African Archbishop Lays Down “Daring” Challenge for Synod on the Family

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle considers new uses of St. Peter's "power of the keys"

African Archbishop Lays Down “Daring” Challenge for Synod on the Family


In the following far-ranging interview, Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, suggests that next October’s Synod might consider how “the power of the keys” (Mt. 16:19) could be employed to “unbind” those who have divorced and civilly remarried without a decree of annulment. He characterizes his thinking on this subject as “daring,” while pointing to numerous examples of Jesus extending mercy to society’s outcasts. He also wonders whether the sons and daughters of the Church don’t bear some responsibility for the stridency of the gay lobby through their dehumanizing attitudes. 

Ghanaian bishops chose Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, 64, to be a participant in the Synod of Bishops, set to assemble at the Vatican October 4-25. Pope Francis confirmed his election in late January.

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle also serves as the bishop responsible for the family in the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and as treasurer for the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the continent-wide assembly of Catholic bishops in Africa. 

Our interview with Archbishop Palmer-Buckle took place on February 5 following a meeting of SECAM’s Standing Committee in Rome. 

Your Excellency, what is important for Africa in the Synod?

What is important for Africa is that the Church comes clear on what the Church’s ancient and modern doctrine on marriage is, that is, marriage is a union between man and woman. 

What we actually are looking for is to hear the clear cut stance of the Church as regards what the doctrine on holy matrimony is and remains: a union between man and woman, one man and one woman, for helping each other and for procreation. That is what we are waiting to hear, because there are too many conflicting voices, not necessarily from the Church — but unfortunately from the Western world — that are trying to drown out the voice of God, the voice of the Church. That’s the first thing. 

[In Africa] a lot of our people earlier on were involved in polygamous marriages. But for our people, marriage has always been between male and female, between man and woman. Even to the extent of man and women, or in the rare case, even between one woman and men. But since Christianity won’t accept it, most of our people have been trying very hard to live according to the dictates of Jesus Christ. 

In Matthew 19:1-6, Jesus says “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they two shall become one flesh … So what God has joined together let no man put asunder.” That is for us what we are expecting to hear, clearly enunciated by the Church.

Do you have any doubt that the Church’s teaching on marriage will be enunciated clearly at the Synod in October?

I have absolutely no doubt about it. My worry is that many like to make the "voice of the media" the "voice of the Church." It’s the Church that must pronounce on it. 

The first Extraordinary Synod was meant to bring to the fore the questions relating to marriage today — for those in the Church and outside of the Church — and to ask what should be our pastoral concerns about marriage: about married people, about people who have entered into marriage and left it, about those who have remarried, and even to think about the new forms of unions that are being imposed upon humanity in the name of marriage. 

The Extraordinary Synod actually was only to say: this is the status quaestionis. What does the Church make of it? What do we make of it? How do we live in this sort of world without being of this type of world? How do we live in this world and bring Christ’s teaching and salvation to people? That is what the first Extraordinary Synod was about. 

The Holy Father himself put together a very beautiful synthesis. The long and short of it is: nobody should stop anybody from saying what he or she thinks about the current state of marriage, family, etc. Nobody should suffocate anybody. We should listen to one another and we should reflect on it and try to see what the Holy Spirit will tell us about how to accompany towards Christ people who find themselves in any form of marriage. That is [Pope Francis’] main concern: how do we bring them, whoever they are, in whatever context they find themselves, to Christ. I think that was a beautiful message.