A black Catholic archbishop in South Africa has called for animal sacrifice to be incorporated into church services in a struggle that is dividing the country's congregations along racial lines, according to a report in the London Telegraph.
Inigo Gilmore reported from Pretoria that the demand is part of an attempt by radical black priests of the African Catholic Priests Solidarity Movement to push forward the so-called "inculturation" of the church in South Africa, to the consternation of some white clergy.
In one incident, a video was made of a priest blessing chickens and goats during mass. The animals were then slaughtered and their blood poured into a hole outside the church. Some of the members have now transferred to another church.
Inigo Gilmore wrote: "In his plea for the introduction of animal sacrifice, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Bloemfontein has made the most controversial move yet. He argued that because animal worship is commonplace in African custom and used by millions across the country to celebrate birth, marriage or death, it deserved a place in church ritual."
Archbishop Tlhagale said: "Animal sacrifice has a special place in the scheme of things and is celebrated in almost all African families. We have kept it out of the Church of God for too long. It is time we welcomed it openly into the Christian family of the living and the dead."
The archbishop's comments have reignited the debate over how far and how fast "inculturation" should go. At the end of the African synod in Rome in 1995, the idea of integrating indigenous religious practices was cautiously welcomed by the Vatican. But the pope stressed that the process must be compatible with "the Christian message and communion with the universal church."
Archbishop George Daniel, who has presided over the Pretoria archdiocese for 25 years, told the Telegraph that he was aware that animal sacrifice, involving goats and chickens, was already taking place in parishes in his diocese.
"When we first spoke about the inculturation process we did not foresee some of the problems that would arise," said the archbishop. "As to what would happen to those priests who decide to continue with the practice of animal sacrifice if we ultimately ruled against incorporating this activity into any services, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it."