Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Chronixx, fyah and the Catholic Church

Published:Monday | October 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist

On Tuesday, October 21, 2014, The Gleaner published a letter entitled, 'Do You Know Rome, Chronixx?' written by my good friend Andrea Wray. In the letter, Andrea, a devout Roman Catholic, took umbrage with the lyrics of a song by Chronixx entitled 'Start A Fyah'. In the song, Chronixx sings of burning down the Vatican and Rome.
She expressed concern that songs like that could incite violence, and invited the singer to visit "Rome-related organizations" such as Brothers of the Poor, Mustard Seed Communities, Alpha Boys' Home and all the Catholic schools.

The letter, and the ensuing comments, prompted me to reflect on my ambivalent feelings toward the Catholic Church, as, over the years, the Church has simultaneously angered and moved me.

I absolutely understand and can relate to the sentiments in the song, acknowledging that the 'fyah' mentioned in many reggae songs is a metaphorical burning that represents the repudiation and denouncement of practices deemed to be unjust and offensive.
In the first verse, Chronixx sings:
"I was there when the ships came
An chastise I inna Jesus name".

This is a clear reference to slavery, and the Catholic Church had a huge hand in that. Many respected leaders in the Church, including some popes, considered the enslavement of humans to be acceptable and sanctioned by God. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, who, as his name suggests, is a 'saint', stated that "slavery among men is natural, for some are naturally slaves".
Then there were the 15th century papal bulls and decrees that justified the colonization of indigenous peoples, stating that if they could not be converted, enslaving or killing them would be appropriate.

The Catholic Church has also been involved in other activities that have been detrimental to human life. One of the most irresponsible has been the insistence of the Church that people not wear condoms, even in countries ravaged by AIDS. It was not until 2010 that Pope Benedict stated that condoms could be used "in certain cases" to help prevent the spread of HIV. This doctrine propagated by the Church no doubt placed many lives at risk.

Then, of course, there is the inept handling of child abusers among members of the Catholic clergy. Child abuse is not peculiar to the Catholic Church, but the institution has a disgusting habit of shifting abusers from parish to parish, where they continue to molest, rape and sodomise children, while victims are either paid hush money or threatened with expulsion from the Church if they speak out.
As a matter of fact, in 2001 the Church officially institutionalized the covering up of sex abuse when Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict, signed an edict stating that enquiries into abuse in the Church must remain confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reach adulthood, and that anyone who breaks their silence before this time would face possible excommunication.

My feelings of ambivalence arise when I read about the atrocities and injustice committed and perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church, and try to reconcile them with the good work that Catholic based organizations are doing in present day Jamaica.
When I visit Mustard Seed Communities and speak with Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon about his mission, and see the work that he and others are doing there, I am deeply moved.
When I speak with missionaries from Father Richard Ho Lung's Missionaries of the Poor, especially those from countries as far away as the Phillipines, and hear of the stellar work that they are doing with those that our own society have rejected, I feel a lump in my throat. And when I see the excellent education that my daughter is receiving at Immaculate Conception High School, which employs some of the most dedicated and passionate teachers that I have ever met, I am grateful.

What I also find interesting in this 'fyah' burning debate is that the current pope, Pope Francis, also shares the disdain that many of us have with what has transpired in the Church over the years and, ironically, has started a 'fyah' of his own in the Vatican and has been doing a fair share of burning.
He has fired a German bishop who was living a lavish lifestyle, four cardinals who were running the Vatican bank after money laundering was discovered, and, just last month, a bishop in Paraguay who was accused of protecting a pedophile priest. He also personally met with and apologized to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy, acknowledged the laxity of the Church in dealing with the problem and has set up a panel to investigate these matters.

So my ambivalence with the Catholic Church continues. Burning a 'fyah pon Rome' is absolutely understandable and injustice and evil must be incinerated and the resulting ashes vaporized.
I myself have been providing fuel for the 'fyah' for years, but I must admit that I believe that in Jamaica today the Catholic Church is probably doing more good than harm, and I must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Pope Francis is obviously on a pathway to reform the church. Let us hope that he does not change course.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.