While it is obvious that the trend toward anti-gay oppressive laws around the globe is a disturbing phenomenon, perhaps nothing is more disturbing than the positive response the Catholic bishops of Nigeria recently gave to the new draconian law in that nation.
Michael O’Loughlin, writing on Advocate.com, reported:
“Catholic bishops in Nigeria are congratulating the president for successfully pushing legislation that imposes 14-year jail sentences for gay people who marry, and punishes any gathering of LGBT people in that African nation, placing those who run LGBT organizations in jail for a decade.
“Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of the Middle Belt region of Jos, told SaharaTV that Catholic bishops in Nigeria ‘thank God that this bill was passed,’ and in a letter sent to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, called the law ‘a courageous one 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.’ ”
Further in the letter, the the archbishop wrote:
“We commend you for this courageous and wise decision and pray that God will continue to bless, guide and protect you and your administration against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices, that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.”
Archbishop Kaigama is not the only Nigerian Catholic prelate to support the new law. Information Nigeria reported:
“Bishops of the Owerri Catholic Ecclesiastical Province have commended President Goodluck Jonathan for ignoring threats from Western nations and signed the Anti-Same sex Bill into law.
“The commendation was part of the 10-point communique issued after their first plenary meeting for 2014, held at the Pastoral Centre, Owerri, and signed by the Chairman and Secretary, His Grace, Dr. Anthony J.V. Obinna and Most Rev. Dr. Augustine T. Ukwuoma of Orlu Diocese, respectively.”
TellNigeria.com reported on yet a third group of Nigerian bishops supporting the law:
“The Catholic Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical province, comprising Ibadan Archdiocese, Ondo, Ekiti, Ilorin, Oyo and Osogbo dioceses, have endorsed the anti-gay law in Nigeria.”
The wrongness of supporting such a bill is highlighted by a New York Times account of how the anti-gay law is brutally enforced in Nigeria:
“Since Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.”
Physical punishment also does not seem to be unheard of in some parts of the country:
“The young man cried out as he was being whipped on the courtroom bench. The bailiff’s leather whip struck him 20 times, and when it was over, the man’s side and back were covered with bruises.
“Still, the large crowd outside was disappointed, the judge recalled: The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.
“ ‘He is supposed to be killed,’ the judge, Nuhu Idris Mohammed, said, praising his own leniency on judgment day last month at the Shariah court here. The bailiff demonstrated the technique he used: whip at shoulder level, then forcefully down.”
While this account notes that the beating took place in an Islamic religious court, not a civil one, the horror of the case speaks to the depth of anti-gay feeling in the nation. The Nigerian bishops’ support for the new law will only strengthen these hateful attitudes and practices. It is amazing that the bishops do not speak out against such violent treatment and such hateful attitudes–which even orthodox Catholic teaching should compel them to do.
Such misguided emphasis on the part of Catholic leaders who should be responsible for the protection, not the flaunting, of human rights, reinforces the need for Pope Francis to speak out against the rise of anti-gay laws around the globe. You can encourage the pontiff to raise his voice for human dignity by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign. You can access information about the campaign by clicking here.
Catholic bishops could simply follow the advice of The New York Times editors, who recently opined about the situation of gay and lesbian people in oppressive African nations. In their editorial about new harsh laws, they state:
Such laws violate commitments made by United Nations members in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.
If these nations cannot do the humane thing, they should at least consider their self-interest. For any leader who values stability, it makes no sense to promote new laws that foment greater hostility among people, like in Nigeria, where there is already ethnic tension.
Even in countries where antigay laws are not enforced, they provide an excuse for abuse — including blackmail and extortion — by police, Amnesty International said. It is unlikely that any of these countries can reach their full economic potential because many foreign entities may find it too risky to invest in such hostile environments. These governments, in abusing their citizens, are moving in dangerous and destructive directions.
The editors’ sane, humanitarian approach, which also recognizes how laws can affect people’s personal attitudes and behaviors, is quite in line with Catholic social justice principles. Too bad that a secular newspaper, and not the Catholic hierarchy, which is making these arguments for human rights and respect.
For information on anti-gay laws and the criminalization of homosexuality around the globe, a recent BBC.com article had a good, comprehensive reference, including a chart and a map.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry