Vatican Wants to Hear from Youth for 2018 Synod

In 2014, there was great excitement when the Vatican announced that in preparation for the extraordinary synod on the family,  it would be sending out a questionnaire to local bishops to solicit opinions and perspectives from the people in their dioceses.

In the U.S., at least, the excitement soon fizzled when it soon became apparent that many bishops were not distributing the survey broadly, but instead, some handpicked responders.  In 2015, with a similar Vatican questionnaire, there was wider distribution, but still pockets of reluctance on the part of some bishops to really listen to what people were saying about family, marriage, children, sexuality, gender.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie with young people at World Youth Day in 2013.

As the Vatican prepares for the 2018 synod on youth, officials in Rome have decided to bypass the bishops in terms of soliciting the opinions specifically from youth in the Church.  Instead of distributing a survey or questionnaire for bishops to disseminate, the Vatican has set up a website for youth to speak their minds directly to Vatican officials. The website, http://www.sinodogiovani.va, (Translation: “youth synod”) will not be live until March 1, 2017.

Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican observer, reported in his “Letter from Rome” column posted on the Commonweal website:

“Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Rome-based secretariat that coordinates the Synod’s activities, told journalists on Friday that his office was launching a website in March that will allow youngsters to honestly raise questions and share their views about life and faith inside the Catholic church.

“He said their input—in addition to a questionnaire sent to bishops and heads of religious orders—would then form a substantial part of the working document (instrumentum laboris) that will frame the discussions when Pope Francis convenes the XV General Assembly of the Synod in October 2018 around the topic, ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.’ “

In a letter addressed to youth, released when the website was announced, Pope Francis encouraged their participation in the electronic forum, stating:

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because ‘the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.’ (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).”

Why is this development important for LGBT issues?

First, a number of observers had commented that during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, the data collection and summarization was potentially and very probably biased toward what local bishops wanted to hear.   Since the questionnaire was distributed by bishops, and then the answers collected and summarized by the same officials, people’s voices were filtered. Such filtering would be the case even from the most open-minded bishops because filtering is inevitable when collating and summarizing responses.

Second, as survey after survey has shown, young Catholics, here in the U.S. and in many nations abroad, take LGBT equality and justice much more seriously than older generations and church officials.  By allowing youth to speak for themselves directly to the Vatican, the likelihood that there will be strong voices for greater acceptance of and advocacy for LGBT people will surely come through loud and clear.   Not to mention that youth have a much different attitude toward sexuality and gender generally than Church leaders typically do.

Mickens notes that the Vatican may be in for an earful, but that this might be exactly what they want.  He commented:

“Giving such a prominent voice to the young people themselves (which the Vatican identifies as between ages sixteen and twenty-nine) could open up a can of worms. In fact, the internet initiative has the potential of soliciting a whole range of opinions and criticism that the church’s pastors may not want or be prepared to hear.

“But, no doubt, that’s what the pope wants. And he may see the younger generation as a resource and ally in bringing change to a church that too often seems stuck in stale formulas from a bygone period that no longer have meaning for contemporary people.”

According to the plans for the synod so far, young people will also participate as auditors, similar to the way married lay people participated at the synods on the family.  Unfortunately, during the family syonds, there were no voices that disagreed with church teaching allowed to speak. At the 2015 synod, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago commented on this absence, stating that he thought church leaders would have gained from hearing differing perspectives.  He explained:

“I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

It looks like the Vatican may be more open to hearing these diverse voices for the 2018 synod.  If they don’t take these voices seriously, at least giving them an open airing, the synod on youth will simply fall flat as an evangelizing moment.  The Vatican has taken steps in the way of openness to young people’s ideas. Let’s hope and pray that they continue in this direction. And let’s hope and pray that Catholic youth will participate robustly in this exciting project.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Catholics Sign Flawed Document on Religious Freedom

At least 19 people identified as Catholics or employed by Catholic institutions have joined a group of 75 religious leaders in endorsing a “religious freedom” statement issued in December 2016 by The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Entitled “Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion,” the seven-paragraph manifesto claims that religious freedom is under attack because of the adoption of SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) laws which have adopted these categories as “protected classifications in the law—either legislatively or through executive action.”

