Bishop Ignatius Kaigama lit up the normally staid Vatican press briefing today with a calm but impassioned response to a question from the media regarding poverty and population control. Deriding Western interference as paternalistic and worse, the prelate declared that African nations such as his had “grown up” long ago and could make their own decisions on issues regarding contraception and Western demands for “reproductive rights” — abortion. “The time has gone when we would follow blindly,” he said, and castigated international aid organizations and Western nations for using aid as a weapon to force their beliefs. “We don’t want condoms and contraceptives,” Kaigama told the briefing room, “we want food and health care.” There is more poverty than just of means, Kaigama emphasized.

After the briefing, Kaigama spent some time answering questions on an individual basis. Reporters followed up with Kaigama on the status of LGBT people in Africa with the authorities and the Catholic Church and the issues of marriage and polygamy, which Kaigama emphasized was a real problem in his country. “Many people laugh when you mention it,” Kaigama told us afterward, “but for me, it’s a real issue.” What happens when polygamists convert to the Catholic Church?  What happens to the other wives, some of whom have children and no other means of support? Kaigama wants direction from his brethren on crafting a pastoral approach that takes into account those issues.

And on aid from NGOs and other nations, Kaigama says there shouldn’t be social-policy strings attached. Kaigama also accused birth-control activists of neglect and exploitation. “When you give somebody a pill, you should be there,” he said, “to see that the pill is helpful to the end. “When you give the pill, she takes it, it aborts the child, and then [results in] complications — it’s more of a problem than what was intended to resolve.”

Regarding the synod itself, Kaigama said that the discussions have really yet to begin. He reminded us that this week is just for the spoken interventions, the four-minute essays that were submitted ahead of the synod’s start. The real discussions will start next week, and last through the following year in the dioceses and parishes, all the way to the ordinary Synod.