Lagos — Erstwhile Archbishop of Lagos of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, in this interview, says it is not proper to speculate any time there is vacancy in the papacy seat. Excerpts:
The Pope is to quit by the end of this month. What is the implication of this to the Catholic community?
His plan to quit will not affect the Catholic community alone. I think his plan to quit is for the whole world because this is what has happened for a long time in the history of the church. Between 200 and 500 years nobody heard about it. It has happened twice or thrice in the history of the church but it is shocking to everybody, including me.
He might have been deliberating on this for a long time. He said his health was failing and he doesn't want to risk it and he gave us spare time to plan for his replacement.
Is there any provision in the Canon Law that says the Pope can quit before his death?
Oh yes. He is not the first to quit. Pope Gregory resigned. There was one who abdicated the throne but not on health ground.
What are the chances of Cardinal Arinze becoming Pope this time? In 2005, speculations were rife that he might be the first African to be made Pope?
That is the way the world sees it but it is not the way of the church. It doesn't necessarily mean he is going to be the next Pope. The only thing is that there is searchlight on him--that he is going to be a likely candidate for the position. He may not be the likely candidate of the church. To me, it is a very dangerous thing to say a certain person is likely to be the next Pope of the Catholic church. No!
Well, the searchlight will be on him and everybody will start going round to see what kind of person he is. We do it in Nigerian elections with so many candidates.
What do you think should be his priorities if he eventually becomes the next Pope?
As per his priorities if he succeeds, I will say Arinze should be in the position to answer that. Everybody has his priorities. When I became the Archbishop of Lagos, I had my priorities. But what I think everybody should have is the progress of the church.
Apart from age and health issues, the Pope said there has been too much pressure on the church. What did he mean by this pressure?
It is not easy. When you look at leadership of church from the distance, you may not appreciate the enormity of work involved. That is why they say the icing on the cake is always very good but it is when you begin to eat it that you will know actually what the cake is like.
I know what I faced when I was the Archbishop of Lagos. It was not easy. From the government, from this, from that, you see many things that you just have to talk about.
So the Pope has to carry many things around the world in his head. Although, he has advisers, one thing is to have them, another thing is to choose the best advice because the buck stops at our end. Anything he says is final and everybody must obey him.
Can we say the gay question is part of the pressure?
What do you mean by that? Well, probably when you look at it from the health side, he said his heath was failing. And as an honest and humble person, he has to say that. No one is 100 percent medically fit.
The Catholic Church appears to be losing followership to the Pentecostal movement and one of the reasons is said to be rigidity of the universal church. Doesn't this bother you?
It doesn't bother me an inch. An inch! You may think we are losing but we are not. How would you tell that we are losing or gaining? Very soon, you will see what will happen. I don't think we are losing. People are only looking at the impact of noise and clapping in the name of worshipping.
There was a time a law was made in Lagos that you don't drum or use microphone but now almost everybody is doing it. Are we really serving God? I'm praying to God, you say you are praying to God and you want your own God to drawn mine. Is it really God that you are serving? We can only have one God, not two.
It may seem we are losing in the Catholic Church but the truth is that those who went away are now back because they have seen the difference.
Insecurity is threatening the corporate existence of this country. What is the way out?
The way out is honesty which is the best policy. But how many people are honest in Nigeria today? The moment the lawmakers make the law, it ends there. You must know somebody who knows somebody to flout the law.
You are talking about insecurity, look at the gentleman that was caught with billions of naira belonging to pensioners. You people are journalists, you shouldn't allow that kind of person to go scot free. Look at the sentence the judge gave him--two years with option of fine!
How can there not be insecurity? Are you encouraging or discouraging people? When an armed robber hears that this man embezzled such huge amount of money and got only two years, he would be encouraged to steal more. This armed robber can spend the stolen money to buy more arms. There is no hard and fast rule in Nigeria against security.
Again, the example is not there in this country, what we need is to mould national character. Look at what Fashola [governor of Lagos] did that was widely reported in the newspapers. He came out of his car and stopped an army officer passing through the BRT lane. How many can really do that? Why was the BRT there? Security!
Look at big people that have been arrested and whose cases have been swept under the carpet. We talk of insecurity. It is the culmination of iniquities and malaise that has continued to give us insecurity in this land.
But it is not too late to retrace our steps. Let us be honest to ourselves with a view to securing the country as well as contributing to its development.