Anti-LGBT Remarks in Malawi and Cameroon a Warning Sign as Conclave Approaches

March 9, 2013
Bishop Zuza of Malawi

Bishop Zuza of Malawi

As speculation about a possible African pope continues in Rome, news from Malawi and Cameroon about aggressively anti-LGBT actions by Catholics reminds the global church that an African pope might entail troubling views on homosexuality and gender.

Responding to political developments in Malawi, the Catholic bishops in that nation unanimously approved a letter to be read during Sunday Masses that strongly condemns homosexuality. The Maravi Post reports the bishops refer to homosexuality as a “trial” and reiterate the long-standing claim that same-gender marriage threatens society. This contradicts a trend out of Europe where bishops have spoken positively of same-gender relationships and, while opposing marriage rights, offered an openness to alternative legal structures for LGBT couples.

Malawi’s bishops possess significant clout in the politics of their country with The Maravi Post writing:

“Catholic bishops in Malawi are influential. The country’s march to democracy in 1992 was started by the Catholic Church after its bishops issued a pastoral letter critical of later dictator Kamuzu Banda’s style of leadership…

“Since 1992, the Church has remained the conscience of Malawi society.”

Across the continent, the Association of Cameroon Roman Catholic Jurists, a legal organization, spoke in defense of that nation’s anti-gay laws at a conference on homosexuality. Homosexuality has been repeatedly condemned by Catholic clergy in Cameroon, claimed by one bishop to be a “serious crime against humanity,” and is illegal in the nation. Africa Review reports on the Association’s statement in the broader context of Cameroon’s human rights record:

“The group’s position echoes the Church’s vehement disapproval of homosexuality, which is said to be flourishing even though a it is a criminal offence in the central African nation.

“In Cameroon, homosexuality is punishable by a jail sentence ranging from six months to five years and fines for those convicted could be between $38 and $374…

“In 2011, 14 people were prosecuted for homosexuality in Cameroon and at least 12 were convicted last year, according to Justice ministry records.”

One conviction resulted after a man was caught texting about his love for another man, earning him a three-year jail sentence. This criminalization of homosexuality is prominent in Africa, with nations like Uganda attempting even to pass the death penalty as punishment, and the Catholic hierarchy there has been too often silent about the measures.

In both the Malawi bishops’ and the Association of Cameroon Roman Catholic Jurists’ statements they mentioned that gay and lesbian individuals should be afforded respect and compassion. Yet, such claims to love and include gay and lesbian Catholics in their nations seem shallow, if not empty. when they continue to speak in such vile terms and support criminalization efforts against the LGBT community. If indeed the next pope is from Africa, we must pray he understands issues of sexual ethics and social justice in more pastoral and loving ways.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Uganda Anti-Gay Legislation Stirs Student Action at Yale and Notre Dame

November 30, 2012

The Ugandan Parliament will reportedly vote on the “Kill the Gays” bill in coming days and this development has stirred two university communities to take action against the infamous legislation.

In Connecticut, the LGBT Coalition at Yale Divinity School commenced a petition drive calling on Christian religious leadership worldwide to speak publicly against the legislation. The group’s statement addresses Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York among other religious leaders, and reads, in part:

“We urge you to call on your Ugandan counterparts to resist coopting Christian language in support of such a hateful cause. Claiming defense of religious values can never be an adequate justification for the degradation of human life. As we all know, faith in a loving God is wholly inconsistent with support for such cruel and malicious policies…

“Regardless of your place on the spectrum of theological opinion regarding homosexuality, please reject the unconscionable measures proposed in this bill which are antithetical to any conception of Christian morality.”

Alumni of the University of Notre Dame are similarly asking that institution’s administration to condemn the Ugandan bill with their own petition drive. The sponsors cite the University’s deep relationship with Uganda through study abroad programs and commitment to act justly with partner nations when engaging in educational initiatives.

Others, including several students interviewed by campus newspaper, The Observer, speak to the Catholic identity of the University as a driving impetus. Katie Day, class of 2009 and participant in a research project in Uganda, claims she’s “mystified” by the silence of Catholics and especially the praise of Uganda’s Catholic bishops for the bill. She told The Observer:

“‘As the universal Church, Catholic leaders elsewhere in the world need to let the Ugandan Catholic Church know this bill is completely contradictory to our faith’s core beliefs,’ she said. ‘I cannot think of anything more dehumanizing and degrading than this bill.’

