the good of the wider community was objectively good, he said.

“But there is a certain ideology coming in which is what is good for me is good and what is bad for me is bad and that’s introducing an individualism that’s taking us completely away from caring for others on the basis of some external standard of moral behavior,” he said.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya, said Africa finds itself in a difficult situation in which it needs aid in order to become self-reliant.

But people’s dependence on this aid must be treated with respect. “Anything that comes from abroad, even from the point of view of ideals, must also respect the culture and dignity of the human person,” he said.

Cardinal Napier said outside investors and developers must work with Africa as equal partners.

Let the aid “be delivered in truth as real aid, not as something that has such strings attached that you’re worse off than you were before you got the aid,” he said.

The cardinal also said that one of the many cultural norms inherent to Africa is that sexual intercourse is meant for creating new life, “not so much for enjoyment.”

But “the imperial culture is saying, ‘No, it’s for enjoyment,’ and pregnancy is almost a disease,” he said.

This mentality is part of the “irresponsible sexual behavior” that is the root cause of the spread of HIV in South Africa, he said.

The church works to give young people and adults accurate information about HIV and what to do to avoid it, he said. Specifically, people should not engage in sexual activity before marriage and should stay faithful in marriage, he said.

“But how to get this message across is where we haven’t been at our best and we’re trying in all kinds of ways to correct that problem,” he said.

The Vatican press conference came a day after the Synod of Bishops for Africa concluded its general discussions with a formal summary.

In the 20-page report, the defense of the traditional family, the injustices surrounding the extraction of Africa’s natural resources, and the need to help Catholics be credible witnesses of the Gospel emerged as major themes.

The recording secretary of the synod, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Cape Coast, Ghana, presented the report, which provided a summary of the nearly 160 speeches made during the first phase of the three-week synod.

The report is also meant to offer guidelines for continued discussion as the bishops break into small working groups to draw up proposals for the pope.

Things like contraception, sterilization, new definitions of gender and same-sex marriages all represent “dangerous ideologies” coming from sources outside Africa and represent “a ferocious onslaught on the family” and marriage, it said.

The report said bishops’ conferences should set up specialized offices or “watch posts” so the church can better “deal with new challenges, develop new actions or follow the evolution of certain situations or issues such as foreign interference, greed, ethnicism … all potential causes of ethnic conflicts.”

The synod said it would like to see “put in place an international judicial system which would aim at controlling the activities of multinational and transnational mining companies,” which, in their “lust” for exclusive rights over natural resources, often foment armed conflict in Africa and hurt the environment.

The bishops would like to see better formation, especially of lay Christians involved in politics, it said.

Local churches need to establish chaplaincies to help politicians exercise “servant leadership in a transparent and accountable exercise of power, respect of human rights and the administration of national wealth for public welfare,” the report said.

The key to bringing about peace, justice and reconciliation in Africa lies in a conversion of hearts, so that people live as true disciples of Christ, it said.

The redemption of suffering in the world “requires a spirituality, and not a strategy,” it said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.