86. Safeguarding our authority: The Urgency of Ecumenism
86. Safeguarding our authority: The Urgency of Ecumenism

86. Safeguarding our authority: The Urgency of Ecumenism

In the past weeks, I have discussed the religious reasons we need to safeguard our authority. Recent posts focused on inculturation. However, discussions on religion in contemporary society, particularly in Nigeria, go beyond inculturation. Inter-religious dialogue is an even more pressing issue because of the existential threat of living in a multi-religious country. As Christians, Islam is the major religion in Nigeria we must engage. Whether Christians or Muslims are more in Nigeria depends on whom you ask or the statistic one consults. Today and in the coming days, I will explore ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.

In comparison to the past century, the world has changed. Technological advancements, such as the digital revolution and now Artificial Intelligence (AI), have ruptured the foundations on which religious beliefs stand. Most religions and all Christian denominations face an institutional crisis as people constantly question and challenge the foundational beliefs upon which the authority structure lies. With secularisation in the West, Christianity no longer enjoys the global political leverage it had centuries ago. With Muslim-majority countries becoming rich through oil and gas and, therefore, more influential in global politics and economy, Christianity’s bargaining power in inter-religious dialogue is no longer as strong as it used to be.

Therefore, ecumenism is the most urgent step toward increasing Christian leverage in inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria.

When terrorists attack, they do not ask if one is Catholic, Anglican, or Pentecostal. They attack any Christian available. Almost every major Christian denomination in Nigeria has had a share of attacks. With other attacks for sociopolitical and economic reasons, the Catholic Church seems to occupy the undesirable first position.

The recent report from SB Morgen, a Nigerian geopolitical Intelligence platform, shows that 39 attacks happened on priests in 2022; 30 priests were kidnapped.[1]  Of course, one cannot forget the deadly massacre on Pentecost Sunday, 5 June 2022, at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo that killed 40 people. Considering the status and reputation of the Catholic Church, this data is unsurprising. Furthermore, during these election campaigns, some Imams publicly advise Muslims not to vote for Peter Obi or any other Christian because a corrupt Muslim is always better than an infidel (non-Muslim).

I must admit that the Catholic Church has not been historically good with ecumenism. Enjoying state power and economic leverage, we often sought to subdue any person or group that disagreed with any Church doctrine or challenged papal authority. This was why we traditionally called those who left the Catholic Church ‘Protestants’, that is, those who protested. Older Church documents and laws contain multiple instances of ‘anathema sit’ and “let him or her be excommunicated”.

Recent documents, including the 1983 Code of Canon Law, have significantly reduced situations for latae sententiae penalties and the penalty of excommunication, improving the Church’s tolerance. Canon 1318 states:

“Latae sententiae penalties are not to be established, except perhaps for some outstanding and malicious offences which may be either more grave by reason of scandal or such that they cannot be effectively punished by ferendae sententiae penalties; censures, however, especially excommunication, are not to be established, except with the greatest moderation, and only for offences of special gravity”.

Latae sententiae means “of a sentence (already) passed”. Hence, once one commits an offence with such a penalty attached, the person automatically incurs the penalty immediately, even without a trial. Trials are to declare that the sentence has been passed and see to their execution. On the other hand, ferendae sententiae means “of sentence to be passed”. Here, the penalty is not binding upon the offender until it has been passed (Canon 1314).

Therefore, the only offence not strictly against doctrine and sacraments that attracts excommunication is the physical attack on the pope (Canon 1370 §§1-2). Notably, canon 1364 §1 states:

“An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of can. 194 § 1 n. 2.” Canon 194 §1, 2° talks about “a person who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church.” This means that the law on apostasy, heresy, and schism does not bind those who have publicly defected or have never been Catholics (cf. Can. 11).

Excommunication means “out of communion” (ex communio or ex communicatio) and is a censure (a medicinal penalty for healing a situation). One excluded from communion can still return to communion.

Therefore, it is not even pastorally opportune to shut down discussions with non-Catholics because we consider them apostates, heretics, and schismatics.

Unfortunately, our apostolicity and over-emphasis on our superiority continue to hinder ecumenism. Next week’s post discusses these.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


[1]  SB Morgen, “Attack on Priests”, 23 January 2023, available at URL:https://www.sbmintel.com/2023/01/chart-of-the-week-attacks-on-priests/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *