Progressive media’s attempt to create a narrative that links the presidency of Barack Obama and the papal potential of Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson (he’s been a favorite of some odds-makers) glosses over something very important – just who Turkson is as a person and what he believes.
Born on Oct. 11, 1948, in Wassaw Nsuta in western Ghana, the son of a reportedly hot-tempered and physically abusive Catholic miner who worked as a carpenter in his spare time – not actually the son of a carpenter, as some articles have suggested – and a Methodist mother who sold vegetables at a market, Turkson went to school in his parish church.
He played bass in an Afrobeat band as a teenager and studied at a seminary near Cape Coast before heading to America.
Turkson studied at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, NY, near the state capital of Albany. In New York City, he paid for graduate studies in theology by cleaning a bank at night.
He holds two Masters Degrees, in theology and divinity, from St. Anthony, and a doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Along with his native language of Fante, Turkson speaks English, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew.
In 1975, Archbishop John Amissah ordained him a priest; in 1993, Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Cape Coast. Turkson later became the first cardinal from Ghana and was one of the cardinal-electors that selected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
Theologically speaking, Turkson is in line with the Church’s orthodox teachings on faith and sexual morality. That includes, in 2009, reaffirming Benedict’s statement that condoms were not the solution to Africa’s AIDS crisis, instead encouraging abstinence and fidelity. But his comments also reveal a practical and pragmatic side to his decision-making.
During a press conference quoted in the U.K.’s Daily Mail, he said, “Let’s talk clearly. We’re talking about the product of a factory, and there are different qualities. There are condoms that arrive in Ghana which in the heat will burst during sex. And when that is the case, then it gives a false sense of security which rather facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS."
As for the suggestion that they could be used in marriage when one partner is infected, he said, “We are reluctant, even in the case of conjugal relations of people who are faithful.”
He’s considered in Rome to be intelligent, hard-working, humble and adept at dealing with the media, but his career hasn’t been without missteps.
In 2011, his Council on Justice and Peace released a document on economic justice that included comments on regulating the global economy that inspired theologian George Weigel (seen Tuesday on NBC discussing the beginning of the papal conclave) to say it had a “distinctly Euro-secular provenance.”
While Turkson has a paternal uncle who is a Muslim, has experience living among Muslims in Ghana, and has been a leader in Catholic/Muslim relations; he has also expressed concerns about the rise of Islam in Europe – showing an alarmist YouTube video at a recent synod on the New Evangelization.
In addition, comments he made to Christiane Amanpour of CNN International about past incidents of sex abuse by priests raised some eyebrows.
He said, “African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency. Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality, or for that matter, any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.”
The African continent is home to 176 million Catholics, a number that rose dramatically in the last half-century.
While the Roman Catholic Church may be languishing in Europe and in parts of the United States, the vibrancy of the Church in Africa caused Pope Benedict XVI to refer to it as “an immense spiritual lung” for humanity. He visited the continent twice – Angola in 2009, and Benin in 2011.
The Church has built tens of thousands of schools across Africa that offer free education and religious instruction, along with 20 universities, and may be the biggest non-government aid agency on the continent. Catholic missionaries and nuns have also been at the forefront in providing support and medical treatment for HIV and AIDS sufferers – and not just to Catholics.
As quoted in USA Today, Adeline Affoue, a 30-year-old weekday Mass attendee in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, said, “It’s the choice of God whether there will be an African pope. We will pray for an African pope if one is chosen. But as long as the pope works for the will of God, it is not of great importance whether he is black or white.”
Turkson would not be the first pope from Africa. Popes St. Victor I (189-199), St. Miliades (311-314) and St. Gelasius I (492-496) all came from the African continent, although their exact ancestry is not known.
However, it’s widely believed that Victor was of North African ancestry rather than Roman, since he made Latin the official language of the Church. At the time, Latin was predominant in the African provinces of Rome, while in Rome itself, Greek was still used in the liturgy.