Don't target Catholics

I have read, with some irritation, Kwame Nantambu's "Apology for slavery and reparations" (Express, November 16). Mr Nantambu's opening paragraph states that "No Pope of the Roman Catholic Church has apologised for the European enslavement of African peoples." The Pope can repent only for acts done by Catholics in the name of the Catholic Church. He cannot repent for acts done by non-Catholics, nor can he "apologise" for my personal sins. Nor can I inherit the sins of generations before me.

In fact, John Paul II prepared for the second millennium by a number of "repentance" visits and state- ments. The first of these was said at the opening leading to the slave ship, facing the Atlantic at Goree, the slave station in Senegal. A number of Catholic bishops and heads of religious orders have "repented", including the Bishop of Fort-de-France (Martinique) in a penitential celebration pronounced in Creole (Patois).

The Catholic Church, in a statement at the UN conference on racism held in South Africa, declared its agreement to reparations. Kwame Nantambu situates the beginning of "African enslavement by Europeans" to a statement by Pope Nicolas (1455).

However, the African slave trade for the Americas is at its beginning, the diverting of a portion of the slave trade destined for Europe and run not by Catholics, but by Arabs who are Muslim. We know from the records of the first Catholic missionaries to West Africa that the Pope of the time strongly opposed the slave trade, whether run by Catholics or by "infidels": he warns the early missionaries of this trade and advises them to stay far from it. John Paul II calls it "the darnel among the wheat"—strong statement.

Indeed, the story of Atlantic slavery over the centuries can be read as a conflict as much within the Church as outside of it, and culminating in the abolitionist position taken by the Missionary segment of the Vatican during the abolitionist debate in Brazil.

The calculation of reparations raises a host of other questions if we are to be serious. Perhaps we can begin by eliminating the purely anti-Catholic propaganda which abounds here.

M O'Callaghan

via e-mail

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