While such statements are not uncommon, and while conservative Catholic support for them is certainly not unusual, it is still surprising to find Catholic leaders agreeing to sign this particular document since it is so poorly worded and argued.  For example, at one point, the statement claims:

“Creative professionals, wedding chapels, non-profit organizations, ministries serving the needy, adoption agencies, businesses, schools, religious colleges, and even churches have faced threats and legal action under such laws for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony; for maintaining policies consistent with their guiding principles; and for seeking to protect privacy by ensuring persons of the opposite sex do not share showers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other intimate facilities.”

I have followed marriage equality laws carefully, and I do not know of any law in the U.S.  (or elsewhere, for that matter) which compel religious people or institutions to participate in same-sex ceremonies.  I also do not know of any case where a religious institution has been penalized for not providing facilities for transgender people to use that are consistent with their gender identity.  In fact, there have been cases where Catholic educational institutions have voluntarily provided such facilities for students because they see that as part of their religious mission.

Additionally, the statement makes a sweeping generalization which condemns religious exemptions as weak and ineffective:

We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.

What is most surprising about this statement is that religious exemptions that  have been incorporated into these laws have been done so not only at the request of religious leaders, but often with their active participation in crafting such exemptions.  Are they now saying that the input of themselves and their colleagues was inadequate?

Overgeneralizing is also evident in one of the documents concluding passages:

“SOGI laws in all these forms, at the federal, state, and local levels, should be rejected. We join together in signing this letter because of the serious threat that SOGI laws pose to fundamental freedoms guaranteed to every person.”

Really?  What about SOGI laws which protect victims of hate crimes or which punish what the Catholic Church has determined is “unjust discrimination” against LGBT people?  How do the Catholic leaders who signed this document justify this statement in light of what the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its 1986 Letter on pastoral care with lesbian and gay people:

“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

Among the Catholics who added their names to this document are:  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Chairman, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; William Fahey,President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts; Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, President, Aquinas College; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishops George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education; Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, President, Franciscan University of Steubenville; H. James Towey, President, Ave Maria University; George Weigel, William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Colson Center website states that the organization “seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 5, 2017

 

 

New Ways Ministry Responds to Trump and U.S. Bishops on Employment Action

On January 31, 2017,  the White House posted the following statement on its website:

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump. “

President Donald Trump

That executive order was issued by President Barck Obama, and a number of religious leaders including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opposed the measure.  Two leaders of U.S. bishops’ committee expressed disappointment in Trump’s decision to maintain Obama’s executive order.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a joint statement which said, in part:

“The new administration’s decision not to rescind Executive Order 13672 is troubling and disappointing.”

In response to Trump’s decision and the bishops’ reaction to it, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, issued the following statement:

“I am surprised that President Trump has decided to enforce President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT people working for federal contractors. Trump has included in his administration many people with long records of anti-LGBTQ policies and attitudes—including Vice President Pence. Trump’s electoral campaign and the first two weeks of his administration have shown a stunning lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. He should apply his instincts in this decision to other civil rights issues, including immigration, health care, and labor law.

“Protecting the vulnerable and those in need are solid American values.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Archbishop Charles Chaput, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop William Lori, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, responded negatively to Trump’s decision. The U.S. bishops fail to see that employment protections to LGBT people are no threat to religious liberty. On the contrary, protecting LGBT people in the workplace is just putting the Catholic Church’s worker justice teaching into practice The majority of U.S. Catholics see this, as poll after poll has shown. sSupporting LGBT equality and justice is a solid Catholic value.”

Interestingly, a Washington Post news article reported that Trump’s decision was not a foregone conclusion. Even up to this past weekend, the decision may have gone in the opposite direction:

“A draft of a potential executive order that began circulating in Washington over the weekend called for overturning then President Obama’s directive barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal workforce and by federal contractors.

“The draft order included multiple provisions, such as possible exemptions that would allow adoption agencies and groups receiving federal funds to deny services to LGBT Americans based on their beliefs. The White House statement did not address those possible changes.”

The Washington Post article also carried a reaction statement from a U.S. LGBT political organization:

“Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tuesday he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify.

