On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

July 4, 2014

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ”

MSNBC.com has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Italian Bishops’ Conference Head Calls for Dialogue Without “Taboo”

May 15, 2014

The world synod on marriage and the family, scheduled at the Vatican in October 2014, has sparked a lively debate in church circles on issues concerning sexuality, gender, and relationships, with a number of bishops acknowledging that it is time for a frank discussion on these topics to happen.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino

Perhaps no call for such a dialogue has hit so close to home, so to speak, than the recent statement from the head of the Italian bishops’ conference in which he said:

My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”

Those are the words of  Bishop Nunzio Galantino, of the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in southern Italy, quoted by the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, and reported in English by The Tablet.   Galantino’s words take on an added significance because he was appointed  head of the Italian bishops conference by Pope Francis himself.

Echoing Pope Francis’ sentiment from a September 2014 interview that church leaders had become too “obsessed” with abortion, Bishop Galantino added to his call for dialogue with: 

“In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”

Galantino was optimistic that the current pope offered the possibility of change in the areas of church teaching regarding sexuality and marriage.  The bishop said:

“With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs.”

Not all are as optimistic as this Italian prelate though.  Pope Francis’ recent off-hand comments on the topics of economics and on whether a divorced and remarried woman should be able to receive communion have come under scrutiny by some commentators who note the consternation that the pope’s casually dropped provocative statements can cause.

J. Peter Nixon, a blogger at dotCommonweal, reflected on how much weight and authority certain forms of papal communication actually have:

“So it has come to this.  We are now debating the doctrinal authority of papal tweets and phone calls.

“As David Gibson reports, the latest controversy in papal communication was a three-word tweet in Latin–Iniquitas radix malorum–that has been translated into English as “inequality is the root of social evil.”  This followed only days after the dust up over the pope’s phone call to a divorced and remarried woman where he allegedly encouraged her to receive communion.”

Nixon makes a good point when he says that our modern world focuses too much on papal pronouncements at the expense of the rest of the church:

The question that must be asked–particularly in light of Sunday’s canonizations–is whether this increasingly obsessive focus on the opinions, theology, spirituality and personal witness of the pope is a healthy thing for the Church.   The purpose of authority in the Church is to form a community that can bring forth “a great cloud of witnesses,” not to place the burden of that witness on a single individual.  The primary role of those authorities is to be coaches, referees and groundskeepers.  All of us, however, have the responsibility of playing the “beautiful game” that is following Jesus Christ.

While I agree with him, I also think that Pope Francis needs to be more explicit and clear in his statements.  I’ve said before that the pope’s ambiguity can cause problems, and that sooner or later he will need to be more direct about where he stands.  In her National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson highlighted Pope Francis’ ambiguity problem in regard to both the case of the Ugandan anti-gay law and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  On Uganda, Manson points out:

“He [Pope Francis] took no action when Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga publicly lauded the president of Uganda for passing an extreme anti-homosexuality law, a law that clearly violates the Catholic church’s teaching to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”

Her analysis of the many ways that his statements agree with the CDF about their charges against LCWR is too rich with detail to summarize here, and I recommend that you read her entire column.

During the synod this fall, many opinions are going to be bandied about by church leaders, theologians, pundits, and laity. Some reports have already shown that bishops seem open to the idea of debating church teaching on a number of topics, based on what they have learned from surveying their laity.  Whether he tweets, makes a phone call, or gives an interview to the press, Pope Francis is going to have to be clear about what direction he wants to take our church on these important issues.  I hope and pray that Bishop Galantino’s optimism about the possibility for change under Pope Francis is well-founded.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles 

Bay Area Reporter: LGBT Catholics react to Vatican survey results”

Religion News Service: “Conservatives squawk over pope’s tweet on inequality”

America: “Vatican: Phone Call Didn’t Change Church Teaching”

dotCommonweal: Pope’s man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried”

Religion News Service: Church ‘obsessed’ with abortion — again? Pope’s Italian ally issues another wake-up call

For Bondings 2.o’s past coverage of synod news, please click on “Synod 2014″ under the “Categories” tab in the right hand column of this page.


Ugandan Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law, While Others Call Pope to Condemn It

April 23, 2014

Over the past few weeks, news about Catholic reaction to Uganda’s newly-enacted anti-gay law has shown how insidious homophobia can be within a culture.  The most recent story that caught my attention because is horrific, if true.  I make the qualification “if true” because I have only seen one report about it, which is from an independent blogger, not a professional news source.

