Opening a three week synod of African bishops in Rome - organised to discuss how the Church can help to ease problems of social injustice and conflict - his holiness apparently said that political colonialism is over, but the developed world continues to export materialism - which he called "toxic spiritual rubbish" - to the continent.
Toxic spiritual rubbish. I had to read that a couple of times, then stop laughing, and then calm down a bit. Just roll that phrase around your tongue for a bit, and imagine the Pope saying it in his gentle German accent, and no doubt really believing himself.
Toxic. Spiritual. Rubbish.
What could he mean by this phrase?
Does he mean teaching people that they are all descended from one man and one woman, created by a God who then punished them for being curious, and who continues to punish us today?
Perhaps he means the necessity of despising yourself and surpressing almost every natural urge you may have as 'ungodly', and then whenever you succumb to such an urge, having to tell a (sin-free!) priest who can 'forgive' you on God's behalf?
Or could he mean throwing yourself at the feet of one of the most disgustingly jealous and capricious gods ever invented, begging for mercy as the unforgivable sinner you are?
It could be that he means loving the man/god who saved you from the sins he gave you (except he didn't really, because any one with even a fraction of sanity knows that Adam and Eve didn't really exist) by having himself brutally tortured and executed, with all of your heart?
Perhaps he means telling people that if they waver in this ultimate goal, they will burn for ever and ever, without possible hope of reprieve, in unimaginable torment?
Does he perhaps refer to your God-given duty to prove your love for him by drinking his blood and eating his flesh?
Or could he possibly mean submitting completely to the whims of a hyper-rich, worldwide organisation, bound by no earthly laws, that has spent close on 1800 years burning, torturing, imprisoning or otherwise ruining the lives of, quite literally, countless numbers of people? An organisation that today ensures the continued misery of millions of it's followers, whether by beating and violating children, teaching the same children that they are worthless sinners, or actively promoting - for no other phrase can describe the Church's effect on this issue - the spread of HIV.
No, of course he doesn't, for all of the above are, of course, ways to achieve spirtual enlightenment, peace, harmony, and to be loved and recieved by the wonderful, loving, gentle God who created you.
So what exactly would count as toxic spiritual rubbish? Anything even vaguely smacking of humanism for a start. Educating people about the real world, and where we come from, for another thing. Teaching people that, actually, they are not so bad and don't need to grovel at the feet of a god that 'exists' purely to perpetuate the comfort of a group of ignorant men. And - how could I almost forget? - allowing people to use a contraceptive device so that they aren't playing Russian roulette every time they have sex.
All of these things are indeed appalling and abhorrent - if you happen to be one of those men who live in extreme comfort and only do so because of the ignorance and servitude of your 'children'.
Let's turn briefly to colonialism, of the good old-fashioned sort, first. Perhaps you can find an example in history of the Church speaking out against such evils? Or perhaps even an example of them not being entirely supportive of any Catholic nation setting out on the noble task of Christianising the heathens, by depriving them of their land, treasures, freedom and often their lives?
Good luck with that.
Now to turn briefly to the many wars that blight Africa and so hold back her progress; how many of these are religious wars? Fought by and between religions?
How many priests, accused of child abuse, have been moved to 'safe' parishes in Africa?
A convocation of African Bishops, brought together to discuss how they can alleviate Africa's problems, is, to my mind, on a par with a convocation of Irish priests discussing how best to reduce levels of child abuse.
If you'll forgive my rather hard-line stance on this issue, I think about the best thing the Catholic clergy in Africa could do to ease that continent's troubles would be to quietly line up against the nearest wall.