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Viganò and Ramaphosa: crushing our faith in Church and politics alike

The expectation that our leaders will show ethical and moral behaviour continues to show itself to be wishful thinking. More, it leads us to relax our own moral sense and worse still, we end up losing faith in Church and country, concludes Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

President Cyril Ramaphosa rose to the top of the ANC and took to the helm as South African president for the reason that he was supposedly a more credible leader than his scandal-prone predecessor Jacob Zuma had been.

Unlike Zuma who was mired in sexual and financial scandals, one embarrassment and shame after another, and even broke his oath of office, President Ramaphosa was expected to be a breath of fresh air.

And so it seemed that he was, at least until he admitted that he had received money from the politically connected Bosasa facilities company. Ramaphosa has since promised to pay back the money.

The president told Parliament what has turned out to be an untruth. He claims that new facts have come to light which led him to change his position on the matter.

The correction of his previous statement happened to coincide with a media house’s request for answers on a series of questions, the responses to which would have embarrassed the president and shown him to have misled Parliament.

Over in Europe, an Italian court has found against Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States. He has been ordered to pay his brother, Fr Lorenzo Viganò, more than $2 million along with interest. According to the Italian press, Viganò had “illegally and illegitimately” taken money from him over many years. This is also the same archbishop who, two months ago, accused Pope Francis of covering up abuse. That, however, is another story.

It’s not as if the Church doesn’t already have enough challenges to its credibility, that an archbishop had to be shamefully ordered to repay the over $2 million dollars that he had “illegally and illegitimately” taken from his own brother.

According to America magazine, the story began over half-a-century ago when the two priests, of a family of eight siblings, inherited a sizable fortune from their father, a steel industrialist in Milan who died in 1961.

The brothers decided to keep their part of the inheritance “in common” and agreed that Carlo Maria would manage it. Lorenzo told an Italian daily in 2011 that he had “trusted him [his brother] blindly,” that was until his brother’s actions caused him to resort to legal action to demand the division of their shared inheritance.

It is unlikely that Ramaphosa and Viganò know or have even ever met each other. Yet the two represent something in common: the ever falling standards of ethical and moral rectitude that ought to characterise those in power.

It could be argued that more should be expected from Archbishop Viganò than from a head of state.

Writing to Timothy, St Paul was explicit in stating that the office of Bishop was not one to be given nor taken lightly.

“The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, and apt teacher, nor a drunkard, not a violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.

Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil”. (1 Timothy 3:1–3,7)

As things stand it cannot be said that Archbishop Viganò is “well thought of” by his own brother, let alone by outsiders. He would also find it extremely difficult to oppose the accusation that he is “a lover of money”.

Speaking of money, there was an expectation from some quarters in society that Ramaphosa’s personal wealth would cocoon him from the pockets of shady characters who sought to buy government influence in pursuit of their nefarious agendas – as the Gupta family had done with Zuma.

Former ANC Secretary-General and now a cabinet minister, Gwede Mantashe, articulated this hope most memorably when he said of Ramaphosa: “We have a president who is wealthy, who will not be tempted to steal. He is wealthy, if he steals we will ask him why do you steal because you have enough.”

Ramaphosa and Viganò show us that, contrary to what Mantashe thinks everyone is susceptible to the evil-fruit borne of the tree whose roots are the love of money, whether or not they have taken an oath of high office or been ordained to  Holy Orders.

By extension, this means that all of us are equally susceptible.

Which brings us to the difficult conclusion that expectations for high moral and ethical behaviour cannot be outsourced to others; regardless of whether they are priests, politicians or teachers.

Expectations that others would set standards for moral and ethical behaviour not only end with great disappointment but makes those who are not leaders assume that they are exempt of the same high standards they expect from their preachers and leaders.

Swindling one’s sibling of an inheritance should be scandalous regardless of one’s office or the vows one has taken. And, the same would apply to the breaking of vows, be they of chastity or fidelity to a spouse.

The injunction “you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) does not come with “terms and conditions”, the fine print stating who is exempt and under which conditions such exemptions can be applied. It makes no distinction between a pope or president or the proverbial man on the street.

If there is any gift that Viganò and Ramaphosa leave us it is that our moral compass must be self-calibrated, for those whom we call leaders will teach us nothing. They can, however, all-too-easily crush our faith.

Christ must have had the likes of Viganò and the Ramaphosa in mind when he warned us to be careful to do “what they tell you but do not do what they do because they do not practice what they preach”. (Matthew 23:3).

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.