Bishop Charles Wamika

The O-blog-dee-O-blog-da site, maintained by Melanie Nathan, a respected lawyer, LGBT advocate, and journalist, reports  that on Easter Sunday, Bishop Charles Wamika of the Jinja Diocese in Uganda

“called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays.’  The Bishop also asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven.”

Nathan cites an anonymous Ugandan gay man in hiding with reporting on Wamika’s statements.

A Ugandan newspaper, The Daily Monitor did not mention Wamika in its report of Easter Sunday messages, but it did note that other Catholic bishops in that country also supported the new anti-gay law on Easter Sunday.  The paper reported on the statement of Bishop Augustine Salimo of the Sebei Diocese:

In reference to the Anti-Homosexual Act, he also urged the government not to back down but to continue the right path pursued to protect values of Ugandans.

And a third bishop also praised the new law:

“In Tororo District, Bishop Emmanuel Obbo, the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, urged every citizen who supported the anti-homosexuality law to lay down greed, corruption and ‘put them to death and let generosity rise up within us and flow out in abundance.

“ ‘In Christ, we have victory over dysfunctional relationships, bad habits, painful experiences, sexual temptation and devastating circumstances,’ he said.”

These statements show that Uganda’s bishops’ minds have been clouded by homophobia to the point that they ignore basic Catholic teaching on the human dignity of all persons–including towards LGBT people.

Catholic hospitals in Uganda are maintaining a non-discrimination policy toward lesbian and gay people, The Observer reported, though the attitude of the hospital’s administrator indicates a negative bias against them.  The news story stated:

“Dr Sam Orach, the executive secretary of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB), yesterday said although AHA [Anti-Homosexuality Act] criminalises homosexuality, which is also considered a sin in the Church, homosexuals would not be locked out of Catholic hospitals.

“ ‘In the current context of the aftermath of the anti-homosexuality law, no health worker in our facilities has expressed concern that service provision is being affected. That is what we believe as UCMB. We equate this to the post-abortion care we provide to a sick woman who has otherwise criminally and immorally committed abortion.

“We distinguish between a crime or a sin and the disease. Catholic health services are, therefore, non- discriminatory,’ Orach said at the opening of UCMB’s hospital managers’ workshop in Kampala.”

Meanwhile, around the globe, more and more commentators have been calling upon Pope Francis to make a clear statement condemning Uganda’s law and other laws like it that have been appearing in other countries.

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson cited the #PopeSpeakOut campaign as a way to encourage the pope to make a statement against these laws.  Manson wrote:

“Anti-homosexuality legislation is quickly becoming a global threat to human dignity. These laws do not simply violate human rights; they foster a climate of rage, scapegoating, and violence against LGBT people.

“This situation brings to the forefront the ongoing debate among progressive Catholics about the efficacy of the Pope Francis’ kinder, gentler papacy. Some believe Francis’ expressions of compassion will eventually lead to greater inclusion for LGBT Catholics while others argue that Francis’ words are not substantive enough to amount to real change.

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ “

And in Australia, the head of Rainbow Sash, a Catholic LGBT organization, last week called on Pope Francis to use Easter as the occasion to speak out against anti-LGBT laws. The Star Observer quotes Michael Kelly as saying:

“The whole experience of Easter is about moving from slavery to freedom for persecuted people.

“It would be the perfect time for Pope Francis to make a statement that could be heard around the world about justice for people being persecuted right now in Africa. . . .”

“You can see the seeds of what could be genocide so people abroad have to stand up.”

Ugandan religious leaders thank President Museveni (far right) for signing the nation’s anti-gay law. Catholic Archbishop Charles Lwanga stands next to Museveni.

Writing in The Atlantic Matt Ford pointed out that Arcbhisop Charles Lwanga of Kampala, the head of the Catholic Church in Uganda, offered a closing prayer at a rally staged by the country’s President Yoweri Museveni to celebrate the signing of the anti-gay law. Many other national religious leaders took part in the event, even giving a plaque to the president to thank him for support of the law.

Yet, Ford also notes that, significantly, Pope Francis has turned down an invitation to visit Uganda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs, who resisted a native king’s homosexual advances.   Perhaps it was good that Pope Francis rejected the invitation to the event since it could easily have been used to suggest his support for the new law.  But, as Ford points out, Francis can not be silent forever:

“This time around, it seems, Pope Francis is not taking Uganda’s Catholic leaders up on their invitation to visit the shrine—at least not yet. But regardless of whether he travels to the country, will he take a public position on the debate over homosexuality in Uganda—and similar debates taking place elsewhere in the world?