” ‘Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,’ Griffin said. ‘Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?’ “

Bondings 2.0 will try to provide more Catholic perspectives on Trump’s decision, as they become available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 2, 1017

 

 

Resignation of Bishop Is An Opportunity for LGBT Reconciliation

A bishop with a harsh anti-LGBT record has prematurely resigned, creating an opportunity for his successor to heal wounds in the province related to gender and sexuality debates.

>Bishop Fred Henry says the church has a lot to apologize for, but remains a tremendous source of good.
Bishop Fred Henry

Canada’s Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Alberta, resigned due to health reasons, ending twenty years in office, with much controversy in recent years. Last year, Henry described Alberta’s new education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.” He then refused to apologize, saying any retraction was “simply not going to happen.

The bishop’s comments were offered amid wider debates in Alberta about Catholic education and LGBTQ supports that were, at times, quite heated. Indeed, Archbishop Richard W. Smith publicly thanked Henry upon news of his resignation for “the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country,” according to Global News.

Pope Francis has now appointed Bishop William Terrence McGrattan as Henry’s successor in Calgary, reported CTV News. This transition has some LGBT advocates hopeful that a new page can be turned, while others remain skeptical of any change.

Kristopher Wells, director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, said Henry had been “no friend to the LGBT community” but hoped “a new bishop will seek to build bridges and use faith as a way to include rather than exclude.”

“‘I’m really hoping that new bishop is open to dialogue with the LGBT community. One of the things Catholic LBGT and Catholic allies say is welcoming LGBT people into your lives and your communities is not in conflict with Catholic teachings.'”

Rebecca Sullivan, who directs the University of Calgary’s Women’s Studies Program was somewhat harsher in her assesesment, stating that “the grand old men of the Catholic Church are going quietly into the bleak night they created for themselves.” Yet, Sullivan thinks this resignation could signal “a brighter future for what Catholicism could stand for, not what Henry has stood for.” Another professor at the University of Calgary, Juliet Guichon, expressed the following:

“I hope that the incoming bishop engages with Catholics and the greater community and focuses on Pope Francis’ main messages, which are mercy, love and following one’s conscience.”

But not everyone is optimistic, reported Metro News. Jan Buterman, a transgender man who was fired from a Catholic school in 2008 after transitioning, does not expect much to change:

“‘I see no reason to believe that there will be any kind of change that substantively supports trans people in that particular faith. . .I see absolutely no statements from higher-ups suggesting that trans people are welcome in their faith.'”

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Bishop William Terrence McGrattan

There are no indications about how Bishop McGrattan will respond to LGBT issues in Alberta after his February installation. But he would be unwise to squander this opportunity to undo the harm Bishop Henry inflicted and to initiate a diocesan path more in keeping with Pope Francis’ model.

A first step could be apologizing for the harsh remarks Bishop Henry made last year, followed by concrete actions to show that the local church in Calgary will work to support LGBT people in parishes and in Catholic education. Let us pray for Bishop McGrattan and the local church in Calgary that they may find a new path forward in this new year.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 10, 2017

For National Migration Week, Bishops Must Learn Realities of LGBT Immigrants and Refugees

This week is National Migration Week, an annual event convened by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to focus attention on the plight of migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking in our world. This year’s theme for National Migration week, drawn from Pope Francis, is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” And in this work of migration justice, it is past time for the Catholic Church to engage with the realities LGBT migrants, too.

national-migration-week-2017-poster-470x609While the bishops’ solidarity with migrants is strong and consistent, they have largely abandoned LGBT migrants, thus undercutting the church’s institutional witness. In 2013, the USCCB threatened to withdraw support for immigration reform over a provision granting benefits to same-gender couples. A number of individual bishops, like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, reiterated this threat to stop supporting comprehensive legislation because of LGBT rights. That same year, funding through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was withdrawn from an immigrant rights organization because the organization was in a coalition with other organizations who supported marriage equality.

Most recently, the U.S. bishops remained largely silent about the racist and xenophobic comments that were hallmarks of the president-elect’s campaign, a silence one theologian described as a “stunning lack of leadership.” Where Pope Francis seems capable of differentiating between being gay and being xenophobic, to paraphrase theologian Massimo Faggioli, the U.S. bishops seem incapable of doing the same.

