The Controversy around Cameroonian Cleric Suspended “for promoting syncretism”

Bishop Dieudonné Watio (left) and Fr. André Marie Kengne (right). Bishop Watio of Bafoussam suspended Fr. André for promoting syncretism.
Credit: Public Domain

Last month’s decision to suspend Fr. André Marie Kengne of Cameroon’s Catholic Diocese of Bafoussam “for promoting syncretism” has continued to draw controversy among the Clergy and Laity in the Central African nation and attracted scrutiny of the notion of inculturation in Africa.

Bishop Dieudonné Watio of Bafoussam announced the suspension of Fr. André in his June 15 statement in which he prohibited the Priest-theologian from presiding over liturgy in public.

“Fr. André Marie Nkengne, Assistant Priest at Saint Anne Parish, Mbouda and Administrator of the Bamesso quasi-parish, has been suspended for promoting syncretism and heretical tendencies,” Bishop Watio stated June 15.

He added in reference to Fr. André, “He is also suspended from teaching at the Catholic University of Bafoussam where he is a lecturer in anthropology.”

The Bishop’s decision followed an online video post in which Fr. André is featured adorned in the traditional attire of his kinspeople, the Bamiléké, and taking part in what seems to be a communal cultural dance.

In the slightly over 12-minute video, Fr. André begins with explaining, in French and in his native Bandjoun language, why he participated in the traditional dance and the meaning of the dance and other traditions of his ancestors, the Bamiléké. 

“When many people hear of sacred societies, they think it is magic. I am a member of four different sacred societies in Bandjoun,” the Cameroonian Cleric who was ordained a Priest is 1997 says in the video post.

The holder of a doctorate in Moral Theology and researcher in Cultural Anthropology continues, “When you hear of sacred societies, it is not for witchcraft; it is for people who are capable of keeping secrets; that is why not just anybody is admitted to the sacred society. I am in support of the fact that Africans should consider their culture as their identity.”

According to the alumnus of the Rome-based Pontifical Lateran University, nothing in the Bible, in the Christian faith and in his position as a Catholic Priest prohibits him from participating in this traditional ceremony of his kinspersons.

In the Facebook video that has been published on Twitter and YouTube, Fr. André expresses his appreciation for the traditional culture of his ancestors and how he perceives his African culture as not being at odds with the Christian doctrine.

“I did not radically perceive any contradiction between the Christian faith and tradition,” Fr. André says referencing the cultural practices of his tribesmen, the Bamiléké.

He adds, “There are many issues that we have not understood and wherein we can go beyond what tradition prescribes. The selfish interests of humans, human manipulations are not part of tradition. We have a way of following tradition.”

“I also discovered that Jesus himself respected traditions because it is said, ‘Now when the days of his purification according to the law of Moses were completed’; and us, when we talk about the tradition of the cult of the skulls of our ancestors, take for example the book of Exodus 13, you will notice that Moses before leaving Egypt took the remains of Joseph and Jacob. Talking about the remains you understand what I mean even though for us we take just the skull, but here the remains is not just the skull, Moses took the remains to put in the midst of his people,” Fr. André explains in French.

Bishop Watio’s decision to suspend Fr. André “for promoting syncretism and heretical tendencies” has triggered reactions from Clerics and Laity in his native Diocese of Bafoussam and beyond, the construct of inculturation being the focus.

Fr. Prosky Mebiame Oye told ACI Africa Wednesday, July 8, “This new debate highlights once again the dilemma that remains or should remain in the hearts of African Priests: culture and religion. The African Priest is a hero whose heart harbors two values that in the long run prove to be irreconcilable.”

“Even the vast task of inculturation has not yet managed to reconcile what we have become (Christian) with its historical heritage and what we are (our culture and traditions) with all the duties that fall to us as sons of our people,” Fr. Prosky, a former student of Fr. Andre added.

For Moise Takougang, “Bishop Watio holds a doctorate in comparative history of Religions, and Fr. André holds a doctorate in Anthropology.”

“It would have been better for the Bishop to invite Fr. André to a discussion in which each one of them would bring arguments for and against the controversy than to throw out a sanction more akin to a lynching,” Mr. Takougang, a Catholic based in Cameroon’s Bafoussam Diocese, suggested in the July 8 interview with ACI Africa.

According to Nkemsse Klovisse, “What is reproached of Fr. André Marie Kengne is not the fact of promoting inculturation, but simply the fact of having made public the fruit of his research and personal initiatives in this delicate field of inculturation as a Priest, without having first submitted them to the competent commission for examination and evaluation.”

“The misfortune of a video like that of Fr. André Marie Kengne is that it can sow confusion in the minds of Christ's faithful, who will not be able to distinguish between the reflections and opinions of a researcher (theologian and anthropologist) and the pastoral orientations of the Church (carried by the Priest that he is),” Mr. Klovisse, a Catholic journalist at Radio Ecclesia in Bafoussam told ACI Africa July 8.

He added, “Looking at the video, it is also not obvious for the majority of the faithful to distinguish between the personal convictions of Fr. André Marie Kengne on certain realities (such as initiation in secret societies) and the teaching of the Church.”

 Meanwhile, Fr. Clément Kouamo, a Priest colleague of Fr. André in the Diocese of Bafoussam has been quoted as saying that their Bishop’s decision to suspense Fr. André is consistent with “the doctrine of the Church”

“He must give priority to the official teaching of the Church,” Fr Clément has been quoted as saying in reference to the Bishop and added, “Above all, he must not give free rein to all forms of religious syncretism between Christianity and traditional cults,”

In a Facebook Post, Cameroonian Jesuit Priest, Fr. Ludovic Lado shared, “I salute the interest, even the passion, of this priest for traditional African cultures, but I also recognize the bishop's right to redirect a priest when he feels that an outing may have created confusion in the minds of some of the faithful.”

For Fr. Ludovic, even though the Bishop’s decision to suspend Fr. André “has the merit of safeguarding pastoral activity, the form was not there.”

“I was expecting an episcopal text put together by a theological or catechetical commission, as the Vatican knows how to do, that would dismantle, with supporting arguments, the doctrinal errors detected in Fr. Andre’s post,” the Jesuit anthropologist posted.

“I reiterate my wish that Fr. André be encouraged to continue his research, but with the prudence required by the passage from the intellectual moment to the media moment, passing through catechism,” Fr. Ludovic advised in his Facebook post.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]