Amid reports that six LGBT people were stoned to death in Uganda last week, Archbishop John Baptist Odama is calling on his fellow Ugandans to respect the rule of law — and the lives of lesbian and gay people.
Odama, who heads the Uganda Episcopal Conference as well as the Archdiocese of Gulu, is quoted by PinkNews as saying:
” ‘Let us learn to love God’s human creatures…It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses.’
” ‘The country has been struggling to have a law to criminalises [sic] homosexuality…However, the struggle has been frustrated by the constitutional courts.’
” ‘People should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals, since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.’ “
Odama references a Ugandan court’s recent decision to strike down the nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in his comments. The former law, once known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because at one time it contained a death penalty provision for LGBT people, ended up mandating life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual activity, and it banned the promotion of homosexuality. The court invalidated it on the technicality that Parliament did not have quorum when a vote on the Act was called. Legislators are now trying to re-pass a similar law having made procedural changes.
This is the first time in nearly four years of debate about this bill that a bishop in Uganda, where more than 40% of people are Catholic, has spoken up for the lives and dignity of LGBT people. In 2012, the Uganda’s bishops reversed their opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. After it was passed in 2014, the bishops conference remained quiet for weeks before several announced their support publicly at Easter.
However, Catholics worldwide have condemned anti-gay legislation at each step. Figures like Jesuit Fr. James Martin former US ambassador to the Vatican Thomas Melady, and the papal nuncio to Uganda have all condemned the law, as well as organizations like the Equally Blessed coalition and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. Students and alumni of Catholic colleges have organized against the law. In Uganda, Frank Mugisha, a gay advocate who is Catholic, has courageously led the struggle for LGBT justice.
Archbishop Odama’s statement is a hopeful, if limited, sign that the Catholic hierarchy is waking up to reality that such laws foster discrimination and violence against LGBT people. These laws also hinder HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, a point made clear by Catholic officials during July’s 20th International AIDS Conference.
But there is one voice noticeably absent as anti-gay laws increase, and that is Pope Francis. Even after people of faith worldwide have asked Pope Francis to clearly and openly condemn anti-gay legislation through the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, there has been no message from the pontiff. Bondings 2.0 has previously questioned why the pope has remained silent on this issue, and wondered how Catholics are to respond when church leaders, such as the Ugandan bishops, not only allow, but support anti-LGBT policies.
New Ways Ministry welcomes Archbishop Odama’s words, but we reiterate our request that Pope Francis take action to save lives and protect human dignity. If you would like to add your voice to the #PopeSpeakOut efforts through email, Facebook, and Twitter, click here. Please share the news about this campaign with your contacts and social media networks.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry