Jail LGBT People, Say Malawi’s Bishops in New Pastoral Letter on Mercy

ecm-logo-300x292In a new pastoral letter, Malawi’s bishops have encouraged Catholics to advocate for the arrest and imprisonment of LGBT people as a top national priority.

The Episcopal Conference of Malawi’s joint letter, “Mercy of God as a Path to Hope,” was released as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis. The bishops say they seek to contextualize mercy as it relates to their country and speak words of hope, but their words do not seem either merciful or hopeful to LGBT people and their supporters. Listed second among seventeen “areas of grave concern” is a section on family issues and LGBT rights which states:

“From this perspective, we agree with those who have faulted the Government for putting a moratorium on laws governing homosexual acts. This means that those guilty of homosexual acts or unions cannot be prosecuted. The Government has bowed down to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners. As Pastors, we find this path very unfortunate. It is an act of betrayal on the part of those in power to sell our country to foreign practices and tendencies contrary to the will of God because of money. . .We call upon all Catholics and people of good will to stand up for what is morally right today in the face of the hugely funded campaign for homosexual rights and unions.”

This portion is preceded by a statement that the church does not judge someone based on sexual orientation, though same-sex activity is called “objectively evil and totally unacceptable.” The bishops follow the excerpt above with a statement condemning anti-LGBT violence:

“[W]e wish to condemn in strongest terms those inciting violence against homosexuals and those guilty of homosexual acts or unions. In this Jubilee of mercy, we recall with gratitude the words of St. John XXIII that indicate to us the path to follow as believers: ‘Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity’ (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, 11).”

The bishops’ support for LGBT criminalization is well-documented and has been strongly condemned by LGBT advocates. Earlier this year, Malawi’s bishops made false claims about foreign aid pressures during U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry’s visit to their nation.  Berry categorically refuted their claims. Individual bishops from this African country have made troubling remarks about homosexuality, too.

In the new pastoral letter, the bishops ignored the reality that criminalization leads to increased suffering by sexual and gender minorities. Their claims about respecting LGBT people and rejecting violence against them are basically meaningless when they encourage LGBT people’s imprisonment. Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction can lead to up to fourteen years of hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women. Thankfully, there is a government moratorium on enforcement of such laws while they are reviewed.

Malawi’s bishops have significant influence in the country, despite Catholics composing just 20% of the population. Catholic leaders played a key role in the country’s 1992 transition to democracy and have been described by some as the conscience of their nation. The bishops could again be helpful pastoral leaders, given the real areas of grave concern Malawians face. The vast majority of this pastoral letter called attention to real injustices, such as food insecurity experienced by 2.8 million people and problems in government that leave the nation severely underdeveloped. But hunger is listed tenth and ecological justice, a hallmark of Pope Francis’ tenure, listed last despite the climate’s devastating effects on Malawi. As noted above, LGBT issues were listed second.  This ranking hardly seems warranted and shows the bishops’ priorities are seriously amiss.

Equal civil rights do not pose a threat to Malawians’ well-being. Moreover, Catholic teaching does not support punishing people because of sexual orientation and/or sexual expression. Advocating for the criminalization of one’s identity undercuts the bishops’ otherwise valuable and needed call for social justice. That is a real tragedy for the Year of Mercy and for Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



21 thoughts on “Jail LGBT People, Say Malawi’s Bishops in New Pastoral Letter on Mercy

  1. Don Larson March 28, 2016 / 2:23 am

    What I find most offensive is that these bishops dare to quote John XXIII whose pastoral care and concern for all is exactly the opposite of what these men are doing. Shame, shame on these bishops who levy discrimination and hatred upon the LGBT community of their country in God’s name.

  2. Thomas March 28, 2016 / 6:58 am

    This is frightening and tragic. Even if people are not imprisoned by the law, these bishops are sending a message that it is acceptable to deprive gay people of their rights. Violence is next. This is shameful.

  3. Edward Poliandro March 28, 2016 / 7:56 am

    Beautifully written ! Thank you! Very hard to read after a Glorious Triduum at St Francis Zavier here in NY C. This is one question I have fir Charles Curran this Sunday: what can we do about Malawi? Easter Blessings!

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Bishop Carlos Florido March 28, 2016 / 7:59 am

    I wonder how many of those bishops are actually (closeted?) gays. There is certainly no mercy or hope in their words. They do not know God or understand the teachings of the Christ.

  5. Loretta Fitzgerald March 28, 2016 / 8:49 am

    And when will Francis weigh in and condemn what his bishops are saying? I’m not holding my breath.

  6. JOHN HILGEMAN March 28, 2016 / 9:05 am

    Sounds like a call for thousands of letters to Francis calling for him to condemn this behavior by these bishops in the strongest possible way. Francis cannot claim to be friends with a gay former student of his and his former student’s partner if he does not defend those who are gay like his friend…if he does not openly condemn the actions of his brother bishops who have openly condemned those like his friend and called for their imprisonment.

    • poolgirl2 March 28, 2016 / 10:10 am

      Shock is too weak of a word for the words and actions of these bishops! How can they equate these hateful words with mercy? Pope Francis surely could not agree that they are merciful! Action by him should not have to be prompted by the voices or letters of Catholics if he is a true leader and proponent of justice. May God’s true courageous mercy be shown thru Pope Francis.

  7. Brian Kneeland March 28, 2016 / 9:20 am

    his response is not pastoral nor merciful!

  8. ermadurk March 28, 2016 / 12:11 pm

    This is a real shame. Not only the gay individual, but their parents, families and friends who recognize the goodness and dignity of these individuals, will recognize this position of the Bishops as very mistaken.

  9. amagjuka March 28, 2016 / 12:53 pm

    This is NOT OK. Not ok, not ok, not ok. We cannot let this stand. Is this our church now? If so, people of conscience will have to leave. We cannot stand by and let this happen.

  10. Jim McCrea March 28, 2016 / 2:16 pm

    Talk and outrage are cheap, folks. What are YOU actually going to do?

    • amagjuka March 28, 2016 / 3:15 pm

      What is an action plan?

  11. Larry March 28, 2016 / 11:35 pm

    This would be a perfect situation for Pope Francis to show what the Year of Mercy really means. He should recall all these bishops to Rome for some education and a change in their behavior. But if he does nothing as he did on his recent trip to Africa, then when violence erupts against gay people in Malawi or the government lifts its ban and jails gay people then we will see that the Year of Mercy is either really the Year of Mercy Only for Some or an outright PR stunt.

  12. amagjuka March 29, 2016 / 11:15 am

    If Pope Francis turns a blind eye, he is complicit.

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