It is easy to wave away Chimamanda’s observations on Nigerian Catholicism by quoting Peter and Paul, but we cannot pretend that she made up all her arguments. Many people have accused her of either being ignorant of the Church’s teachings or simply using this intervention to score a cheap goal supporting her feminist worldview.
- As a Catholic priest, I have to defend my Church by upholding her honor and dignity.
- I also must stand with my brother priests in their pastoral endeavours.
Yet, I have a moral obligation to defend the truth and the Gospel of Christ, no matter whose ox is gored. However, I do not pretend to have a monopoly of the truth, even though I will force myself to be as objective as I can.
Haven said that, let me state my disappointment with the fact that we are learning about Chimamanda’s position vis-à-vis Catholicism now. I am tempted to ask whether it became a fact simply because it aired on television. Of course, accepting that would amount to saying that the best way to conceal a fact to a particular group would be to hide it in a book page. Yet, it baffles my imagination to learn that after she had said it in different interviews and wrote it in different journals and books, it is only now that we started questioning her Catholic faith. Some even impugn her motives.
But am I surprised that many people are writing against her? No, that will make me too naive even to attempt this counterargument. In Nigeria, you dare not question religion and expect to be applauded for it. In an interview she accorded to Susan VanZanten of Image Journal, she told of her contact with a priest who spent the time of homily criticizing women and their choice of clothes. When the priest dismissed her, she said:
“I wrote a piece about it in a local newspaper, and the backlash was incredible. The editor said they had never received as many letters about anything. It was ninety-five percent against me and five percent for me. It was, ‘Shut up. Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you have a right to criticize the priest. You must listen to the priest, and, yes, women tempt men.’ It was incredible, and demoralizing for me.”
So, Chimamanda was aware that talking about priests in Nigerian is unfortunately looking for trouble. And as I write this rejoinder, I do not expect to be applauded either.
Those who accuse Chimamanda are surely not accusing her because of her take on the rigidity of the Catholic Church in Nigeria. She has been saying the same thing since 2003. It is even the theme of Purple Hibiscus.
Many people are angry that she talked about the materialistic tendency of the Nigerian Catholic Church. They go as far as accusing her of being ignorant of how the Church functions. We can all agree that the Church needs money to thrive, but pretending to have just discovered that there is a problem with how we go about it in Nigeria is untruthful. In her Purple Hibiscus (2003, 89–90) she wrote:
“Although I tried to concentrate on Mass, I kept thinking of Amaka’s lipstick, wondering what it felt like to run colour over your lips. It was even harder to keep my mind on Mass because the priest, who spoke Igbo throughout, did not talk about the gospel during the sermon. Instead, he talked about zinc and cement. ‘You people think I ate the money for the zinc, okwia?’ he shouted, gesticulating, pointing accusingly at the congregation. ‘After all, how many of you give to church, gbo? How can we build the house if you don’t give? Do you think zinc and cement cost a mere ten kobo?”
So, where were those accusing her all these years? What has changed so far?
And it is not like Chimamanda is the only person who thinks that the prosperity gospel is quietly creeping into the Catholic Church.
In an article written by Kate Kingsbury and Andre Chesnut in Catholic Herald on November 29, 2018, we have this testimony:
“Outwardly, it looks like a typical African Mass. But after Holy Communion, the priest does not dismiss the congregation. Instead, he launches into a new “liturgy” that would be unfamiliar to millions of Catholics around the world. “It’s quite strange,” reports Fr Donald Zagoré, a priest of the Society for African Missions. “After the post-Communion prayer which should mark the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist – and evidently the end of the whole Mass, save the closing rites – another liturgy starts, sometimes even longer than the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the liturgy of money.”
Is this different from what Chimamanda denounced?
I also hear those who accuse her of being a progressist. I do understand their preoccupation but what if she has said that she was a conservative Catholic? Would that have made any difference, and should one be better? Already in 2005, in an article she wrote in The Atlantic, she explained how Pope Francis made her change her mind about the Church. In that article, she gave us a detailed insight into her Catholic brought up. When I read what people say about her these days, I wonder whether they read that article. But maybe it would have been accessible to much if it had been in audio or video format.
I could take each of the points she is accused of. We will find out that there is nothing she said there that she had not mentioned before or that has never been said by many other people about the Nigerian Church. I only think it became a problem because she pointed out that behind the problem with Nigerian Catholicism. So, Chimamanda, from all indications, is not the problem but the leader of the Church in Nigeria. We should instead thank her for calling us to rethink our Church and strengthen our path as a Church.