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Chimamanda details her ‘alienation’ from Catholicism, alleges harassment of ladies in church

Chimamanda Adichie, award-winning author, has detailed what she described as her alienation from Catholicism.

She reaffirmed her reservations on Catholicism in Nigeria in an essay on ‘Fratelli Tutti’, Pope Francis’ encyclical.

Adichie had, in January 2021, explained why she stopped attending Catholic churches in Nigeria. She had also criticised the community’s activities as being “too much about money, fundraising, and thanksgiving”.

In her latest piece, Adichie said she first recoiled from the church when a devout couple in her ancestral hometown was banned from communion because their daughter got married to an Anglican.

“As a teenager, I wore my Catholic identity like a favorite dress, joyfully and reverently. I was raised Catholic, on the campus of the University of Nigeria. We attended a love-filled church run by the Spiritan congregation,” she wrote.

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“I was a self-styled Catholic apologist, arguing passionately with the protestant children in defense of such subjects as the Blessed Virgin Mary, tradition, and transubstantiation. Years later, something changed.

“My pious passion withered. I remember my first moment of recoil from the church when a gentle and devout couple was banned from communion because their daughter had married an Anglican.

“It felt to me not only uncharitable but unnecessarily so, as did other subsequent incidents, such as poor people who were refused burials because they owed money to the church.

“These happened in my ancestral hometown, in a provincial parish far from the university campus where I grew up. But after the Spiritans left, an uncharitable chill also descended on my university church.”

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Adichie claimed women were often harassed and made to feel uncomfortable.

“Women of all ages were often harassed, men barring their entry into the church unless they wrapped themselves in shawls to hide their shoulders and arms (which apparently would cause men in the church to sin),” she added.

“Entire homilies were dedicated to the wiles and evils of women. How unsettling to sit through Mass feeling as though one, simply by being born female, had become inherently guilty of a crime.

“My alienation deepened; I had become a person in a place that my spirit had outgrown. Even if I attended Mass from time to time, it brought no meaning. And I’ve come to believe that meaning is what makes life worthwhile.”

‘We begged, negotiated for date’ — Chimamanda faults church’s handling of parents’ burial

In June 2020, Adichie mourned James, her father, who died of an illness for which he was admitted to a hospital. Ifeoma, her mum, would also pass away — eight months later — leaving the family in yet another round of grief.

In her essay, the author faulted the Church’s handling of her parents’ burials, saying her family had to beg for dates.

“My family’s experiences during my parents’ funerals served to reaffirm, if not renew, my reservations about the Nigerian church. So much could have been handled with compassion for the grieving but was not,” she said.

“So many opportunities to show dignity were left unused. Our communication with the local church was more of an exercise in priestly power than anything else; we begged and negotiated for a suitable funeral date, with exaggerated but insincere deference shown to the priest lest he changes his mind and not agree to the funeral.

“At the Thanksgiving Mass – a strange concept, as giving thanks was the last thing I felt like doing a day after the funeral – my siblings and I were seated in the front pews, all wearing purple, my mother’s favorite color, all still in shocked disbelief to have buried her so soon after my father.”

‘Catholic priest trivialised my mum’s death with criticism amid funeral’

Adichie said her grief-immersed self was shocked when the parish priest, standing at the altar, issued a rejoinder during her mother’s funeral in response to her criticism of Catholicism in Nigeria.

“I was immersed in sadness and didn’t realize right away when the parish priest began to criticize me about a press interview I had given a few months before. In that interview, I spoke of the church’s focus on money,” she said.

“I have seen church doors locked to prevent people from leaving during fundraisings. I watched a priest announce his account details to a funeral congregation and then prance about the altar, phone in hand, waiting for alerts.

“After the interview, there was both criticism and support of my views. But I had not given that interview any thought in months. I was shocked by the parish priest standing at the altar and issuing a rejoinder, during my mother’s funeral, in terms so petty and so ill-timed as to trivialize the crushing enormity of her death.”

Towards the end of her piece, she advocated churches where giving isn’t backed by threat or fear of embarrassment. The author also called for a shift away from what she termed the church’s “relentless prioritizing of law over love”.

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