Australian Priest’s Campaign Against ‘Gay Panic’ Defense Reaches Parliament

An Australian Catholic priest’s long campaign to end his “gay panic” defense in his state of Queensland may finally be successful.  Just two days ago, Attorney General Yvette D’Ath introduced the bill to Parliament, the end of years of lobbying by Fr. Paul Kelly.

The “gay panic” defense has been allowed in murder cases where the accused claims he did not have control of his mind because of being provoked by what is perceived as a homosexual advance towards him.   The defense allows for charges to be lowered from murder to manslaughter, thus avoiding a possible life sentence.

Fr. Paul Kelly delivers his petition signatures to Queensland government offices.

Fr. Kelly, who is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Maryborough, 330 kms north of Brisbane, began the campaign after a heterosexual man was beaten to death in the parish yard in 2008 by two men who thought he was making an advance toward them.  The priest began a change.org petition which has collected  over 290,000 signatures.  Through his efforts, he persuaded politicians of all political stripes to work to eradicate this defense from law.

The Guardian reported on Kelly’s reaction to the bill finally being introduced.  The priest stated:

“It’s been a massive effort, unfortunately. At one point both sides [of politics] were sort of saying, aw no, the law didn’t exist and doesn’t need changing – but suddenly everyone’s saying it is a problem and does need changing, so that’s good to hear.

“This is as far as we’ve ever gotten and I’m fairly confident it will [pass].”

Kelly had used even stronger language in his change.org petition:

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder. The common law can really be only over-ridden in this respect by explicit legal ammendments to the Code of Criminal law covering murder and the partial defence of Provocation. Gay panic will continue to be a part of the law of these states until expressly excluded.  I am also concerned that even when cases are not formally and specifically pleading the ‘gay panic’ defense, the mere bringing in of suggestions that the victim made a non-violent homosexual advance, (whether true or not), poisons the waters and taps into deep-seated homophobia and bigotry and ought not be brought up at all in any way in the hearing of a jury. The victim is not on trial here.”

Kelly also reported that when he started the petition, he only expected about 100 to sign it.  The overwhelming response delivers a strong message, he said:

“When it took off I hadn’t seen anything like it and it really opened my eyes the power of the community. But in some ways it was a no-brainer. The fact it’s taken so long sends a message. But that this law’s being changed now sends another message that the law is the same for everybody. It’s not going to give certain members of the community less protection from violence.”

You can watch a video clip of Fr. Kelly delivering his petition signatures by clicking here. A parliamentary committee will report on the bill by February 21, 2017, reported The Brisbane Times. 

While it is gratifying that it looks likely that this archaic law will soon be abolished,  it is even more gratifying that a Catholic priest has led the campaign.  Fr. Kelly is a shining example of how the Church’s teaching on the defense of human rights for LGBT people can be applied to concrete political and legal situations.  To use Fr. Kelly’s own words, there are many similar “no brainers” for Catholic leaders to follow his example. Decriminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity are one case.  Pushing for stronger anti-bullying programs is another.  And speaking out forcefully when violence against LGBT people occurs is still another.

Our church needs more leaders like Fr. Paul Kelly.

For previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Fr. Kelly’s campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 2, 2016 

Remembering Matthew Shepard: Encountering Solidarity, Countering Isolation

Today’s post was written by guest blogger Alfred Pang is a PhD student in Theology and Education at Boston College.

By Alfred Pang, October 12, 2016

I experienced a micro-aggression about a year ago at Mass. It was during a homily that listed, in a single breath, the Magisterium’s teachings against contraception, divorce and same-gender marriage. It obliterated the complexity of each issue. There was, of course, the typical mention of the natural complementarity of male and female as biologically designed by God. Such preaching was not new to me, but until then, I had been able to shut it out, numbing myself to what is said and mustering enough generosity to understand that some homilists do not know any better.

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Matthew Shepard

On this particular occasion, I could not. Instead, I simply shut down. I felt invalidated within the church I love as a gay Catholic man. I was angered by the quick dismissal of fruitful same-gender love. I found myself isolated and silenced in the broken shards of the church in which homophobia goes unrecognized. I simply shut down. Such is the power of micro-aggressions, whose cumulative toxicity, often unbeknownst to the offenders, wears down our souls, wearies our bodies and renders our selves invisible.

What aided in my recovery was remembering the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming and left to die on a cold October night in 1998. I recalled, in particular, Dennis Shepard’s (Matthew’s father) statement to the court at the trial of his murders. These words comforted me:

“By the end of the beating, his body was just trying to survive. You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him—friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time—one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming. His last day alive in Wyoming. His last day alive in the state that he always proudly called home. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind—the ever-present Wyoming wind—for the last time. He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday school and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God.”