But the theme of “encounter,” together with an incoming presidential administration hostile to both migrants and LGBT people and the refugee crisis globally, provides an opportunity for bishops in the U.S. to educate themselves about and initiate explicit support for LGBT immigrants and refugees.

Such a shift is quite feasible. The bishops’ language about migrants is equally true for LGBT people. For instance, a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says the following:

“With respect to migrants, too often in our contemporary culture we fail to encounter them as persons, and instead look at them as others or render them invisible. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions.”

These words describe well the way many church leaders approach LGBT people, who are not encountered but treated in the abstract as distant and often invisible objects. Just as the bishops exhort others to engage migrants as subjects with whom one is in close relationship, they could turn their words inward and encounter LGBT people in the same way. The power of encounter is profound, and some church leaders have testified to this power, like Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna who said his friendship with a gay man had “melted away prejudices.

The same analysis can be applied to the bishops’ call for responding to immigrants’ needs withr hospitality and accompaniment. Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, commented that Migration Week is “an excellent opportunity to highlight Biblical tradition and our mission to welcome the newcomer” and “a vital time to show welcome, compassion, and solidarity with our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.” It is, again, easy to understand how the bishops could apply this thinking to practice greater hospitality to and accompaniment with LGBT people and their loved ones.

The shift is not only feasible, but it must happen because the situation of LGBT migrants is often dire.

Given that more than 70 nations criminalize homosexuality and other nations restrict LGBT rights, some refugees are seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. How many such refugees apply for asylum in the U.S. is unclear as these numbers are not tracked by the federal government, according to a report from the LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network. But regardless of their numbers, such refugees are fleeing harsh persecution in their home country that may include discrimination, imprisonment, physical and sexual violence, and torture.

LGBT victims of human trafficking have unique needs, as stigma and specific health issues make their liberation and recovery more difficult. LGBT people, particularly youth, may be more susceptible to traffickers because of economic disadvantage and/or being ostracized from families and communities. The world’s human trafficking is one which the Catholic Church has responded well to, but the response can be improved by providing informed and competent care to LGBT victims.

Finally, too often LGBT migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking are subjected to immigration processes and detention facilities in the U.S. which, failing to account for the unique needs of sexual and gender minorities, actually make these communities more vulnerable. For instance, trans detainees can be misidentified and held in a facility that does not match with their gender identity.

If the U.S. bishops could take the time and be willing to truly encounter LGBT migrants, listening to their realities and learning about the specific issues affecting them, the bishops would understand that LGBT concerns must be included, and even given a preferential option, in the church’s larger witness for just and humane migration.

This National Migration Week, may all Catholics — the bishops, LGBT Catholics and their families, and immigrants — encounter one another in new ways. This coming year will prove difficult for marginalized communities (as I wrote about over the weekend here and here), and greater solidarity will be needed by all to confront further discrimination and oppression.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 9, 2017

With LGBT Rights Under Attack in 2017, Catholics Must Seek Justice with Renewed Vigor (Part I)

In the last few years, LGBT rights have expanded rapidly in the United States. But 2017 will almost certainly have a different tenor as progress stalls and previously established rights come under attack.

In today’s and tomorrow’s posts, I explore the year ahead as it relates to Catholic LGBT issues. What can Catholics expect in the church and in society? And how can Catholics respond effectively? Today’s post focuses in on local politics, while tomorrow looks at the national landscape.

Contrasting Catholic Politicians in Virginia

terry_mcauliffe_press_conference_ss_header
Governor Terry McAuliffe at the signing of Executive Order 61

An example of the contrasting responses which Catholics offer to LGBT people comes from Virginia. The state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, who is Catholic, signed an executive order last week which prohibits employers contracted by state government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Executive Order 61 establishes stipulations in contracts over $10,000 that prohibit “discrimination by the contractor, in its employment practices, subcontracting practices, and delivery of goods or services. . .”, and the order bans state employees from discriminating during the contracting process. McAuliffe commented in a statement:

“‘As my first act as governor, I signed Executive Order 1 to ban discrimination in the state workforce based on sexual orientation, take divisive social issue battles off the table and help build an open and welcoming economy.'”

But battles over LGBT rights have not stopped in Virginia. Indeed, just as McAuliffe signed his executive order, a fellow Catholic in the state legislature sought to curtail LGBT rights.

