by Francis Tuson

Considering the current political climate in South Africa, and Pope Francis’ recent address in Chile, we are encouraged to think about the nature and necessity of democracy.

Although we have one of the most modern and advanced constitutions in the world, we still do not have true democracy. There is still a reliance on potentially corrupt and unreliable parties and delegates to forward the agenda closest to one’s own.

Even in a relatively just and fair pseudo-democracy such as ours, there are problems with corruption, and it is becoming ever more evident, that power both corrupts, and frequently, attracts the corrupted.

With this in mind, one cannot help but look at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Bishops, cardinals and the pope are all elected, almost exclusively, for life. This state of affairs is a throwback to medieval feudal power structures which society has largely eradicated all over the world.

Any position of power or influence, held in perpetuity, is vulnerable to corruption. The Catholic Church is no exception. Dissent, or healthy argument, is often stifled. In efforts to protect their careers and reputations (and those of others), many clergy are drawn into webs of deceit.

Outspoken clergy, to quash their outspokenness, have, at times, been moved to different parishes in an attempt to silence them.

In today’s society, there is no place for institutions that have don’t have effective ways of dealing with corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism. An institution as large, powerful, and influential as the Catholic Church cannot leave itself so vulnerable to human foibles. It is imperative therefore, I think, that the structure, customs and procedures, of, and relating to, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church are revised, modernised, and reformed.

How can the church effectively champion democracy in countries such as Chile and South Africa, when she herself is not democratic?

Pope Francis is attempting a reformation within the church. But an institution that has been around for over 2000 years does not take kindly to sudden changes in tradition. This is evident in the outpouring of anti-Francis sentiments by the more conservative branches of the church. In a paradigmatically democratic way, Pope Francis has, publically and vocally encouraged openness from those who disagree with his words, decisions and actions. This is a breath of fresh air into a culture where public pretence at unity is often the norm.

In his address to Authorities at La Moneda Palace, Chile on 16 January 2018, Pope Francis said: “Each new generation must take up the struggles and attainments of past generations, while setting its own sights even higher. Goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day. It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it.”

Together, we must keep working towards a future where both church and state are free from the tyranny of the corrupt, abusive and unethical.