The Roman Catholic Church and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa: Voices yet unheard in a listening world

Jozef D Zalot, Marquette University


One of the fastest growing areas of Roman Catholicism today is sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past twenty years the number of African Catholics has more than doubled, seminaries are at or near capacity, and Catholics represent significant percentages of national populations. However, at the same time sub-Saharan Africa is arguably the poorest region on earth. A significant percentage of its population subsists at or below the level of absolute poverty, most countries owe massive and unpayable debts, and ever-increasing numbers of its people are afflicted by AIDS, famine, ethnic division, and seemingly unending political turmoil. In light of these many problems, one may ask: "What is the Catholic Church doing?" Based on the mandate of its own social teachings, what is the Church doing in sub-Saharan Africa not only to counter the effects of poverty, but also to assist in the integral development of the poor and to move them toward economic self-sufficiency? The issue of human development, and in particular economic development, has been an important challenge in Catholic social teaching in the post-Vatican II period. This challenge is particularly relevant for the Church in sub-Saharan Africa. Along with African liberationist theologians who speak of the necessity for a greater Church commitment to economic development, various African Catholic bishops' conferences have claimed that Christian evangelization must be linked with "human promotion" and have also spoken out against the economic policies imposed on Africa by the West. Specifically, these liberation theologians and bishops' conferences employ ethical arguments to critique the lingering effects of European colonial policies as well as the present-day debt reduction and structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. However, in addition to offering these critiques, they also propose foundational principles upon which they believe African economic structures should be based. With these understandings in mind, the specific question my study addresses is what contribution can the African Catholic Church make toward the articulation of a truly African theology of development, a contribution that takes into consideration both the realities of present-day African life as well as the social teachings of the universal Church?

Recommended Citation

Zalot, Jozef D, "The Roman Catholic Church and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa: Voices yet unheard in a listening world" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059393.