Delegate Robert Marshall introduced a bill that would “force transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate,” according to the Times-Dispatch. It would also “require school principals to notify a student’s parents if the student makes any attempt to be ‘treated as the opposite sex.'”

The proposed legislation is similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law and other state-level restrictions targeting LGBT people.  Marshall’s proposal is not likely to pass, and Governor McAuliffe has promised to veto it if the General Assembly somehow approves the bill.

Increased Local Efforts to Stop LGBT Rights

LGBT advocates can expect many state-level political battles similar to what is playing out in Virginia, according to Sunnivie Brydum of Religion Dispatcheswho wrote:

“Even before Trump’s unlikely electoral victory, each new legislative session brought a cornucopia of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures around the country. . .municipal involvement is going to be our best bet to resist Trump’s agenda. While it may seem counter-intuitive to focus a national resistance on regional or state offices, the truth is that local elections matter, and local politicians are often easier to access than high-ranking administration officials.”

Catholics in the United States now have a decision to make in the coming year. Will we act like Governor McAuliffe to ensure every LGBT person attains their human rights to the fullest extent possible? Will we act like Delegate Marshall by abandoning church teaching in the service of anti-LGBT ideology? Will we remain indifferent?

Thankfully, Catholics have previously proven to be willing and effective local advocates for LGBT rights. States with high numbers of Catholics were the first to pass marriage equality laws, and Catholics have successfully organized in recent elections to pass pro-LGBT referenda while stopping many anti-equality proposals. These local Catholic networks will have to re-organize themselves in offering a witness against attempts to roll back hard won rights. Beginning with town ordinances and state laws, Catholics must begin anew the hard work of achieving LGBT justice.

Tomorrow’s post will look at Catholic LGBT issues as they may play out on the national level, and offer some overall analysis about what may happen in 2017.

For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 7, 2017

Malawi Bishops Lead March Against LGBT Rights

Catholic bishops in Malawi joined other religious leaders last month in a protest march against LGBT rights, an issue on which the nation’s Catholic officials have already opined quite negatively.

malawi-march-dec-6-2016-ecm
Marchers in Malawi

The Citizens’ March for Life and Family was actually a series of smaller marches throughout the country, reported The Tablet. In addition to protesting homosexuality, these marches, which involved some 60 denominations and more than 50 Christian organizations, also included protests against expanded abortion rights.

Organizers said the Citizens’ March for Life and Family urged Malawians to oppose legalizing homosexuality, an act they referred to as “a direct attack” on family life. Catholics played a leading role in the March, which was sponsored in part by the (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and chaired by Martin Chiphwanya, the National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice, reported Nyasa Times.

Catholic church leaders were also active locally. According to MalayMail OnlineFr. Francis Tambala told marchers in the major city of Blantyre, “We say no to gay and lesbian unions. (Lawmakers) must vote no to homosexuality as history will judge us harshly if we don’t stand against abortion and same-sex marriages.”

LGBT advocates have pushed back against the church-backed protests, questioning why religious leaders were focused on condemning LGBT people when real issues needed attention. Gift Trapence, an advocate who leads the Centre for Development of People, said such protests shifted the focus of “suffering Malawians away from real issues of power blackouts, crumbled economy and corruption.”

It is also noteworthy, too, that following the protests in December, a senior member of the Malawi Law Commission chided religious leaders behind the March, reported the Maravi Post. Mike Chinoko, the deputy chief law reform officer for the Commission, said, “What the men or women of God should know is that there is a big difference between the church and the state.”

Actions by Catholic officials come about nine months after Malawi’s bishops called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s ban on homosexuality. In its pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy, “Mercy of God as a Path to Hope,” the ECM called for the government to begin enforcing the nation’s law against homosexuality and stop bowing down “to pressure from donor community, international bodies and local human rights campaigners.”

The bishops’ lengthy support for LGBT criminalization is well-documented and has been strongly condemned by LGBT advocates. Last year, Malawi’s bishops also made false claims about alleged foreign aid pressure 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 other troubling remarks about homosexuality, too.

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. In a nation where LGBT people remain illegal and marginalized, the bishops should be using their moral authority to foster greater respect and equality for all persons.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 4, 2017