By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
While American bishops are usually circumspect about declaring their electoral preferences, at least one African prelate currently attending the Synod of Bishops in Rome feels no such scruples. Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, said today he would “obviously” vote for Barak Obama if he could cast a ballot on Nov. 4.
Known as a strong advocate for social justice, Onaiyekan said Obama’s pro-choice record wouldn’t stop him from voting for the Democrat.
“The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life,” Onaiyekan said in an interview with NCR. “You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.”
A past president of the African bishops’ conference, Onaiyekan is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa. During the synod, he was tapped to deliver a continental report on behalf of the African bishops.
Onaiyekan said the election of an African-American president would have positive repercussions for America’s image in the developing world.
“It would mean that for the first time, we would begin to think that the Americans are really serious in the things they say, about freedom, equality, and all that,” he said. “For a long time, we’ve been feeling that you don’t really mean it, that they’re just words.”
Onaiyekan said he’s aware that many American Catholics have reservations about Obama because of his stand on abortion, but he looks at it differently.
“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.
“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.
“It’s a whole package, and you never get a politician who will please you in everything,” he said. “You always have to pick and choose.”
Onaiyekan also addressed the current economic crisis, saying that it could actually be good news for poor countries if it means a fundamental overhaul of what he regards as “unjust” global structures.
“There’s a system there which keeps poor nations in poverty, no matter what efforts we make,” Onaiyekan said. “People in the poor nations are neither lazy nor stupid. They work hard and get nothing for it, or worse, they work hard and other people take it away.”
“Both in Europe and in America, there’s a call now for a major review of what’s happening, that it’s not going to be ‘business as usual’ anymore. Those of us in poor countries should consider that a welcome development, provided that in the new structure which is going to be built, truth and justice will play a stronger role.”
The Synod of Bishops on the Bible runs Oct. 5-26 in Rome.