While LGBT equality is advancing in the US, revealing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity can still result in widespread discrimination and violence for too many people. One Tanzanian priest’s recent post-synod remarks are a stark reminder that though these are changing times, anti-LGBT sentiments are thriving in some areas. All Catholics–especially Pope Francis, must speak out against homophobia and transphobia.
Fr. Camilo Mdeya spoke to Mass participants in the city of Mwanza about the recent synod in Rome, and he criticized the bishops for not agreeing on a condemnation against same-sex relationships, which means local church officials must now handle such controversial matters. According to AllAfrica, he said:
” ‘We are seeing strange and shameful phenomenon of same sex people daring to approach the church for marriage vows, and let me tell you, I will not be ready to do that and if it happens that fellow priests or even the Bishop asks me to attend, I will resign at once.’ “
Mdeya, whose remarks were reportedly well received by the congregation, also told parents that their children may be “dragged into same sex relationships.” This statement is clearly false, and whether or not there are same-sex couples seeking Catholic marriages in Tanzania is unconfirmed. Yet, what is essential here is that the priest’s highly-charged and influential words will foment anti-gay attitudes in a nation where homosexuality is criminalized.
Harsh and dangerous language from religious leaders has also caused lesbian and gay Liberians to go into hiding due to scapegoating over the Ebola outbreak. Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia has supported statements in the past suggesting Ebola is a plague sent as punishment for homosexuality’s presence in Liberia.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who is Catholic and attended the beatification of Paul VI, applauded the synod for not being more welcoming to LGBT people. His country also criminalizes homosexuality, and Mugabe is a deeply troubling figure in terms of human rights.
Though homosexuality is portrayed as a colonial Western import, it is indeed this virulent homophobia closely tied to Christianity that is the actual import. The Human Rights Campaign recent report, The Export of Hate, details how American Christian leaders, including some lay Catholics, are helping foster anti-LGBT attitudes, discrimination, and even criminalization laws in Africa because their efforts have failed in the US.
Thus, it is incumbent on Catholics worldwide to reject any violence or discrimination based upon one’s sexual or gender identity. Christopher Hale of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Jes Stevens of Catholics United wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about this topic recently, saying:
“As the church goes forward on this journey, there will be more and more areas of profound internal disagreement…But there is one area about which there should be no disagreement: ending the menacing violence against the LGBT community.
“At its best, the Catholic church can and should be a leader in fighting discrimination against the LGBT community…For people of faith to say ‘yes’ to welcome, we must say ‘no’ to violence whether it be on the streets of Philadelphia, the personnel decisions at our Catholic institutions, or the intentions of our own heart — intentions that build up and tear down.”
Pope Francis himself rejected religious justifications for violence and discrimination, though not specifically LGBT-related, while traveling in Albania. The pope spoke of the peaceful coexistence of that nation’s people after conflict, adding:
“Let no one consider using God as a shield while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!”
When the lives and livelihoods of LGBT people are under attack, Catholic leaders must vocally and clearly stand alongside the marginalized and victimized. They should be ever aware of the harm their words can cause, especially in places where anti-gay attitudes are culturally and legally prevalent.
To initiate a more pastoral and merciful tone towards LGBT people, Pope Francis needs to explicitly speak out against any and all anti-LGBT legislation and the violence which accompanies such laws. To ask the pope for this, click here.
To read Bondings 2.0 ongoing coverage of anti-LGBT laws internationally and the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry