Liberian bishop: 'We have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth'

More than 4,000 people have now died of ebola in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea.REUTERS/Christopher Black/WHO/Handout

A Catholic Bishop in Liberia says his people are being treated like "scum" in a world gripped by the Ebola crisis.

Bishop Anthony Borwah, 48, of the GBarnga diocese in central Liberia, has been unable to travel to Rome for the extraordinary synod on the family because of the crisis in Liberia, where his diocese is among those areas worst affected.

The issues facing Liberian families are not just Ebola, but include polygamy, migration, unemployment, lack of father figures, domestic violence, child trafficking and sexual tourism, he says.

In an interview in the latest Time magazine, he reveals that the dead include his spiritual director, Father Miguel from Spain, his mentor and medical doctor Abraham Borbor, and his prayer partner Tidi Dogba. Other relatives and friends have also succumbed to the virus. "As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here," he tells Time.

Although he is not at the synod, Borwah has submitted a paper which will form part of the final record. It reads: "Existential questions from the poor, prevalently during the Civil war, are been asked again: Where is God? What wrong have we (Liberians) done again? How come we have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth?" More than eight in ten people in Liberia live below the poverty line.

Even when a person survives the virus they are pursued by other demons. "Recently one of the survivors — my kinsman — committed suicide when people avoided him and he felt that he was unworthy of love anymore," Borwah tells Time. He appeals for more help from the West. "We need more support to feed the thousand whom are hungry and angry and to care and counsel the Ebola survivors who carry the stigma."

He was speaking as divisions deepened in Rome between conservatives and liberals over the direction the synod is taking. The mid-way report released a few days ago shows moves towards more liberal attitudes on homosexuality, cohabitation, contraception and civil marriage after divorce.

A leading conservative, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, has openly challenged Pope Francis to speak out in support of traditional Catholic doctrine.

According to the teachings supported by Burke, homosexuality is a tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil and artificial contraception must never be used, even to help prevent the spread of aids.

Burke also enforces the doctrine that a woman abandoned by her husband for another woman can never marry again unless she first obtains an annulment, a process beyond many in its tortuous complexity. If she does fall in love and choose to marry again rather than "live in sin", also banned, she faces being barred from the sacrament of Holy Communion for the duration of her civil marriage.

This casting out from the sacramental community is widely regarded as unjust to women and men in this position. In spite of its evident cruelty, it is mercilessly enforced by many priests and bishops, even when the laity concerned are faithful Catholics who believe the sacrament is integral to eternal life. At the same time, these innocent victims of a spouse's betrayal witness repentant murderers, paedophiles and other criminals admitted freely to Holy Communion.

The mid-term report of the synod shows some of the Church's bishops and cardinals finally facing up to wider consequences of some of these doctrines. As a result the document urges the "law of graduality" with God reaching out to people step by step.

However, Cardinal Burke is among those angry at what they regard as a betrayal of tradition. Speaking to Carl Olsen, editor of Catholic World Report, Burke said the mid-term report "advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept." He said many of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable because of what one bishop called "revolutionary" teaching on marriage and the family.

"It invokes repeatedly and in a confused manner principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality," he said.

He called for the Pope to make a statement on marriage, "remarriage," reception of Communion homosexual unions.

"The faithful and their good shepherds are looking to the Vicar of Christ for the confirmation of the Catholic faith and practice regarding marriage which is the first cell of the life of the Church."