“The pontiff’s tenure, now in its second year, has so far been characterized by two themes: greater compassion on social issues in the developed world, and greater outreach to and inclusion of the developing world. Until now, these goals have rarely clashed. How he bridges the divide between the two in Uganda, if he chooses to try, will be one of the great challenges of his papacy.”

You can help urge Pope Francis to speak out by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.  Send him an email or a tweet today!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Why Has Pope Francis Been Silent on Anti-Gay Laws?

April 3, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ response, or, more accurately, his lack of response to the passage of anti-gay laws and policies in places like Uganda, Nigeria, India, Russia, has been one of the more puzzling questions of the past few months for those interested in Catholic LGBT issues.  This pope, who has expressed a greater openness toward LGBT human rights than any of his predecessors, and who has not shown any timidity on speaking out on controversial social issues has remained strangely silent on this vicious trend toward more repressive anti-gay laws.

Two recent essays analyze the papal silence. Both are worth reading in full, and contemplating seriously.  I will summarize both, but recommend that you follow the links to read the entire articles.

Michael O’Loughlin, a Catholic free-lance journalist who writes about LGBT issues, has tackled the question of the pope’s silence in a Foreign Policy essay entitled, “Francis’s Papal Bull: Why is a progressive pope allowing anti-gay bishops to preach hate?”      Jamie Manson, a National Catholic Reporter columnist struck a similar note in her recent essay, “In Uganda, an opportunity for Pope Francis to act on his words.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

O’Loughlin begins by noting that Pope Francis recently met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed the anti-gay bill.  Yet, other than a vague statement about protecting human rights, the pope made no reference to the new law.  O’Loughlin also describes local Catholic support and complicity for the new repressive measures in Africa:

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, in a letter to Jonathan, heralded the new law as “courageous” and “a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.” They weren’t the only religious leaders happy with a stepping-up of repression against gay Africans. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that threatens openly gay Ugandans with lifetime prison sentences. While Catholic leaders rejected the 2009 version of the bill, which contained an infamous death penalty provision, some bishops — as well as Anglican and Orthodox leaders — have been vocal in their support of the most recent measure. (Africa is the Roman Catholic Church’s fastest-growing region, in terms of membership.)

After examining the many ways that Francis has opened up the conversation about LGBT people in the Church over the past year,  O’Loughlin speculates as to what might be the pope’s reason for silence:

“The disconnect between the pope’s words and actions stems partly from the fact that Pope Francis appears hesitant to become involved with what the Vatican considers local issues, which includes national laws punishing gay people for their sexual orientation. And although counterintuitive, this hesitance actually reflects a certain liberalism about the internal dynamics of the church: Catholic progressives, used to the rigid, authoritarian rule of Rome over the past few decades, have long wanted to see the devolution of power away from the Vatican. This was the only way, they believed, that lay people — with more access to bishops than to Rome’s highest echelons — could gain some input in the church’s decision-making processes.”

But, such a reason is not enough to justify his silence, O’Loughlin suggests. He calls on the pope to become a more vocal advocate for justice for LGBT people, if his initial gestures and statements are to have any real meaning:

“Yet if he truly wants to move forward, he will have to build on his initial outreach and ask, publicly, that Catholic bishops and other leaders keep up. If the pope truly wants the Catholic Church to chart a course for social justice around the world, his leadership on this issue must demonstrate that his powerful institution is a genuine voice for the oppressed.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Pope Francis’ leadership in regard to these repressive laws is needed since local bishops have been so quick to support the anti-gay measures.  Nigerian bishops were explicit in their support of the new law in their nation.  Ugandan bishops, at first, were silent about their country’s law, but, as Jamie Manson points out in her column:

“That was until Monday, when, at a ‘thanksgiving’ celebration for the new law held in Kampala, their actions spoke louder than words.

“International media outlets reported that the thanksgiving rally and ceremony was organized by a nonspecific ‘coalition of religious leaders.’ But a photo in one of Uganda’s major newspapers revealed that Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala not only attended the thanksgiving celebration, he was part of a contingent of five clergymen (including a Muslim sheikh, a Pentecostal bishop and an Anglican bishop) who gave Museveni an engraved plaque to congratulate him for signing the bill.

A YouTube video also shows Lwanga offering prayers at the ceremony for those ‘led astray in this vice of homosexuality.’ “

Manson notes why Catholic opinion is so important in Uganda:

“An estimated 44 percent of Uganda is Catholic, which suggests that the Roman Catholic hierarchy holds significant influence over the beliefs of the people and the development of public policy. By offering public praise of Museveni’s signing of this law, Lwanga has given his blessing to legislation that violates the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and that gays and lesbians should not be subjected to violence or social discrimination.”

