Friday, 28 August 2009

'The Best Cardinal Africa Never Had'

(from the National Catholic Reporter)


Guardian of the Light: Archbishop Denis Hurley: Renewing the Church, Opposing Apartheid
By Paddy Kearney
Published by Continuum, $34.95

When I write my novel about Vatican II, one of its main characters will look a lot like Denis Hurley. He will be a bishop -- no, an archbishop. A very tall, very handsome, very well-spoken archbishop from South Africa. But he won't be a cardinal, because he will be the rarest kind of prelate, a man who tells the truth to power, even to the pope.

My imagination got running along these lines when I was racing this week through a new biography of the real Archbishop Hurley, one of my closest friends among the fathers of Vatican II. This magisterial work was written with loving care by Paddy Kearney. For three decades, Kearney headed a social action team in Durban, South Africa, called Diakonia, which Hurley founded.

In 1951, as chairman of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Hurley drafted the first of a series of pastoral letters denouncing apartheid as "blasphemy" and "intrinsically evil." And then he put himself, body and soul, into a frankly political campaign to walk those ideas around the country. He marched in demonstrations alongside Desmond Tutu and Alan Paton. He encouraged Catholic schools to start admitting nonwhite students. He confronted Koevoet, the state security police, over its atrocities in Namibia, and found himself brought up on charges of sedition. (He beat the charges and won 25,000 rand from the state for malicious prosecution.)

At the age of 16, Hurley had been "very much a white boy," heading off in 1932 from his native Pietermaritzburg to priestly training in Ireland and then for seven years in Rome. There, he was captured by the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. "We ate and slept and pondered over Quadragesimo Anno," Hurley recalled, side by side with dusky seminarians from Sri Lanka whom he accepted as equals. He did his graduate thesis on the banks and big mining companies of South Africa, skewering them for their oppression of the poor and working classes.......

Read the full review at the National Catholic Reporter.

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