The Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) begins its annual plenary meeting today in Sunyani, the Bono regional capital. The two-week gathering will start with a retreat for the bishops, followed by their business meeting focused on the theme: “Fostering the Growth of the Catholic Church in Ghana through Collaborative Ministry”.
The meeting is coinciding with the climax of the golden jubilee celebration of the Sunyani Diocese. Dignitaries invited to and expected at the celebratory climax event on Saturday, November 18, 2023, include the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Most Rev. Henryk Jagodzińksi, the Papal Nuncio to Ghana.
As the bishops meet, and with the strong prospect of Ghana’s President honouring their invitation, a key item on the episcopal agenda, must be the Catholic Church’s position on the National Cathedral.
It is, proverbially speaking and puns aside, the elephant in the room. In a previous communiqué issued after their plenary assembly in Wa in 2021, the GCBC addressed the issue of the National Cathedral.
The prelates stated: “We wish to commend the President of the Republic, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Add0 for his vision and commitment to build a National Cathedral, which will serve as a symbol of unity for all Christians and a national place of prayer. We therefore urge all Christians and all well-meaning Ghanaians to contribute generously towards the building of the National Cathedral to the glory of God.”
This clear statement was beneficial as it clarified the church’s official stance on an issue that even then was tinged with some controversy. No less a person than Ghana’s former President, Jerry John Rawlings, had stated that he would defer his position on the construction of the religious edifice to what the Catholic Church, his mother church, determined as its position.
Thus, while bishops like Most Rev. Charles Palmer-Buckle, Archbishop of Cape Coast, and Most Rev. Peter Sarpong, emeritus Archbishop of Kumasi, publicly associated with the project – the former being the current vice chair of the National Cathedral of Ghana (NCG) board of trustees – until the 2021 communiqué, the position of the GCBC seemed somewhat nebulous.
This statement of support notwithstanding, it appears that in the light of the increasing allegations of mismanagement and even corruption associated with the NCG project, on account of which some of the trustees have resigned and publicly disassociated themselves from it, some Catholics, not unlike former president Rawlings, would wish to hear from their bishops on the matter.
While many good reasons may be adduced to explain Most Rev. Palmer-Buckle’s acceptance of the personal invitation to serve on the NCG board of trustees, the current murky state of affairs characterizing this project has led to strident calls on him and other respectable church leaders to step aside.
His position as the most senior active Catholic bishop in Ghana and a highly regarded public figure even beyond church circles makes his continued involvement in a seemingly scandal-ridden NCG project disconcerting.
Furthermore, it implicates the GCBC and, consequently, the Catholic Church in Ghana. This is the case, even if, as former GCBC president Archbishop Philip Naameh once clarified, Archbishop Buckle’s invitation to the NCG board was made ad personam and is therefore not representative of the GCBC.
In the final analysis, the issue must be addressed in a way that realigns the focus from a Catholic prelate’s presence on the NCG board to the broader concern of the Catholic Church’s position on the ongoing imbroglio, as the investigations undertaken by the member of parliament for North Tongu, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, make ever more evident.
For all its faithful members following the worrying developments about the NCG project, it is imperative that the Catholic Church in Ghana once again clears the air regarding its institutional position.
This may entail continued support for the project or a withdrawal of its consent, pending whatever arrangements or structures are established to ensure accountability, transparency and proper management.
To the church’s advantage, it is not absent at the table but, in the person of Most Rev. Palmer-Buckle, has a credible figure who is well placed to help inform the church’s collective decision, to which he would be bound.
Thus, rather than play ostrich with the elephant in the room, the proposal is for the Catholic Church to bite the bullet on this matter.
Whether this will happen, we wait to see. To conclude, by paraphrasing William Shakespeare, as the GCBC begins its plenary, the question facing it squarely on the NCG project is: to comment or not to comment?