She concludes with a call to the pope to exercise his leadership by putting substance behind his words:

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

“The global crisis of anti-homosexuality laws calls Pope Francis not only to uphold church doctrine, but to act on his own pastoral words — words that have inspired many to believe that the Catholic church has entered a new era of justice and dignity for the LGBT community worldwide.”

Both O’Loughlin and Manson mentioned New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, now entering its third month.  We, and other Catholic and LGBT groups have been asking people to send a tweet to the pope, asking him to speak out against this trend toward more repressive anti-LGBT laws.  You can read more about the campaign here.  And if you want to send a tweet or email to the pope, those tasks will be made easier for you if you check out our helpful resource by clicking here.

It is important for the pope to speak out.  It is equally important for Catholics around the globe to speak out to the pope to let him know that our lived Catholic faith has taught us that anti-LGBT laws are not acceptable at all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Uganda’s Bishops Remain Quiet on Anti-Gay Law; Pope Francis Will Not Visit There

March 26, 2014

Pope Francis

More than a month after Uganda’s president signed an infamous anti-gay law, that nation’s bishops still remain silent on the controversial legislation which has received international condemnation. In this same period, it was announced that Pope Francis will not visit Uganda next fall, as had been discussed, causing speculation about whether this cancellation is related to the anti-gay law.

Initially, the Ugandan [Catholic] Episcopal Conference’s head announced the bishops would study the new law before commenting. America magazine now reports any public remarks, especially a condemnation, seems unlikely. The magazine cites two priests with knowledge of the situation:

“An informed Ugandan priest, meanwhile, suggested the bishops had opted to keep ‘safe’ and silent over the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act.

” ‘I am not aware that there has been an official statement … nor that there should be,’ said Msgr. John Wynand Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda’s capital…

“The same day, a Catholic priest based in Uganda told CNS that, to his knowledge, the bishops would not officially be commenting on the contentious new law.

” ‘The bishops, to my knowledge, opted to keep safe off the issue, saying that they were not given the original text. But now … they have said that the law should not be politicized,’ the priest said on condition of anonymity.”

However, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, stated that Catholic bishops have privately expressed their support for the law and there is a well-document record of religious leaders supporting the anti-gay law.

Hundreds have urged the pope to condemn such laws through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, and Catholics outside Uganda have been vocal in their defense of LGBT people’s lives. However, Pope Francis has remained quiet while Uganda and other nations have passed laws criminalizing homosexuality and creating stiff penalties for LGBT people. It is now confirmed the pope will not travel to Uganda in October for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Martyr’s canonizations, according to the Ugandan newspaper Daily MonitorPope Francis’ global popularity resounds in Africa as well, with one Kenyan columnist urging Africans to “vote with the Pope” on gay rights:

“The revolutionary bishop from Argentina took a sledgehammer to homophobes when he asked – ‘who am I to judge?’ Those simple, if venerable five words, demolished millennia of official hatred for homosexuals in the Church that Saint Peter built…

“To the Jesuit Pope, gays should be welcomed, loved, and accepted. That’s why Pope Francis is a godsend. I’ve watched with dismay – and utter disbelief – as some states in Africa descend into an orgy of homophobia…Rogue politicians and bigoted clergymen whip up hapless followers with anti-gay propaganda…

“Pope Francis wasn’t only criticising longstanding Church doctrine. The Pope’s message was a sharp rebuke to unprincipled politicians and leaders like Mr Museveni. It’s leaders like Mr Museveni who use ‘wedge’ hot-button issues like sexuality, mini-skirts, abortion, or fake attacks on cultural imperialism to cling to power…Why all the vitriol and anger against gays who’ve never done a thing to you? I end where I started…Let’s vote with the Pope on gays – and embrace them.”

It is unclear whether Pope Francis cancelled this trip or declined the invitation in the first place. What is clear is this provided an opportunity for Pope Francis to condemn clearly laws which violate the dignity and well-being of LGBT people and call upon bishops around the world to raise their voices as well.  However, perhaps he declined to visit the country because he did not want to seem to be approving of the new law.  He is already seen as a gay-positive influence in the Church and in the world. It is time for Pope Francis to speak out clearly and forcefully against Uganda’s law, and other similar anti-gay laws around the globe.  He can save lives.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Turkson’s Remarks on Anti-Gay Law Deserve a Closer Look

March 5, 2014

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, criticized Uganda’s anti-gay law while urging donor nations to sustain their aid commitments. Though his comments have been celebrated by gay advocates, a closer look reveals a more troubling understanding of LGBT issues by the cardinal.

