Dogs, Fleas and the Archbishop

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 22, 2002

Archbishop Michael K. Francis is a rare man, a man of distinction. He is loved by his flock, the Catholic community of Liberia, respected by his peers of cross-denominational and religious leaders and recognized by the international community as a tireless fighter for the oppressed people of Liberia. He is a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award - a prestigious prize by any standard.

During the last two decades, he has kept himself center stage addressing the difficult issues facing the country as well as balancing the tremendous responsibilities of being the spiritual Father of his flock. A man of great conviction, the bishop has always tackled controversial topics, making him an easy target for smear campaigns by governmental authorities. But he has stood the tests of time and has managed to keep his reputation and prestige in tact.

But recently, a Mr. Sando Johnson made some excruciatingly and unscrupulously painful and careless statements about the bishop. Mr. Johnson accused the bishop of masterminding the brutal killings of five Catholic nuns. A bishop masterminding the killings of nuns? As if that wasn’t shocking enough, he went further to accuse the bishop of fathering a child. (Breaking his vow of perpetual celibacy?) And to top things off, he accused the bishop of being a homosexual. What?

Without exaggeration, it is probably safe to conjecture that this three-part attack constitute the most vicious, inflammatory and irresponsible attack against a person of character and integrity by another - especially since the accuser is supposed to be a law maker. In any other civilized country, a legislator will never make such ugly and serious charges against a popular prelate without any proof at all. But, I’d like to remind my readers that we are not talking about a civilized country. We are talking about Liberia; a country that has long fallen to dogs, fleas and other parasites. Yes, we are talking about the Liberia of King Charles Taylor where the only person one has to avoid offending is the top dog himself - all others are vulnerable. Even the internationally acclaimed award-winning bishop is a pawn to be used and abused when it suits the dictator’s agenda.

What has been reassuring is the outpouring of support for the bishop by all Liberians both at home and around the globe. The bishop deserves all the support of his countrymen. It is only the right thing to do. But here is where I bring a new angle to the story. I once wrote an article in which I expressed the opinion that the Christian Church was not living up to its moral obligation of being the voice of the poor and oppressed of Liberia. I singled out the bishop as being the only one who tried. I admiringly referred to him as being above the rest. I admired him for being ‘a thorn in the side of the government’. I challenged his compatriots to follow his lead instead of forming ‘an unholy alliance with the government’.

Not very long afterwards, I had the displeasure of disagreeing with certain remarks made by the bishop and respectfully took him to task on the issues (see related article carried by The Perspective titled: The Divisive Politics of Liberia (Past and Present) - published October 14, 2002).

Following the publication of that article, a number of readers commended me for handling the matter as tactfully yet as forcefully as I did. They were convinced that although I raised some hard-nosed issues, it was clear my intention was not to disrespect His Grace.

A few others saw it differently and thought I was kind of harsh. To those, I made it clear that there is a clear distinction between harshness and frankness. I was only being frank by writing and speaking about the issues according to the dictates of my conscience. I do hereby publicly apologize to those who insist in interpreting my approach as harshness; it was never my intention to be.

In the final analyses, I do stand by my expressed opinion that the bishop was seemingly cozying up to the government of Liberia. I also thought it was dishonorable for him to make certain disparaging remarks about Liberians away from the homeland, giving the impression that Liberians in exile were freely choosing between being at home or being abroad. We know what the reality is given the brutality of the evil regime in Liberia. I thought then and still think that he marginalized our plight by being too soft and cozy with a government composed of all sorts of derelicts and degenerates.

However, it is quite understandable that those of our brothers and sisters still in the homeland must be mindful of the threat those hoodlums and clowns (to borrow the recent description of another commentator, Abdoulaye Dukule,) pose to their very existence. I do not overlook the clear and present danger that gang poses to citizens who attempt to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right of free expression.

But I was of the opinion that the bishop's stature put him above ordinary citizens. If anyone had the status to stand up to the government without immediate reprisals, it was the bishop. Therefore, I was advising the bishop that it would be rather preferable to remain silent than to openly support and praise the tyrant and his band of sycophants masquerading as a government.

This, unfortunately, is what I had foreseen. The bishop decided to play "buddy, buddy" with the dictator and then wants to turn around and investigate his gang’s involvement in the killings of the nuns. I think the bishop got too close to the dirty dog and now the fleas are biting. The only way to avoid those pesky fleas is to put some distance between you and the dog, literally and figuratively.

I am not a Catholic neither am I running for any political position in Liberia. I am simply a concerned Liberian who is offended by the buffoonery and lawlessness that have gripped my country and seemingly know no end. Up with Archbishop Michael Francis and down with Sando Johnson and his boss Charles Taylor and the other dogs and fleas.

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