The assurance that God is with me brought me much consolation. God’s presence endures as life not in spite of but in the midst of loss and death. Dennis Shepard’s description of God’s presence in creation and, as Creator, embracing Matthew in Her womb of life, is powerfully evocative. God must have grieved. And in our pain, God grieves with us. We have God because God first loved us. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

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Alfred Pang

During my recovery, I realized that God is present not simply to piece together the broken pieces of my life. God is just not into patchwork! God’s daily invitation to us to be reconcilers in Christ is not simply to be a people who patch things up. Rather, God creates us anew and calls us to be co-transformers in the world in light of our wholeness in Christ who holds all things together. I am reminded by Mr. Shepard’s words that the pain that I was experiencing is not mine alone, but shared in the interconnection of our many individual lives held and sustained by the One divine breath of God that blows creation into being.

This recognition of the inter-connectivity of our lives, I suggest, lies beneath the decision of Matthew’s parents not to press for the death penalty against Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two young men responsible for Matthew’s violent murder. It is also this attentiveness to the oneness of God’s divine life reflected in diversity that propelled their founding of the Matthew Shepard Foundation just months after their son’s death. In the witness of Matthew’s parents, I gradually found hope and healing.

Today, we commemorate the 18th anniversary of Matthew’s death and I’m struck that Matthew would have been my age if he were alive today. And today, I know Matthew is alive when we remember the reality of violence being directed at young people due to their gender identity/expression and sexual orientation. Hate is, of course, to be resisted.

Beyond physical violence, Matthew’s story also points to the violence of isolation engendered by micro-aggressions cumulatively experienced in our families, schools, churches, and communities. More than an issue of unjust discrimination, every instance of someone fired from ministry or of another teacher dismissed from a Catholic school because of sexuality fuels this culture of isolation, leaving young people feeling abandoned, especially those who are wrestling with their experiences of sexual marginalization.

In today’s Gospel lectionary reading, we hear Jesus speaking to “the scholars of the law”: “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Luke 11:46).

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William McNichols, “The Passion of Matthew Shepard”

Jesus’ words are sharply poignant in light of our remembrance of Matthew. Jesus’ words ought to trouble us to confront not only our moral self-righteousness but also our complicity in turning the rich openness to God’s life within the Christian tradition into an enclosed grave for LGBT people and their families. Together with the crucified Christ, let us be stirred by Matthew’s death to lament over the continuing loss of young LGBT lives due to the distress experienced in isolation.

Yet, let us also be challenged that death does not have the last word. God’s enduring presence as life calls us forth to resist dehumanization by first recognizing that violence in any form is never deserved and deserving. Instead, we deserve to be loved as persons created in the image and likeness of God. There are no damaged people. There are only intersecting systems of dominance due to homophobia, heterosexism, racism, and classism that damage relationships.

Do not wait too long to tell someone how proud you are of them. This is the coming out that we all need to do to reverse slowly but surely this life-sapping culture of isolation. And may our families be the first spaces that need to be de-isolated, to be converted into spaces where blessings are shared in the midst of losses, and where our grief and joy, pain and hope are embraced as one, through a commitment to forgive, serve, and witness in God’s divine life. Anything less than these can only mean that Matthew and many other LGBT youth have died in vain, and our remembrance meaningless.

On October 20, people worldwide will “go purple” for #SpiritDay 2016 to resist anti-LGBT bullying and bias that youth experience in schools. For resources on how Catholics, and specifically Catholic schools, can get involved, please click here.

To read a Lenten reflection on Matthew Shepard posted earlier this year on Bondings 2.0, please click here.

Bishops in Colombia Kill Anti-Bullying Education Program

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President Juan Manuel Santos

A proposed anti-bullying program in Colombia will not go ahead as planned, following a meeting between the country’s president and Catholic bishops.

Colombia’s Ministry of Education, in conjunction with two United Nations agencies, had prepared a document, titled “Discrimination-Free School Environments,” to handle sexual and gender diversity training for educators. But, after meeting with three Catholic bishops, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the document would not be implemented, reported The Catholic Herald.

In reply to the president’s announcement, the Colombian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that it “received with satisfaction the announcement of the National Government and the Department of Education that they will not promote or implement gender ideology in the country.” The bishops did note that all human beings should be respected regardless of identities, including their “sexual orientation.”

The meeting between the president and the bishops was held one day after thousands of Colombians demonstrated against the document, which had been released on the website of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The bishops’ statement said these protests were “an exercise by the parents of their right to be assisted in educating their children in accordance with their convictions and values.” But the church-encouraged protests were, in part, inspired by pornographic images released to the public that were falsely attributed to the document. There are claims the images were released by the Office of the Inspector General, Alejando Ordonez, who is a traditionalist Catholic, though he denied them.