Turkson made his comments at a conference titled “The Church and Human Rights” in Slovakia when he remarked to the media that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not be imprisoned for their sexual identity, according to The Advocate. The cardinal, who is originally from Ghana, echoed several Ugandan organizations in requesting that the international community continue delivering aid, despite the new law. More than $115 million in funding has been pulled since the anti-gay law was passed, while the US and others are still evaluating their commitments.

This negative evaluation of the new law is a shift for Turkson, who once defended Uganda’s anti-gay bill when it included the death penalty as a potential sentence for LGBT people and said prejudices by some Africans were understandable. Turkson has also blamed gay priests for the sexual abuse crisis.  Perhaps his shift on this law is due to the influence of Pope Francis, who has taken a much more compassionate approach to LGBT issues than his predecessors.

However, Turkson’s address on religious liberty to the conference reiterated his belief that LGBT equality was not a human rights consideration. A closer look sets his comment to reporters in context, with the text posted by Vatican Radio:

“Another example is the use of the term ‘gender’ to suggest that sex is not biologically grounded as male and female but is simply a social construct or produced by what individuals think or feel they are. Moreover, attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Related to this is the suggestion that marriage could somehow be redefined, despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law. Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.”

Turkson quoted Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s opposition to marriage equality and reiterated verbatim the Catechism’s words on welcoming gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” concluding that section with:

“Thus, while the Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights. See our Lord’s reaction when the townspeople wished to stone a woman to death for adultery: He managed to preserve her life and bodily security (John 8:1-11).”

Turkson’s four words that “homosexuals are not criminals” have been reported as a positive sign. The underlying reality is that he remains far from Pope Francis’ unconditioned call to protect every person’s dignity and for the Church to show love to LGBT people. The cardinal’s shift from supporting executions for gay Ugandans to a most basic recognition of LGBT people’s dignity is progress, but the Church’s leaders must respond with far more when anti-LGBT discrimination and violence is on the rise.  We hope that his words will give courage to the Ugandan bishops’ conference, which has yet to make a statement about the new law.

Perhaps Cardinal Turkson needs another conversation with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, as happened last fall. You can read about that here.

While it is good that Turkson made the remark, we still need stronger words from the Vatican about anti-gay laws around the world.  You can encourage Pope Francis to make a strong statement against these laws by joining the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Condemn Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law As Discrimination Intensifies

February 26, 2014

MartinUganda_FinalLess than a day after Uganda criminalized homosexuality, a newspaper has already published the names and photos of 200 “top homosexuals” and President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly called gay people “disgusting” in an interview with CNN. This deteriorating situation has captured the attention of Christians speaking out against LGBT discrimination worldwide through the lens of Uganda.

America released this week’s editorial early under the title “When the Law is a Crime,” specifically addressing Uganda’s anti-gay law. Referencing Pope Francis’ famous statement “Who am I to judge?” in light of the violence and discrimination that inevitably results when such laws emerge, the editors write:

“It is especially disturbing that such legislation is immensely popular in predominately Christian countries like Uganda, where 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and the Catholic bishops have sent mixed signals about the legislation. When the bill was first considered in 2009, Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga of Kampala, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said it was ‘at odds with the core values’ of Christianity. When the bill was reintroduced in 2012, however, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, which includes Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox bishops, expressed support for the bill…

“The church’s vigorous support for traditional marriage, moreover, must be accompanied by advocacy for the human rights of gays and lesbians in equal measure. This is required by the church’s own teaching. Indeed, a growing number of Catholic leaders have offered unqualified support for the decriminalization of homosexuality…

“We add our voice to this swelling chorus. Pope Francis has described gay people as ‘socially wounded’ because ‘they feel like the church has always condemned them.’ Catholics must examine how we contribute, perhaps even inadvertently, to a culture of fear and shame…The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the ‘unjust discrimination’ against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?”

Jesuit priest James Martin added his own commentary on Facebook, accompanying a graphic from AllOut. He spent time working in East Africa, visiting Uganda, and speaks highly of the people there. Still, he remains clear that these laws are intolerable:

“These new laws are part of a general pattern of oppression in Africa today, where in 38 countries homosexual activity is a criminal offense…The Catholic church in Africa has so far done little so far to protect their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from violence…

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has rightly compared these laws and these attitudes to early anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany. They can also be compared to the kind of dehumanizing rhetoric that precedes and accompanies war and genocide. (During the Second World War, the Japanese were called ‘vermin’ by many Americans, and in the Rwandan genocide, Hutus were ‘cockroaches’ by many Tutsi.)

“Every Catholic, every Christian, every person, should oppose these laws. Every Catholic, every Christian, every person is called to love their brothers and sisters–straight or gay. Period.”

