Pope speaks volumes — without saying a word



Pope Francis didn’t have to say it. He let the timing say it for him.

The pope recently named Haitian Bishop Chibly Langlois as one of 19 new cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. In the process, he all but declared a shift in clerical power on the large Caribbean island of Hispaniola. And he may also have delivered a rebuke to the Dominican Republic, the country that shares that isle with Haiti, and to the D.R.’s controversial cardinal, Nicolás López.

Langlois’ selection is thick with the sort of reformist symbolism that’s become Francis’ trademark. Haiti, a predominantly black republic, is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country; and until now it has never had a cardinal — one of the powerful “princes” of the church — even though about 85 percent of its population is Catholic. The pontiff announced Langlois’ elevation on Jan. 12, the fourth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed more than 200,000 people.

Langlois, speaking in Creole, said a few days later that his appointment “shows the pope has a fondness for Haiti and the Haitian church.” But Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski got more to the heart of the matter: The pope’s move, Wenski said, “will bring much-needed attention to Haiti and the plight of its people.”

Like Haiti, Langlois himself is a profile of the underdog Francis wants the church to put front and center again. Langlois was born into poverty in southeast Haiti, and he’s admired for a common touch that shone most after the earthquake. That’s perhaps a big reason the pope selected him even though he represents only the diocese of Les Cayes and not one of Haiti’s larger archdioceses, such as the capital, Port-au-Prince.

What’s more, the 55-year-old Langlois is relatively young. Reformers hope he brings the fresher, more modern perspective Francis has signaled for his papacy.

Langlois, in other words, is a stark contrast to the 77-year-old Cardinal López, who seems not to have gotten any of the recent papal memos. Last summer, when Francis was telling reporters that it’s not for him “to judge” gay people — a remarkably humane change in Vatican tone — López was publicly venting his irritation with the appointment of an openly gay U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, James Brewster, by using the word maricón.

Nor has López appeared to pick up on the Holy See’s call to watch the little guy’s back. Last September the Dominican Republic’s high court ruled that anyone born in the D.R. after 1929 can have their citizenship stripped if their parents were undocumented immigrants or non-Dominicans. Most affected by the decision: about a quarter million Haitian-Dominicans, who are now left stateless. The international community has decried the ruling, and Haitians say it’s racist. But López recently called the ruling’s critics “liars and charlatans.”

St. Vincent and Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told WLRN that during his December meeting with the pope at the Vatican, the pontiff agreed that the Dominican court decision is “unacceptable.” If that’s true (the Vatican hasn’t contradicted Gonsalves) it’s reasonable to conclude that neither the D.R. nor López was high on Francis’ Christmas-card list.

López had also blamed the clerical sexual-abuse scandal in the United States on what he called an incursion of “effeminate” priests, and he insisted priestly pedophilia could never happen in the Dominican Republic. But these days el cardenal is having to apologize to Dominicans for abuse cases in his own archdiocese.

As a result, calls for López’s resignation — including those from luminaries like Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who can hardly be called a bleeding-heart liberal — are growing louder.

Not that the Haitian church is a progressive model, either. Reproductive-rights advocates say its fervent opposition to birth control has encouraged an inordinately high pregnancy rate in Haiti — and, in turn, one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, more than 600 per 100,000 live births, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

But even if Langlois probably won’t buck the Vatican’s anti-contraception doctrine, he may well follow Francis’ recommendation that the church cease obsessing on the issue. If so, that could loosen political resistance to broader access to birth control in Haiti.

For now, Haitian Catholics are simply taking heart in the rise of their first priestly prince — and perhaps in the falling fortunes of the old one next door.

Tim Padgett is WLRN’s Americas editor.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Pitts: Don’t look for the ‘perfect’ victim

    You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.



    Read to children, change a life

    After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.



    We must do more to make our correctional facilities safer

    The death of Darren Rainey has heightened our awareness that we must do more to make our facilities safer. That’s why last week we announced system-wide reforms that focus on the mental-health needs of the inmates in our facilities, operating in a more transparent manner, increasing accountability and partnering with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to streamline investigations.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category