“Day said Notre Dame’s mission statement pledges that the University looks to nurture in its students, ‘a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’

“‘As the students and alumni of Notre Dame stand up to the injustice of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we are fulfilling this part of Notre Dame’s mission,’ Day said.”

If you would like to sign either petition, Bondings 2.0 provides links below, as well as our previous coverage on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Petitions

Petition to Religious Leaders from the Yale Divinity School LGBT Coalition

Petition to Fr. Jenkins at the University of Notre Dame

Previous Posts

November 14, 2012: Catholic Leaders Must Speak Out Against Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

August 13, 2012:  Former Ambassador to the Vatican Speaks Out Against Ugandan Discrimination

July 25, 2012:  Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

July 25, 2012:  New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement

June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

June 11. 2012: Uganda’s Catholic Bishops Reverse Their Stance to Support Anti-Homosexual Bill

March 29, 2012: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 4, 2012: When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

December 26, 2011: Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations

December 23, 2011: A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks; Cardinal George Should Listen


More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

June 15, 2012

Earlier this week, we reported on a statement released by the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), an ecumenical group which includes Catholic Church officials, in which they expressed support for that country’s notorious legislation which proposes severe criminal penalties for homosexuality.   At that time, there were scant details about the present incarnation of the bill, which in the past had included the death penalty as a punishment.

ReligionDispatches.com has published an essay by Peter Montgomery, their associate editor and Senior Fellow at People For the American Way, which offers a few more details. Montgomery confirms that the news of the UJCC’s support

“is especially noteworthy since Roman Catholic Bishop of Uganda Cyprian Lwanga previously denounced the bill’s death penalty and imprisonment provisions as contrary to ‘a Christian caring approach to this issue,’ though he also said ‘We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, appreciate and applaud the Government’s effort to protect the traditional family and its values.’ “

You can view video of Lwanga’s earlier (2009) denouncing of the bill here, and you can read the text of that earlier statement here.  Around the same time, the Vatican made oblique reference to the bill in a statement denouncing anti-gay violence to the United Nations, which you can read here.

Montgomery offers some insight into the recent confusion about whether or not the death penalty is included in the current version of the bill which Lwanga and the UJCC now support:

“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved last year, but reintroduced this February by its sponsor, Member of Parliament David Bahati (the same month the government shut down a conference of LGBT activists). Some news reports at the time said the death penalty had been removed from the bill. But Warren Throckmorton noted that the death penalty in fact remained.

“A BBC report quoted Bahati saying the original bill was reintroduced for procedural reasons, and that the death penalty would be removed in committee. ‘However,’ notes a commentary on Care2.com, ‘readers familiar with the legislation’s history will know that such assurances have been made before only for the bill to go to the voting stage intact and without the death sentence deleted.’ ”

Montgomery also notes that the bill still includes:

  • A 7-year jail sentence for consenting adults who have gay sex;
  • A life sentence for people in same-sex marriages;
  • Extradition and prosecution of LGBT Ugandans living abroad;
  • The death penalty for adults who have gay sex with minors or people with disabilities, consensual or no, or who communicate HIV via gay sex, regardless of condom usage or consent;
  • Jail for anyone who doesn’t report suspected gay people within 24 hours;
  • A ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality so open-ended that it would endanger HIV/AIDS treatment and sexual health clinics in the country and could effectively exclude gay people from petitioning the courts by making those representing them liable for criminal action;
  • A mandate to break all ties with international commitments and laws opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Since about 42% of Uganda’s population is Catholic (the largest denomination in the country), the influence of Catholicism can be very strong there.

The story of Archbishops Lwanga’s reversal of stance on this bill highlights how dangerous it is when Catholic leaders do not take seriously the church’s condemnation of discrimination and violence against LGBT people.  A commenter on Twitter noted that perhaps Lwanga’s support may be intended to prevent the more draconian aspects of the bill. Even if that were the case, such an ambiguous position is irresponsible in such a highly volatile and dangerous political situation.  Moreover,  Lwanga’s “defense of traditional family and values” rhetoric certainly makes it difficult to interpret his message in a way that is other than anti-gay.

When it comes to condemning same-sex relationships and marriage equality proposals, Catholic bishops often claim that they must be clear, strong, and consistent in the denouncements.  Why doesn’t the same clarity, strength, and consistency apply to their denouncements of proposed legislation which is such a gross violation of the human rights of LGBT people?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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