Today is the Global Day of Action for Nigeria, as LGBT advocates worldwide demonstrate to get that nation’s leaders to retract a recent law imposing harsh penalties on gay people and even those supportive of equal rights. The rise of anti-LGBT legislation has prompted an unusual split among Catholic bishops around the world, and Pope Francis remains quiet as Uganda became the latest nation to pass harsh discrimination laws last week.
U.S. Catholic published a piece highlighting the fissure among the world’s bishops in how they have responded to anti-gay legislation. David Gibson writes:
“The issue is especially pressing in Africa, where Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, recently adopted a harsh law that imposes a 14-year prison term for anyone entering into a same-sex relationship, as well as a 10-year sentence for anyone found to support gay clubs or meetings. Even public displays of affection by gays and lesbians is considered a crime…
“In Nigeria the leader of the hierarchy fully supported that country’s new law, which prompted a wave of violence against gays when it passed.
“In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “
This letter from Nigeria’s bishops prompted an unusually robust editorial from The Southern Cross, a Catholic weekly associated with southern African bishops. Gibson notes the divided reaction by the hierarchy elsewhere. Whereas Poland’s bishops have launched a war on “the ideology of gender”, India’s leading prelate, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, condemned his nation’s criminalization of homosexuality in January. Gibson also notes the much celebrated comments by Irish archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the graphic to the right.
Gibson believes this division of bishops may be an extreme backlash against advances made by LGBT advocates on issues the bishops do oppose, like marriage equality. He cites Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who sees cultural differences and regional politics in Asia and Africa as additional reasons for the split.
Regardless of the reasons, the failure of Catholic bishops to condemn laws targeting gay people for discrimination has angered many Catholics in the pews — and even more so when bishops supported such laws, as in Nigeria. People of faith worldwide have used the#PopeSpeakOut campaign to urge Pope Francis to condemn Nigeria’s law, as well as other efforts around the globe to discriminate against LGBT people.
One sign of hope in all this is the fact that bishops are divided and criticizing one another, which led Pat Perriello, a National Catholic Reporter columnist, to write:
“There appears to be a new willingness among members of the church hierarchy to openly disagree with one another. Nowhere does this seem more pronounced than on the issue of the treatment of gays. Viewpoints veer from unabashed support of criminalization of any kind of gay activity to references in the Catholic catechism calling for respect and acceptance of gay individuals in our midst…
“[H]ow refreshing it is to see and hear once again a bit of ferment in the church. It is reminiscent of vital theological discussions that took place following the Second Vatican Council. This is how the spirit works best. This is how all of us grow and learn more about what God seeks to tell us.”
In the wake of the emerging human rights disaster surrounding LGBT people, these divisions may not be enough. Uganda’s bishops have remained silent on their nation’s law, in fact, they only recently began reviewing it, weeks after its enactment. The Nigerian hierarchy has done worse damage with its vocal support of their nation’s law. It is time for Pope Francis to lead the Church in strongly condemning any law or policy which specifically discriminates against LGBT people.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
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