Expanding on this idea, Rev. Paul Raushenbush, a Baptist minister who is a senior religion editor at The Huffington Postclaims that precisely because Christians have contributed to LGBT oppression, either through action or indifference, we must be part of the liberation now. This extends beyond Uganda’s borders, and he notes the common thread from Uganda to Kansas to Russia is “Christian complicity.” He writes:

“Those of us who are Christian have to add to and embolden these voices with our own. Christians should make sure that their churches, friends and denominational leaders have a chance to meet and talk to LGBT people and understand how being targeted by these laws makes us feel. Christians should take to their own Facebook pages and other social media and stand with LGBT people.

“Religious leaders on every level must directly speak out against the complicity of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians in the targeting of God’s LGBT children. Pope Francis, I’m talking to you. It is time for you to use your prophetic voice and speak out against use of violence and for the full equality of LGBT people. All of those on Twitter should reach out to @Pontifex using #PopeSpeakOut

“Recent events around the world show us that sitting on the sidelines is no longer permissible — especially for Christians. We cannot let others speak for Jesus. Our faith is being used to do serious harm to LGBT people. Showing love for our neighbor today, as commanded by Jesus, means stepping up and standing in solidarity with our LGBT sisters and brothers around the world.”

In a statement reported on the GLAAD blog, DignityUSA’s executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said:

“Our hearts and souls are joined with the people of Uganda, especially those whose lives and liberty are threatened by this horrific injustice. We pray that the majority of people, law enforcers, and those in government will continue to live in the recognition that all people embody the Divine, and pledge renewed vigor in working to overturn such discrimination. We call on the people and officials of the Catholic Church worldwide to recognize that such laws perpetrate violence on the entire body of Christ, and to lead efforts to repeal this and similar laws.”

Even National Catholic Reporter‘s Michael Sean Winters, who is sometimes critical of LGBT political issues, is strongly condemning Uganda’s law:

“It is a measure of a humane and Christian civilization that small minority groups have their human dignity protected. There is no straight line from Uganda to the death camps [of the Holocaust]. There is no line at all, just as the situation in Arizona is not like that in Uganda. But, what unites them is this: The Christian Church must learn how to promote family life without attacking the human dignity of gay men and women. That is foundational. It is a sin to do otherwise. The gravity of that sin differs from culture to culture. I do not expect Africa to embrace Upper West Side values tomorrow or anytime. But, the Church must proclaim the dignity of each and every human person in all places and at all times if we are to be true to our most basic dogmatic beliefs.”

If you’re looking to raise your own voice, please participate in #PopeSpeakOut. Send an email or a tweet to Pope Francis and encourage him to condemn Uganda’s anti-gay law and all efforts to criminalize homosexuality worldwide. You can find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Uganda’s Passage of Anti-Gay Law Should Compel Pope Francis to Speak Out

February 25, 2014

President Museveni signing the Anti-Homosexuality Law

Uganda’s president signed a major anti-gay law yesterday, which imposes penalties up to life imprisonment for homosexual activity and harsh penalties for establishing gay organizations an for those who do not report gay people, thus making it impossible to live an open life.  The new law highlights the need for Catholics, including Pope Francis and bishops around the globe to speak out against the rise of anti-LGBT legislation.

This new law comes after repeated delays by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to sign the bill, which LGBT advocates hoped was a sign he would reject it. Opposition against an anti-gay law in Uganda has been ongoing for several years. It has been one of the more prominent debates internationally due to provisions in an earlier version imposing the death penalty for homosexuality, causing many to dub it the “Kill the Gays” bill.

Since 2009, Catholics have joined these protests given that more than 40% of Ugandans are members of the Church. Frank Mugisha, a gay Catholic man, and others have led efforts internally to stop Uganda’s passage of the law. Catholics worldwide have raised their voices as well by signing letters of concern with other Christians and urged Catholic leaders to do the same. Equally Blessed, a U.S. coalition of four Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) issued 2012 statement  urging US bishops to speak out. Former US ambassador to the Holy See Thomas Melady called on religious leaders to condemn such laws, and a letter to Uganda’s papal nuncio from Brother Brian McLauchlin, a New Ways Ministry volunteer, received a positive reply that the nuncio would be working to halt any anti-gay law alongside Uganda’s bishops. Most notably, South Africa’s leading Catholic newspaper, the Southern Cross, wrote a strongly worded editorial about the need to stop anti-LGBT laws as part of the Church’s larger defense of human rights.

