When Pope Francis decided after his election in 2013 that he wanted to transform the Catholic church’s teaching on ecology and equality – and put a call for environmental action at the heart of his papacy – Peter Turkson might not have been considered the best candidate to lead the mission.
Although the Ghanaian cardinal was seen as affable and charismatic, his judgment had been called into question a year earlier when he aired an alarmist YouTube video about Islam during a Vatican meeting of bishops. The video, called Muslim Demographics, was criticised as “fear-mongering” and “propaganda” by Vatican Radio. Even the Vatican spokesman distanced himself from the clip, saying it did not represent the bishops’ views.
Turkson apologised, saying he had only wanted to highlight “the [western world’s] demographic situation as a result of [its] anti-life tendency”, and not to denigrate Islam. But it was not his last misstep. Inside the Vatican walls, where self-promotion is virtually a sin, Turkson’s reputation was hurt again after he was seen as pushing the idea that he might be considered the church’s first black pope after Benedict XVI resigned. He was among the media’s most talked-of possible pontiffs during the conclave that ultimately selected Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina
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