Norris McDonald, Contributor
Caribbean countries must take responsibility for their lives instead of seeking to collect reparations from slavery, an American organisation, Catholics.Org has said.
In a Catholics Online article, October 11, 2013, 'Caribbean nations sue - Why reparations for slavery are an injustice to the living,' the groups belittles the Caribbean arguing that, "the people of the Caribbean must forget this 'long-dead issue' and leave it to God to dispense justice.
"Instead of reparations, the people of the Caribbean must take responsibility for their condition and find ways to cooperate with the nations of the world to lift themselves from poverty,"
This view was expressed following the decision of 14 Caribbean governments, including Jamaica, to sue Britain, France and Netherlands for reparations for slavery.
A British law firm, Leigh Day, was retained to prosecute this suit. This firm just won compensation for Kenyans who were brutally tortured in the colonial era.
Catholics Online, however, feels the lawsuit is ridiculous, seeks to punish the living while allowing the Caribbean to claim a status of 'victims'. With clear indignation and haughtiness, they argue: "When do people stop being victims and become responsible for their own conditions? Shall the nations of Europe sue France for Napoleon's conquest?"
It is easy, however, to see why they would be indignant and perhaps worried about this lawsuit. Clear evidence exists that the Catholic church provided the legal, religious and moral basis for slavery. Pope Pius II was the first high official who created the legal basis for slavery, historical records reveal. According to these documents, in 1495 Pope Pius II gave legal authority to Prince Enrique of Portugal, 'to reduce all infidels to servitude' who dwelled on all lands 'east of Cape Blanco'. The infidels in question were black African people. As a concession, he decreed that "all Africans that were baptised were not to be traded."
I think, and readers would clearly agree, that this evangelising mission of the Catholic Church was an important moral philosophical and religious motivation for black African slavery as the political and economic desires for the accumulation of wealth.
The Leyes de Indias (Laws of the Indies) are the entire body laws of the Spanish Crown which governed Spanish slavery society. It included the instructions for the enslaved people to be indoctrinated in 'the Holy Roman Catholic Faith'.
It is hard therefore, as painful as it is to any believer to accept this that, if it seems a little late, those responsible for the crimes of slavery must be called to account.
I believe we can be very generous, as believers, and argue that Catholics Online does not accurately reflect the attitude of neither the US Congress of Bishops; nor the previous ecumenical teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which clarified the Catholic church teachings on poverty and solidarity under the late Pope John Paul; or the new teachings of beloved Pope Francis.
Catholics' progressive attitude is clear. On June 12, 2012, H.E. Monsignor Silvino M. Tomasi, told the United Nations conference on foreign debt and human rights that there must be human rights criteria for evaluating all foreign debt obligations. According the representative of the Holy See, "Wealth and debt must serve the common good," and, therefore, "If justice is violated, wealth and debt becomes instrument of exploitation, especially of the poor and marginalised."
Justice and Ethics
Monsignor Tomasi also said that "justice and ethics apply to all aspects of economic and social relations including foreign debt obligations."
Is Catholics Online aware of these ecumenical teachings?
Maybe not, because I believe, and it can be successfully legally argued, reparations for slavery are as much a 'foreign debt' as that we are said to owe to the banks. And if reparations ought not to be paid then, maybe we ought to take the same attitude to the foreign debt.
There could even be a quid pro quo settlement in which the existing debt is written off as the direct compensation along with other reparation payments.
In the meantime, it is shocking that at a time when Pope Francis is trying to get the Catholic church to embrace those who have no clean drinking water, good health care, a daily good meal, good education and the other necessities of life, a Catholic organisation would belittle the positive, progressive efforts of our Caribbean leaders.
I am sure the Caribbean leaders are as divinely inspired as these Catholic authors and who is to tell if it is not God who is speaking to their hearts and say faith without work is empty? 'Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,' Lord Jesus said. The reparation payments for slavery are 'Caesar's legacy' for him to own.
Norris McDonald is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.