Colombia Reports explained the anti-bullying document was merely aimed at giving teachers “the tools to teach children about sexual diversity and show how this can reduce bullying,” an idea first proposed after a gay Colombian teenager, Sergio Urrego, died by suicide two years ago. The document was part of larger efforts to update sexual education programs and protect LGBT people, led by Education Minister Gina Parody, who is herself a gay woman.

Church leaders, however, remain powerfully connected to the Colombian government and opposed to nearly any acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. The bishops’ voices joined other LGBT-negative critics in the country who condemn, without any specificity, “gender ideology” and make claims of “colonization” against those people seeking to expand LGBT rights.

LGBT rights have, however, expanded slowly in Colombia. For instance, in June, citizens were granted the right to change legal documents to match their gender identity. Earlier in the year, the Constitutional Court legalized marriage equality.

Despite this most recent bad news in Colombia, early August has been a positive time for LGBT rights in Latin America. As of this month, transgender people in Bolivia and Ecuador are now able to have their government records match their gender identity, reported Americas QuarterlyBelize’s Supreme Court overturned an anti-homosexuality law, ending the last criminalization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Latin America, according to Out Magazine.

As LGBT acceptance expands, bishops in Colombia and elsewhere should not partner with anti-LGBT movements to suppress human rights. Avoiding this strategy is most important when it comes to anti-bullying initiatives targeting youth. Yesterday’s post on Bondings 2.0 about teenager Daniel Fitzpatrick’s suicide, as well as the memory of Sergio Urrego in Colombia, are sufficient evidence of the harm caused when schools are not safe places for all students. Given these high stakes, pastoral leadership demands more from bishops than empty slogans.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Rights Activist Arrested in Ugandan Police Raid

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Dr. Frank Mugisha

The leading LGBT advocate in Uganda was among those arrested on Thursday following the police raid of a Pride event.

Police arrested about 20 people while raiding Venom, a nightclub in the capital of Kampala which had been hosting the Mr. and Miss Pride Uganda pageant. Those arrested included Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), reported Buzzfeed. Everyone arrested was released without charges after a few hours, and other attendees were allowed to leave after a time. But SMUG’s statement reports the violence which occurred in the interim:

“[B]eating people, humiliating people, taking pictures of LGBTI Ugandans and threatening to publish them, and confiscating cameras. Eyewitnesses reported several people—in particular transwomen and transmen—were sexually assaulted by police. One person jumped from a 4 storey window to try to avoid police abuse. This person is now in critical condition at private hospital.”

Police claimed the event did not have a permit, and there were reports of a same-gender wedding, but Pepe Julian Onziema of SMUG disputed these claims.

Pride celebrations in the capital have in large part been tolerated the last few years. Mugisha tied the raid to a broader uptick in police activity against Ugandans, in addition to targeting LGBT advocates. Pride 2016 celebrations are now being amended, including the cancellation of a planned Pride parade today because Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened mob violence against any marchers.

Being openly LGBT in Uganda can be dangerous, as this incident makes clear. A report released by SMUG earlier this year, “And That’s How I Survived Being Killed: Testimonies of Human Rights Abuses from Uganda’s Sexual and Gender Minorities,” documented the persecution:

“In this report, based on first-hand testimonies, Sexual Minorities Uganda documented from May 2014 until December 2015 the physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail, non-physical threats, press intrusion, state prosecution, termination of employment, loss of physical property, harassment, eviction, mob justice, and family banishment that are all too often apart of the lived experience for sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

There are 264 verified testimonies in all, about which Dr. Mugisha commented:

“This report is unique and unlike those that have come before it because it elevates the voice of the persecuted. What is inside this report is the human story – that is the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 3.32.33 PMUganda is about 40% Catholic, and Mugisha’s advocacy has been directed to church leaders, as well as government officials. Mugisha challenges claims by church leaders and others that homosexuality is a Western import and that Western advocacy for LGBT Africans has triggered a backlash. He criticized Uganda’s bishops for not condemning and even supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, proposed by President Yoweri Museveni.

Last fall, Mugisha appealed to Pope Francis for words of compassion and equality about LGBT people during the apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic. The pope did not address the issue. He also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Francis, and like many LGBT advocates, was disappointed at the pope’s silence in a context where LGBT suffer greatly.

Mugisha was the recpient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Dr. Mugisha will be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eight National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” If you are interested attending the Symposium to hear Dr. Mugisha, click here for more information and registration instructions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

In Orlando’s Wake, Catholic Ministry Calls on Church Leaders to Condemn Anti-LGBT Violence

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.

Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.

Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.

Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”

While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror.  Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.

Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.”  This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages.  The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.

As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background.  Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.

The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment.  This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Catholic Officials Condemn LGBT Murders in Bangladesh, Call for Justice

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Xulhaz Mannan, left, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy

Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.

Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights.  Both were hacked to death by machete

Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.

The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.

Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:

” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “

Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:

” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .

” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “

The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”

The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.

But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.

If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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