Arguably, Ghana’s most high profile Covid-19 victim at the moment is His Grace Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, a man with many admirers and lately not-so-many. He was bold and courageous enough to make public his Covid-19 infection in a social media announcement. Prayers flowed in from all over after that and so did some scathing criticisms (See screenshot above). The Man-of-God, with that confession, opened himself up to the scrutiny of his “fellow Ghanaians” and will have to live with the consequences. In fairness to his grace, I think he deserves commendation for sharing with us his very private medical status, his suffering and his empathy with other victims. It is a show of leadership, that cannot be said of someone whose exclusive “victory” party led to many infections and is yet to come straight with Ghanaians.
The archbishop comes across as your favourite lovable priest – the kind you see in English sitcoms like “Bless Me Father”, “Father Ted”, “Father Brown” and those others who walk in and out of the stage of “Mrs. Brown’s Boys”. Oh no, not as eccentric, but just as sweet and as cuddly! One of those pillars of Ghanaian society whose stature cuts across all religions, ethnicities and political entities. A good preacher at the pulpit and spellbinding raconteur in private, I first heard of him through his sister long before I met him personally. She was my university mate and would every now and then mention in passing, if with some bemusement, her brother who had decided to become a priest. His escape from the jaws of death when he was at the Catholic Standard in the early 80s created a mystique around him. According to the lore at the time, he had been earmarked for liquidation by agents of the “system”, but an unfortunate lookalike, also a priest, took his place.
My first direct encounter with him was years ago at a very restricted get-together regarding the christening of a relation’s child – in the home of our host, not in church. Coronavirus was eons away, but I remember the guests were very carefully selected and so few were we that, social distancing automatically triggered itself! He was casual and relaxed and I believe he was not even in his clerical garments. After the ceremony, which was very brief, we settled for the socialising. His warmth was such that I felt as if we were old friends – old drinking partners! We discussed many things and by the time we said our goodbyes, we had registered ourselves in our consciousness as friends – at least, I did.
As a very charismatic priest of the Catholic Church, he’s been in much demand at many public functions to lend a spiritual hand at the proceedings and never failed to hammer on the issues. His condemnation of expensive and ostentatious funerals in Ghana got him fans from all over the Ghanaian universe. But who was/is listening? I just hope that by the time that this coronavirus is done with us, one of the paradigm shifts would include funerals – wasteful things. Already virtual funerals are catching on and long may they survive and overtake the old wasteful ways!
Come post-election 2016 and I had a mental falling out with my hero. I was deeply disappointed when he walked with his eyes very wide open into a political trap set by Nana Addo with his so-called “national” cathedral. I complained to close friends and family, questioning the archbishop’s judgement in agreeing to lend his stature, image and faith to front for what was clearly Nana Addo’s political gimmick. By dangling Christocentric rhetoric and iconography, Nana Addo had one thing in mind: harvest the considerable Christian numbers for electoral gain. So disappointed was I that, I called up a source at the Catholic Secretariat to register my protest. It was this source who consoled me somewhat by explaining that the archbishop’s involvement was purely a personal thing and did not have the blessing of the Catholic Church. He went on to explain that the Church had asked for some questions to be answered and no answers were forthcoming. For example, how would the bishop of such a cathedral be selected, for, with the Catholic Church, such issues follow rigorous centuries-old established canonical precepts not the whims of a politician. I took the issue up with a very senior cleric, very close to the top of the church hierarchy, who very gently set my mind at ease about the Church’s position, but diplomatically, not the archbishop’s personal involvement. I also sent emails to a number of evangelical and protestant churches. Not sure whether they received them or not, only Duncan-William’s church called back. The Christian Council’s email address never worked, but at least, I tried.
It is possible that all the other clerics who rallied behind this cathedral thing must have overlooked the role some Christian clerics played in propping up the dictatorship of Nazi Germany by going along with “Gleichschaltung” and “Deutsche Christens.” They even had a Reich Bishop!!! It is a deeply disturbing history. In recent times, we have witnessed the rather fatal attraction between Trump and the Christian right in the US and the worrying trend that partially ended in the nearly successful insurrection of January 6 2021. In Ghana, our Christian prelates were unable to see the dangers inherent in a religious gift from a rabidly partisan politician and fell for the cathedral gift! In fact, even the Zongo communities, predominantly Muslim, also fell for it when they were offered the gift of a ministry to see to their affairs. Where is the ministry now? Discarded! Political objective achieved. Beware, we are told of Greeks bearing gifts; for me. I say, beware of a partisan politician bearing religious gifts!
This so-called “national” cathedral is so corny in its conception that they had to go to Israel to procure a rock to plant as a cornerstone to the building. What has Judaism got to do with a Christian place of worship? All these and more, have been occupying my thoughts day and night, and when they do, I always picture Palmer-Buckle.
I found the text to the screen shot above on the social media after he announced his battle with the coronavirus so heartbreaking. It was not sympathetic but accusatorial.
“When you are supposed to advise the president on building enough health facilities you were helping him to gather money to build a needless cathedral. Think of the many people in the rural areas who won’t be fortunate to have a facility like the Ga East hospital. Anyway, the man you and your hypocrites in the cassock chastised for not having common sense, built the Ga East District Hospital, John Mahama. Bishop, how far with the national cathedral?”
A one-liner posted on a platform I belong to, simply said: “Thank Mahama for your life sir.”
These are extreme things to write about a fellow citizen – especially with that kind of social standing – just recovering from a life and death situation , b ut many believe that Mahama suffered unfairly from the hands of those who were most vocal against him and are now silent amidst the current state of impunity, corruption, abuse of office and incompetence.
With this terrible and terrifying disease raging on uncontrollably, we need voices we can all rally behind – voices like the Archbishop’s, but if such voices are now being seen as “hypocritical”, where/who else do we turn to? Coronavirus the leveller has rendered even Parliament House an unsafe place! Let us hope that our honest men and women of God will speak the truth now and tell it as it is. All believers in God should join them in prayer to protect our frontline health workers against infection and contamination, and give them strength, wisdom and creativity to use science to protect us, as humanity has done against other scourges like yellow fever, chicken pox, ebola, buruli ulcer, etc.
Moral Choice: With Covid-19 in mind, as a “priority of priorities”, which makes more sense: a medical/research facility and hospital to benefit the whole of society or a sectarian cathedral – a glaring case of religious discrimination – to prop up the faith of one group?