Yet, unfortunately, Uganda’s bishops and the Vatican failed to defend the human rights of gay people. The national bishops conference reversed its subdued opposition to the anti-gay law and joined a vocal ecumenical effort to criminalize homosexuality. Despite repeated calls for action, including the ongoing #PopeSpeakOut campaign by people of faith, Pope Francis and other Church leaders have not come out publicly against these types of laws which are on the rise. Nations such as Russia and India have imposed new restrictions on gay people, while 38 of 54 African countries ban homosexuality.

During Pope Francis’ message for the 2014 World Day of Peace, he reflected on the theme of our shared humanity and Bondings 2.0 wrote at the time:

“Pope Francis imagines a church that ‘speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights.’  Where is that church when it comes to the human rights of LGBT people? In 2014, Catholics need to speak out for human rights in a way that includes LGBT people suffering from discrimination and violence.”

Uganda’s passage of this new law is a troubling sign, and adds to the anti-LGBT movement whose laws breed a culture saturated with discrimination and violence targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Pope Francis has captured global attention by refocusing the Catholic Church on issues of social justice, and he must now use his moral authority to protect the lives and well-being of every person.

Now is the moment to raise your voice as well. Will you send him a tweet or write a letter as part of #PopeSpeakOut? Find more information by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Tweet the Pope to Save LGBT People Around the World!

January 23, 2014

Pope Francis

A world of humanity is mobilizing around the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign to persuade Pope Francis to speak out against the growing tide of anti-LGBT laws around the globe.  The campaign is launching today! Bondings 2.0 encourages all of its readers who use Twitter to participate.

The campaign organizers are New Ways Ministry,The Fellowship Global, and a growing number of co-sponsors. It offers a positive action that people can take to respond to the dangerous new wave of anti-LGBT laws and policies in countries such as Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, India, and Jamaica.

“By sending tweets to the pope, we want to move him to speak out against these laws, many of which have been supported by Catholic leaders and people in these nations,” said Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry.  “We were amazed and gratified when Pope Francis said ‘Who am I to judge.’ Now we need a powerful, faith-based statement from Pope Francis to support the freedom and lives of our LGBT sisters and brothers.”

Pastor Joseph Tolton, Executive Director of The Fellowship Global said, “People of faith and hope from all traditions will tweet the Pope to urge him to make a pronouncement to the world to ‘Do no harm!’ The rising tide of draconian laws to criminalize LGBT people and their supporters allow vigilantes to rape, beat and kill people who are suspected of being LGBT with impunity. This must stop!”

It will be incumbent on all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to help spread the word about the campaign so that the pontiff hears from people from all over.  We are heartened by the fact that the papal nuncio in Uganda was pre-disposed to reject that nation’s anti-gay bill and that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai who is one of the pope’s closest advisors, has spoken out strongly against India’s anti-LGBT action.  These signs indicate that there is a good chance the pope will, with the right encouragement, speak out, too.

The campaign has established a website, NoMoreTriangleNations.com, as a resource and headquarters for the campaign.  “Triangle Nations” is a reference to the pink triangle assigned to gay men in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider church community and civil society.

The Fellowship Global is a partnership with circles of Christian clergy and LGBTI people in the African Diaspora to express a faith perspective supporing the social, legal, and moral inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bondings 2.0 will keep you updated on the campaign, the pope’s response, and on Catholic influence in “triangle nations” as they develop.

Here are some sample tweets that can be used:

First Russia, then Uganda, last week Nigeria, now ask @pontifex to say “No More Triangle Nations!” http://ow.ly/sSuiY #PopeSpeakOut

Ask @pontifex to call on Christians to love LGBTQ individuals, not legislate their extinction. #nomoretrianglenations

.@Pontifex Urge heads of state to respect human dignity. NO MORE TRIANGLE NATIONS! #PopeSpeakOut

In the wake of anti-gay legislative measures made in #Nigeria & #Uganda, we urge @pontifex to speak out against such unchristian prejudice

As Catholics, we are saddened by our fellow Christians who attack the global #LGBT community. We will speak out, join us and share.

.@Pontifex As a voice for the voiceless please publicly condemn anti-gay laws! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please condemn Uganda’s anti-gay bill as you defend human rights for all! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please urge Nigeria to stop arresting gay and trans people! Please save lives! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Stop the unjust legal discrimination of gay/lesbian/trans people. Speak out against anti-gay laws around the world #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Call Christians around the world to love gay people not legislate their extinction #PopeSpeakOut

–Bob Shine , New Ways Ministry


Papal Nuncio Responds to American’s Concern About Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

December 28, 2013

Archbishop Michael Blume

After learning the terrible news last week that the Ugandan Parliament passed a bill imposing heavy penalties, including life imprisonment, on anyone convicted of homosexual activity, a New Ways Ministry friend wrote to the papal nuncio (Vatican’s representative) to that nation.

