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


Catholic Coalition Urges Bishops to Speak Out on Uganda’s Controversial Bill

December 6, 2012

As Ugandans continue to debate the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill which would apply the death penalty, life imprisonment, and severe sentences to people known to be lesbian or gay,  religious leaders have begun to speak out against these draconian measures.

We’ve already reported on a student coalition that is collecting signatures to get religious leaders Equally Blessed Logoto make statements against the bill.  Today, Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people, has released a statement calling on the U.S. Catholic bishops to contact their Ugandan counterparts to speak out against the bill.   The statement reads:

“Catholics hold a variety of positions on the morality of homosexual relationships, yet the church has long taught that we must respect the dignity and cherish the life of each of God’s children. That is why we are imploring Catholics in the United States and other nations to join us in working against legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament that could cost many LGBT people their lives, make criminals of priests who counsel gays and lesbians and hasten the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout central Africa.

“Please join us in signing the online petition that will be delivered to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, asking them “to reject the needless, deeply harmful, dehumanizing bill.”  Join us also in sending an email to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urging them to intercede with their fellow bishops in Uganda and imploring them to oppose legislation that will open new wounds in the body of Christ.

“Pope Benedict XVI is firmly opposed to legislation that singles out LGBT people for persecution. A Vatican representative made the following statement to a panel on anti-gay violence at the United Nations in 2009:

“[T]he Holy See continues to oppose all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons, such as the use of the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. …

“[T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State. While the Holy See’s position on the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity remains well known, we continue to call on all States and individuals to respect the rights of all persons and to work to promote their inherent dignity and worth.”

“The Ugandan legislation clearly conflicts with the values expressed by the Vatican and held deeply by faithful Catholics. The final content of the bill is still under debate, but in its current form, it proposes the death penalty for certain homosexual activities and life imprisonment for touching another individual with homosexual “intent.” But the penalties do not stop there.

“Belonging to a gay organization, advocating gay rights and providing condoms or safe-sex advice to gays and lesbians to  stop the spread of HIV and AIDS could result in a seven-year prison sentence. Failing to report violations of the law within 24 hours would be punishable by a three-year prison term. This means, in effect, that anyone who knows a sexually active gay or lesbian person and does not report them to the authorities puts himself or herself at risk. The confidentiality required in a pastoral relationship is impossible under these conditions.

 “Some 40 percent of Ugandans are Catholics, and the church wields significant influence there. As Catholics, we are compelled to raise our voices on behalf of those who will bear a possibly lethal burden if this bill becomes law. Please join us in signing the petition and calling upon our bishops to work against this hurtful legislation.”

The four organizations that comprise Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Additionally, Religion News Service reports that Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called on Ugandans to reject the bill.  In part, Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his work against apartheid, stated:

“My brothers and sisters, you stood with people who were oppressed because of their skin color. If you are going to be true to the Lord you worship, you are also going to be there for the people who are being oppressed for something they can do nothing about: their sexual orientation.”

We urge you to sign the petition and to send an email to the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.   Do it today! Time is running out!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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