Mugabe in the Vatican
This week we publish just two of the many letters we have received that express anger and hurt at Mr Mugabe’s warm welcome in the Vatican and his reception of the Eucharist at so public and exalted an event. How, many ask, can it be that a man who is responsible for the killing and persecution of so many people may take his place at the Lord’s Table?
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, spokesman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and a critic of the president’s human rights record, explained: “For any Christian, receiving Communion is an act of personal choice made out of conscience before God. As such, it is a matter for the internal forum — between God and the believer.” No person but Mr Mugabe and perhaps his confessor can know whether he was in a state of grace when he presented himself for Communion in St Peter’s Square. It is not our place to interrogate Mr Mugabe internal forum.
Moreover, as long as Mr Mugabe is not under interdict (as some Catholic pro-choice politicians in the United States are, at the discretion of local bishops), he may continue to receive Communion. We must hope that his personal chaplain will offer him the appropriate spiritual advice.
But why was Mr Mugabe allowed to attend the beatification ceremony of the pope who in 2003 gave the Zimbabwean ambassador a most devastating public dressing-down over his regime’s reign of terror?
Cardinal Napier points out that “no official invitations were issued to heads of state”. But it is not a case of Mr Mugabe simply presenting himself at the gates of St Peter’s Square’s VIP enclosure, demanding admission. Because the European Union’s travel ban on Mr Mugabe excludes the Vatican City state, Italian immigration must allow him passage through Italian territory. This means that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had to make the necessary arrangements through its diplomatic channels once Mr Mugabe had declared his wish to attend the beatification ceremony.
Evidently the Vatican saw no cause to ask Mr Mugabe to stay at home nor to decline to engage its diplomatic channels on his behalf. International diplomacy sometimes requires unpalatable things of its practitioners. Protocol would demand that the Vatican will not reveal whether this was one such occasion.
Clearly, however, Mr Mugabe was made to feel thoroughly welcome. And it is at the televised sight of the tyrant being warmly embraced by a broadly smiling prelate that Catholics may register indignation.
That public embrace is embarrassing for the courageous bishops of Zimbabwe, and to the clergy, religious and laity who strive for a peaceful transition to an equitable and accountable democracy. Shortly before departing on his “absolutely heavenly” Vatican sojourn, Mr Mugabe described the Zimbabwean bishops as “so-called men of God who lie” and “mere puppets of Western countries”. In that light particularly, Mr Mugabe’s reception in the Vatican has created an impression, surely inaccurate, that the Vatican sides with him against the bishops of Zimbabwe.
We can be certain that Mr Mugabe will refer to his welcome in the Vatican when next he feels compelled to insult and attack the bishops of his country, and to denounce their apostolic obligation to work for justice and peace. Their teaching authority on issues of social justice has been compromised. It is important that such a perception is vigorously countered to preserve the authority and dignity of Zimbabwe’s bishops and the laity’s confidence in the episcopate and, indeed, in the Vatican.
Inestimable harm has been done to the Church by Mr Mugabe’s trip. Zimbabwe’s bishops have been undermined, and the faithful have been scandalised. Now that damage requires correction.
The Zimbabwean reported thus on Mugabe's comments on Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops: