Catholicism’s record on the growing trend of repressive laws around the globe which target LGBT people has been a very spotty one. Despite strong official teaching which clearly opposes such measures, Catholic leaders have not always been courageous in speaking out during legislative debates, and, indeed, sometimes they have been explicit in their support of such laws. Only a few exceptions exist where bishops have taken any kind of stand against repressive laws.
The church’s mixed record is the focus of an enlightening article in this week’s America magazine. Celso Perez, a Gruber Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the holder of a theological ethics degree from Jesuit-run Boston College. Perez’ thesis is summed up in the article’s title and subtitle: “Zero Tolerance: Why Catholics must condemn anti-gay violence.” I’ll summarize his argument here, but I encourage readers to click on the title above so they can examine the entire article with all of its rich details.
Perez notes that at least 76 nations have laws which criminalize people who are LGBT, and that this alarming trend has caught the attention of many human rights advocates. He continues by highlighting Catholicism’s role:
“Growing awareness of such discriminatory practices underscores the importance of having Catholics reiterate a message of care and nonviolence toward these individuals when discussing issues of sexuality and gender. As church leaders have noted, these calls are consistent with Catholic doctrine on the dignity of all human beings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls on Catholics to treat “homosexual persons” with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (1986) mandates respect for the intrinsic dignity of each person in word, in action and in law and condemns violence against homosexual people. While some church leaders and faith communities have stressed a message of dignity and respect, many others have not. In recent years, both religious and lay Catholics, through their actions and words, have promoted policies and practices that seem to contribute to a climate of indifference or even hostility, in which violence against members of sexual and gender minorities can occur.
Some positive response offer hope that other Catholic leaders will follow suit:
Last summer, for instance, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, stressed that while the church does not approve of homosexual conduct, it recognizes and respects everyone’s individual dignity. In the wake of growing reports of anti-gay violence in parts of Africa, the archbishop said that “homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights; they are human beings like any one of us.” In Brazil, the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, a group composed of both lay people and clergy, strongly condemned the alarming number of attacks against sexual and gender minorities reported in the country.
[Editor’s note: The links to Bondings 2.0 posts were not in the original article. We have added them for your reference.]
Perez makes the implicit plea that though Catholic leaders sometimes debate what “unjust discrimination” is, they should, at the very least, agree that repression and violence should not be condoned:
“The meaning and scope of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons is still subject to debate in Catholic circles. But church teaching suggests that, at a minimum, this includes a need to refrain from and condemn violence against people on account of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender expression. As Catholic leaders have noted, this includes the criminalization of consenting sexual behavior among adults. . . .
“In 2008, at the U.N. General Assembly, the Vatican representative publicly stated that it ‘continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them. Governments should do away with unjust criminal penalties.’ “
Unfortunately, local Catholic leaders have not always followed the Vatican’s directives in these matters. Perez also introduces a sad litany of bishops and archbishops around the globe who have supported anti-gay legislation:
“In Uganda the Catholic Church has wavered in its position on a similar bill. In December 2009 Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga opposed Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which initially proposed the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts. Archbishop Lwanga called the bill “at odds with Christian values” like “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” At the time the Holy See also condemned the bill as unjust discrimination. In June 2012, however, a coalition of Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches asked the Ugandan parliament to speed up the process of enacting a version of this same bill. . . .
“. . . [S]everal Ugandan bishops categorically supported the legislation during their Easter homilies. Some came close to tacitly endorsing—or at least excusing—acts of violence. Archbishop Lwanga has more recently published a manuscript noting the need to respect and care for homosexual people, yet as of this writing, the Ugandan church as a whole has done little to condemn the abuses that sexual and gender minorities face.”
Perez’ article contains several more examples of shameful complicity by Catholic bishops.
He concludes his essay with a call for the 2015 Synod of Bishop to condemn anti-LGBT violence around the world. And he notes the importance of Catholic involvement in this arena:
“The statements and actions of church leaders have a profound impact on the social environment in which people belonging to sexual and gender minorities live. Church leaders need to distinguish between morally condemning certain acts and relationships and implicitly or explicitly condoning violence and persecution. The failure to do so not only contravenes church teaching, but contributes to a climate of hostility that threatens lives.”
In addition to Mr. Perez, America magazine should be commended for their courageous stand against these repressive laws. As far as I know, in 2012 America became the first Catholic periodical to condemn such laws in an editorial. And in February of this past year, they again editorialized against these measures, citing Pope Francis as an authority for their argument.
While Pope Francis has made some vague references in this regard, he needs to speak more clearly and forcefully against these laws. In doing so, he will encourage his local bishops to follow his lead. That’s why New Ways Ministry has been encouraging people to send a tweet to the pope through our #PopeSpeakOut campaign.
In addition, we heartily support Mr. Perez’ recommendation that the Synod of Bishops in 2015 also condemn anti-LGBT initiatives and violence.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry