Insights into traditionalist Catholicism in Africa
Since the promulgation of the revised missal, popularly known as the Novus Ordo by Pope Paul VI, with the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanun in 1969, a growing call for either a return to the Tridentine Mass or recognition of the legitimate place of such a rite alongside the Novus Ordo has gained an international status. Groups like the International Una Voce Federation and recently, the Ecclesia Dei Society continue to advocate for this, and their cause has resulted in the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum of Benedict XVI permitting the typical edition of the Roman Missal issued by Pope John XXIII in 1962. Africa has and continues to be part of this conversation. The International Una Voce Federation is actively present in South Africa and Kenya. Ecclesia Dei Society is present in Nigeria and works in collaboration with International Una Voce Federation. Some within these groups identify themselves as traditionalist Catholics stressing the point that they are truly the defenders of the deposit of Catholic tradition. Others argue that they are the true church and that the Roman Catholic Church has fallen into heresy.
While these traditionalist groups share differing views on orthodoxy in relation to Roman Catholicism, their views on traditionalist Catholicism can be defined as an intentionality of meaning geared towards a consciousness that reveals the plenal hermeneutic-revelation of what is authentically catholic and traceable to ecclesial realities of the early church through a biased reading of church history.
For an average catholic, traditionalist Catholicism refers to the schismatic group founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, C.S.Sp. However, other traditionalist Catholic groups continue to emerge, who sometimes have no allegiance to or do not trace their origins to Lefebvre’s Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX).
While the presence of Traditionalists in Africa is small, there is a growing awareness of the presence of these groups and interest in them by Africans. The SSPX has continued to make inroads in Africa and presently has a District of Africa, erected in 2008. Within the district, there are six priories located in five countries; two in South Africa, one in Gabon, one in Zimbabwe, one in Kenya, and one in Nigeria. The first was opened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1986 and the most recent was opened in 2012 in Enugu Nigeria. There are twenty-two priests, two professed brothers, and eight sisters working in this District of Africa. Of these, there are currently two members of African descent, Rev. Gregory Obih and Rev. James Ngaruro. The former is an ex- Augustinian Friar-Priest from the Province of Nigeria, who left the Roman Catholic Church and joined the SSPX in 2007. He is currently the resident priest of the Priory in Nigeria. The latter is the first African ordained for the SSPX.
Another group currently present is an offshoot of the SSPX. This is the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP). This traditionalist group refused to follow Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre into schism when he ordained four bishops for his Fraternity in 1988 without papal mandate. The group became a Clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right. Its only presence in Africa is in the Diocese of Orlu in Eastern Nigeria. It runs a parish named Saint Mary’s Church with a canonical status of a personal parish without boundaries. The parish operates a Marian shrine called Nne Enyemaka Shrine (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Shrine). The only African member of the FSSP is Rev. Evaristus Eshionwu. He was ordained for the Diocese of Orlu in 1972 and incardinated into the FSSP in 1999. He is currently the associate pastor of the parish. Though, there is no other presence of this group in Africa, a noticeable rapport exists between the retired bishop of Orlu Diocese, Nigeria, Bishop Gregory Ochiagha. He serves as their sacramental minister for administering sacraments reserved to the bishop for this growing community.
Other traditionalist groups are currently making advances to Africa. Among these is the Traditional Roman Catholic Church, formerly known as the Old Roman Catholic Church of America, who, though tracing its origins to the Old Catholic Church under the Union of Utrecht, has cut ties with the Old Catholic Church accusing it of embracing Modernist views. It claims to be the real Roman Catholic Church, arguing that it has preserved the true teachings handed down from the apostles. While the FSSP has accepted the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, by implication of its communion with the Roman Catholic Church, the SSPX continues to regard some aspects of the teachings of the Council as heretical and deviates from orthodoxy. The Traditional Roman Catholic Church rejects the Council and declares all its teachings heretical. This group is currently headed by Archbishop Mosley who styles himself as His Eminence Shermanus Randallus Pius Moslei, D.D., Primate of the Traditional Roman Catholic Church. This group currently has two African members; one of them is Rev. Cyril Nnadi, an ordained Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Umuahia in Eastern Nigeria. He left the Roman Catholic Church and joined the TRCC in 2007. He has served as their judicial vicar since 2009. The other African member is Rev. Hippolyte Marie Pagan from Cameroon who serves as the dean of their online seminary training as well as the legate to the African region.
Tensions continue to brew between followers of the SSPX and those of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. They accuse the latter of betraying the cause of the traditionalist by submitting to the ‘Modernist” Roman Catholic Church when it established communion with the Pope in 1988. Both the SSPX and the TRCC stress a literal understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), defined to mean an actual membership in the Catholic Church that their groups now represent along with those ecclesial groups they are in communion with. Consequently, they reject categorically the teaching on ecumenism. They are also against religious freedom by consequence of their reading of the theological statement of Cyprian of Carthage.
These traditionalists regard the writings of Michael Davies, a former president of International Una Voce Federation, and The Remnant, a bi-monthly newspaper as their vade mecum. Persons seeking to join these groups are first asked to read the works of Davies on the meaning and beliefs of traditionalist Catholics. Even though The Remnant claims to be an independent traditionalist catholic newsletter, its contents clearly favor the causes of the traditionalists. It updates its members globally on the progress of the traditionalist Catholic movement in the continent of Africa and also helps to raise awareness on how to raise funds to support the projects of the traditionalist groups operating in the continent.