Last Updated: 1:10PM GMT 22 Nov 2001
ADRIAN HASTINGS, the radical Roman Catholic priest and theologian who has died aged 71, rose to prominence as the scourge of Portuguese rule in Mozambique.
After spending the early years of his priesthood in Africa, Hastings created a storm in 1973 with an article in The Times about the so-called "Wiriyamu massacre" in Mozambique, alleging that the Portuguese Army had massacred 400 villagers at the village of Wiriyamu, near Tete, in December 1972. His report was printed a week before the Portuguese prime minister, Marcello Caetano, was due to visit Britain to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance.
Doubts were soon raised about the sources and the accuracy of Hastings's information - the Archbishop of Loureno Marques called the allegations "pure invention" by "Christian Marxists", while journalists struggled in vain to find Wiriyamu on any map. Nonetheless, when Caetano arrived in Britain, Labour MPs tried to boycott festivities.
Soon after, Hastings spoke at the United Nations and excoriated what he saw as the church's role in countenancing colonial oppression. He explained that he had got his information about Wiriyamu from Spanish and Dutch missionaries who had been working in the vicinity; he further referred to "a whole series of massacres in the Mucumbura area between May and November, 1971, for ghastliness each rivalling that of My Lai".
Portugal's growing isolation following Hastings's claims has often been cited as a factor that helped to bring about the "carnation revolution" which deposed the Caetano regime in 1974. Adrian Christopher Hastings was born on June 23 1929 at Kuala Lumpur, where his father practised as a lawyer. The family moved to Great Malvern in Worcestershire when Adrian was two. After deciding upon a career in the priesthood at eight, he was educated at Douai Abbey School and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read History.
In his third year at Oxford, Hastings joined the White Fathers, a Catholic missionary society in Africa, but then resolved to go there not as a missionary but as a priest working under an African bishop. The only black African Catholic bishop at the time was Joseph Kiwanuka of Masaka, Uganda, and it was to him that Hastings duly applied.
Hastings completed his training for the priesthood at the College of Propaganda Fide in Rome, where he steeped himself in radical Catholic theology and was ordained in 1955. Three years later, after finishing his doctorate, he travelled to Uganda. There he worked as a curate for a year and taught for six years in a seminary, although he found his radical thinking somewhat out of step with the conservative outlook of the local clergy.
After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Hastings was asked to teach East African clergy about it. He moved to Tanzania in 1966, and two years later to Zambia. In 1970, a combination of worsening malaria and his qualms about the role of a white theologian in newly independent Africa persuaded him to return home.
Back in Britain, he seemed drawn to controversy and in 1972 he angered the Vatican by his opposition to the ban on artificial contraception. He was then offered a tutorship at the Anglican College of the Ascension at Selly Oak, Birmingham, to write about Christian marriage in Africa.
In 1978 he published a memoir, In Filial Disobedience, in which he questioned the imposition of celibacy upon priests. His views on the matter found fuller expression the following year when he married a fellow academic, Ann Spence, in the college chapel at Selly Oak. "I have spent many hours in prayer and thought before I came to the decision to marry without asking the Church's permission," he said. "I am not against celibacy as a vocation, but I cannot agree with it as a law." He was automatically barred from any priestly duties, although he was not at the time engaged in any pastoral work or saying Mass in public.
After further teaching posts at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and at Aberdeen University, Hastings returned to Africa in 1982 as Professor of Religious Studies in the newly independent Zimbabwe, where he wrote A History of English Christianity. In 1985 he came back to Britain as Professor of Theology at Leeds University in succession to David Jenkins, who had become Bishop of Durham. He remained there until his retirement in 1994, and continued to involve himself with political causes.
He was also a prolific writer; his publications included The History of the Church in Africa: 1450-1950 (1994) and A World History of Christianity (1998). Reviewers praised his lively and lucid style and his erudition. He was editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa from 1985 to 1999 and last year he co-edited The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, to which he contributed numerous articles.
Adrian Hastings is survived by his wife.
- Beaver Shaw
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