On December 21st, Brother Brian McLauchlin sent an email to Archbishop Michael Blume, asking him to speak with the Ugandan bishops and Pope Francis about this abuse of human rights.  McLauchlin received a positive response from Blume the same  day, assuring him that his office is concerned about the situation, and that he would be working with Uganda’s Catholic bishops on the matter.

Blume’s message discusses the confusion which exists in Uganda about the bill:

“It was only this morning that I found out about the action of the Parliament. In fact the whole business caught many of us, including the bishops’ conference, by surprise as there had been no hints of it in the press nor on the site of the Parliament, which indicates legislation being discussed. The bill had been put on hold last February and seemed forgotten, but … You can view some articles on it from the government press (www.newvision.co.ug) and the opposition (www.monitor.co.ug). That the Prime Minister speaks about further consultation needed is something important to note. The Monitor also points out a problem of the quorum at the session that passed the law — without clearly stating whether it existed or not.”

Blume also noted that the Ugandan bishops had spoken out against an earlier version of this bill in 2009:

The bishops had pronounced on the bill already in 2009. Here’s just the paragraph that is a kind of résumé:

“The recent tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill does not pass a test of a Christian caring approach to this issue. The targeting of the sinner, not the sin, is the core flaw of the proposed Bill. The introduction of the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexual acts targets people rather than seeking to counsel and to reach out in compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support, and hope. The Bible says in Luke 6:36-37 ‘Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.’     (complete statement at http://www.uecon.org/Publication.html , towards the bottom of the page).”

The papal nuncio also noted that he would be working with the bishops as they comment on the bill:

“It’s the general policy for nuncios to work together with the bishops conferences on questions of national interest. For that reason I was already in contact with the Secretary General this morning. . . . I’m sure there will be a lot of movement between the bishops’ conference and various institutions of the country. The bill will die if the President does not sign it within thirty days. We pray the Holy Spirit to give him wisdom.”

McLauchlin’s letter to the nuncio follows:

“Your Excellency:

“I am writing to you about a grave matter in terms of human rights abuses towards LGBT persons in Uganda. As you are probably aware, Uganda’s Parliament recently passed a bill calling for tougher punishments for homosexual acts, including life
imprisonment for those considered ‘repeat offenders.’ In addition, this bill also criminalizes the public promotion of homosexuality. Once the President of Uganda signs the legislation, it will become law.

“I am gravely concerned that a number of human rights violations will occur if the President signs this bill. Although the
Catholic Hierarchy may not approve of same-sex relationships or a homosexual lifestyle, I believe the Hierarchy would agree
that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Imprisoning someone for life would clearly constitute
an abuse of his/her rights.

“The largest single denomination in Uganda is Roman Catholic. I ask that you use your influence as Papal Nuncio to get the bishops to speak out against this bill. When you speak with Pope Francis please inform him of this situation. I do believe he would want to see the dignity and respect of all people honored and kept sacred.

“I sincerely thank you for your attention to this important matter.”

Last week, when Bondings 2.0 reported the Ugandan news, we asked our readers to write to Pope Francis asking him to speak out against this bill.   We repeat that request now, and we also encourage readers to write to the Archbishop Blume.    His address is:

Archbishop Michael Blume
Apostolic Nunciature
P.O. Box 7177
Chwa II Road, Mbuya Hill
Kampala, UGANDA

email: nuntius@infocom.co.ug

It is so important to write  letters to both the pope and the papal nuncio.  Although Archbishop Blume is optimistic about working with the Ugandan bishops on this matter, it is very important that the pope and the nuncio hear from Catholics.  Though the Ugandan bishops spoke out against the bill in 2009, and although the portion quoted above is hopeful, the rest of their statement presents a very negative attitude toward homosexuality. Last year, there was a report that the bishops had reversed their opposition to the bill, though, because they have not spoken about it clearly, it is difficult to know where they stand currently.  It is hopeful that the papal nuncio supports their 2009 opposition to the bill, an indication that he may feel the same way.   Still, because the Ugandan bishops’ current position is unclear, it’s important that the pope and the papal nuncio hear from Catholics that they want church teaching on human dignity and respect to be upheld in this matter.

New Ways Ministry applauds Brian McLauchlin for his swift, passionate, and courageous correspondence.  We are so proud of his witness. We hope that many of you will use his letter as a model or will craft one of your own to send.  Lesbian and gay Ugandans are counting on us at this time to speak courageously and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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