Trinidad and Tobago


St Paul’s to the Romans

March 28, 2001

IT came to pass that an American-born prelate was last week named by the Vatican as Archbishop-designate of the local Catholic Church. In a letter from St Paul’s to the Romans, parish priest Fr Clyde Harvey rebuked them sharply, saying: “Thou art the neo-colonialists.”

Perhaps Fr Harvey’s protest against the appointment of Bishop Edward Gilbert simply came at an awkward time. The RC Church has been on the ropes, fighting off a slew of macabre sex scandals and other reversals of a long-standing cherubic image, brought about exclusively through the acts of its apostles.

Of all the ironies, its worst problems in years are coming during Lent.

In fact, this crucial component of RC doctrine was being crucified. The Church didn’t need to attract any more attention until Easter, when singing of “The Hallelujah Chorus” and general rejoicing in the glory of the Resurrection would hopefully eradicate all memory of its dark side.

In the interim, Cardinals must have been asking The Lord to have mercy on the religion itself.

And it was beginning to work. In the spirit of “Let Every Valley Be Exalted”, the media gave much space to the Chief Whip of the political party that once demanded increased employment in the private banking sector for Afro-Trinidadians. Mr Valley threw a two-part tantrum last week, when he said he discovered the ruling party had the temerity to express a similar concern over the proportion of Indo-Trinidians recently recruited by the Coast Guard.

But let us get back to church, where matters of honesty are normally easier to prove. There, powers and principalities locked horns over the appointment of Gilbert The Unknown. He took comfort in the position that his election bore the “Made in Rome” sticker and in such matters, The Vicar of Christ is above question by mere priests. Gilbert described protestors as “emotional” and said he had gone through a similar “storm in a teacup” on taking up an earlier appointment as Bishop of Roseau.

Fr Harvey was not an aspirant. He chaired the executive of the Archdiocese, which selected Fr Francis, a white monk at the Abbey at Mt St Benedict, putting to rest any insinuation that the current joust is tainted by ethnic issues. Aghast at being so cavalierly overruled, Harvey offered to resign as parish priest of St Paul’s, when Gilbert assumes office in May.

And while I am willing to genuflect to Harvey’s judgment on this matter, Gilbert, who served in Dominica since 1994 is hardly a foreigner to the Caribbean anymore, even if he is yet to understand cricket. And in a region striving to be seen as a single unit, an adopted Dominican cannot be forever described as American.

In any event, the very word “Catholic” literally means “Universal” and given the structure of The Church of Rome, a bishop hailing from Czechoslovakia or Taiwan should encounter no difficulty, if selected for ascendancy in an alien archdiocese.

The RC Church is, after all, a multinational corporation, with local power-centres like the Opus Dei and Living Waters bringing their influence to bear on decisions made under the dome in Rome. The Vatican becomes a mere signatory to recommendations made by a Papal Nuncio who, in the instant case, is also a recent arrival here.

Fr Harvey’s remonstration must therefore be built on a more solid rock and with stronger planks—but we are left to guess. Having accused The Vatican of neo-colonialism in making his case for an indigenous Archbishop, Fr Harvey then ducked local media and, ironically, responded to the BBC.

To add to the intrigue, the impending edition of The Catholic News supports Fr Harvey’s position, even after he told Sunday’s congregation at St Paul’s that the ordinary parishioner had no idea of the rut in which the Roman Catholic Church has found itself.

Prime Minister Basdeo Panday is steering clear of the matter, operating on the noble principle of separation of powers. It is difficult to figure out, though, how in his parallel responsibility as National Security Minister, he can permanently avoid discussion of a long-term work permit for Gilbert, a waiver of the requirement altogether, or approval of a diplomatic passport in lieu.

The largest problem, however, remains with the Catholic Church.

As is written in Proverbs 18 (verse 19) “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” Harvey is clearly upset and doesn’t seem ready to let the matter drop. Gilbert, taken in a Lenten context, sounds like a man who has already washed his hands.

One thing is certain: Even if, in the tradition of transient wonders, the issue dies by Good Friday, crucified by outpourings of blind faith, it would likely set a new record for resurrection. To be forgotten forever and ever, would take a full-scale miracle.


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