Pope Francis “Missed an Opportunity” on Papal Visit to Africa

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Pope Francis greeting crowds in Uganda

LGBT advocates are saying Pope Francis missed an opportunity to preach tolerance and save LGBT lives because he remained silent during his Apostolic Voyage to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic which ended just over a week ago.

Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda told the Washington Blade:

“. . . I feel he missed an opportunity to be specific about his stand on the issue, by publicly discussing the continued persecution of LGBT people in Uganda. . .If he’s not done it publicly in Uganda, I don’t see him doing so anywhere else.”

Onziema added he had not had much hope for positive statements because the pontiff, in his estimation, is “wishy washy” on LGBT rights.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, had sought to meet with Pope Franci, a;ong with other LGBT advocates. He told Al Jazeera:

“Yes, I am disappointed. It would have been a very good gesture and the start of a conversation with the Catholic Church on accepting LGBTI Catholics in the Church.

“I would have told the pope that Ugandans love him so much, and so do LGBTI Ugandans, and we – all Ugandans – want the same things: to live with each other in peace. So, the churches that discriminate against us the most should preach tolerance and acceptance.”

Advocates in the U.S. echoed Onziema, Mugisha, and others’ disappointment in Pope Francis. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Blade:

“Pope Francis usually is much more courageous and direct in confronting controversial issues, especially when bishops have acted poorly, as the Ugandan bishops have done in regard to ignoring the human rights of LGBT people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said Pope Francis speaking out “would have made a huge difference globally.”

While Catholic teaching disavows discrimination against LGBT people, including the criminalization of homosexuality, as Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias made clear recently, Uganda’s church leaders have acted differently.

Frank-Mugisha
Frank Mugisha

Mugisha, who is Catholic (and was featured in Bondings 2.0‘s first Advent reflection this year for his courageous witness), explained the situation in his country which is more than 40% Catholic. He told Al Jazeera:

“Church is a place for love, for refuge and for peace and support, but that support is not given to them. They feel they have been let down by the Church a lot. . .

“The Catholic Church in Uganda has been in alliance with all the other churches in condemning and discriminating against LGBTI persons. The language that preachers use and the anti-gay statements make people who are even in the closet feel discriminated against.”

Thes discrimination and violence, fueled by Catholic and U.S.-based Evangelical churches includes “hate crimes, arrest, blackmail and extortion, public humiliation” and being outed in the media. Additionally, in Uganda, a highly religious nation, lacking affiliation with a church can exclude one from society at large. Mugisha revealed discrimination he faces specifically in the Catholic Church, saying priests will preach against homosexuality if they know he is attending Mass.

But this high religiosity also means that Ugandans listen closely to Pope Francis’ words. If he had spoken out, they would have taken a message of tolerance towards LGBT people “seriously,” said Mugisha To not have spoken out “will go down in history,” he told Citizen.

LGBT advocates in Uganda and Kenya repeatedly sought words of tolerance from the pope. The Rainbow Catholic Network of Africa appealed to Francis for mercy and inclusion. People of faith worldwide had asked Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign. The pope’s decision not to respond, covered in more detail here, is troubling despite an otherwise remarkable papal visit.

Pope Francis’ silence is especially problematic because that same week Uganda’s Parliament passed the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill in the middle of the night.  Since the bill allows the government to dissolve community groups at will, critics fear it will be used to curtail LGBT advocacy, reported PinkNews.

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Though Pope Francis missed an opportunity to save LGBT people’s lives and promote their dignity, some Catholic bishops are speaking out. Cardinal Gracias’ opposition to LGBT criminalization in India is quite notable, as he is the subcontinent’s only religious leader to preach tolerance. Maltese Bishop Mario Grech gave a positive interview in recent days, too.

Most hopeful are the many and varied good works of the People of God happening locally. Some make headlines, but most are quietly planted and lovingly cultivated in communities. Pope Francis should consider how he can help water these seeds during the Year of Mercy. It is always the right time to speak out for LGBT people’s lives and dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis Forgoes LGBT Human Rights During First Visit to Africa

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Pope Francis before Mass during his Africa visit.

Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic concluded yesterday without explicit remarks supportive of LGBT human rights, for which many had appealed.

Advocates in Kenya and Uganda had hoped the pope would preach words of tolerance in these highly Catholic nations,one which criminalizes (Kenya) homosexuality, an one which is still evaluating such a law (Uganda).

Openly gay Catholics, like Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, wrote Pope Francis to ask for a meeting. Catholics globally emailed and tweeted the pope through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

Some observers had speculated that Pope Francis would address homosexuality while visiting a shrine for 19th century Ugandan martyrs. In certain accounts, reported Crux, these forty-plus Christian men were executed in part for refusing King Mwanga II’s sexual advances. Pope Francis omitted any reference to this contested narrative. What the pope did say was that Christians, inspired by the martyrs’ faith, were called:

“to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, without excluding anyone, defends God’s gift of life, and protects the wonders of nature, his creation, and our common home.”

Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi later clarified that the line “without excluding anyone” (omitted in the Vatican’s English translation of the homily) “would also include people with homosexual tendencies.”

Pope Francis’ phrase “new forms of colonialism” during an address in Kenya has been interpreted by observers, including Crux’s John Allen, as a reference to homosexuality. This phrase, observers claim, specifically references some Catholic leaders’ suggestion that Western aid is tied to LGBT rights including marriage equality. It is worth noting that the U.S. envoy for LGBT human rights sharply criticized such claims in a recent meeting with Vatican officials.

Like Francis’ use of “ideological colonization” during his visit to the Philippines, the phrase “new forms of colonialism” is not quite clear. Connections to homosexuality seem stretched, though in its ambiguity, it will likely be misused by anti-LGBT voices appealing to anti-colonialist sentiments that run deep among many Africans.

One church official did comment to Crux about the church’s involvement in anti-LGBT laws on the occasion of the papal visit. Bishop Giuseppe Franzell of Lira, Uganda, said laws targeting sexual and gender minorities stem from “fundamentalist Christian groups and sects that come from North America. . .[and] individual Catholics, including some bishops.”

At the other extreme, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda told PinkNews “the aim of [homosexuality] is not to promote life but to act against it” and “those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

Church teaching is an insufficient appeal in nations where levels of LGBT discrimination and violence remain quite high. Appeals made to Pope Francis by LGBT people were thus quite simple and entirely consistent with current church teachings.

Reuters  interviewed LGBT Ugandans, who would only be identified by first names,  about their hopes for the pope’s visit, as well as about their daily lives. Keith said he wanted the pope to “[t]ell the congregation that being gay is normal and so we deserve our rights, equal rights.” Abdul, raised Catholic, says the church in Uganda and Kenya “says being gay is wrong” which has led to “continuous discrimination” and tremendous suffering. Though not quite a silver lining, trans woman Hector said the papal visit did provide “an opportunity to come out and tell our stories.”

On a positive note, Pope Francis made clear during his in-flight press conference on his way back to Rome that he prioritizes social justice over sexual ethics. Asked whether the church should change its teaching on artificial contraception given that HIV/AIDS continues to spread in Africa and other regions, the pope responded, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘This question makes me think of what they asked Jesus one time: “Tell me, master, is it licit to work on the Sabbath?” ‘. . .

” ‘Malnutrition, exploitation of persons, slave work, lack of drinking water. . .These are the problems.’

” ‘I do not like to descend into reflections that are so casuistic when people are dying. . .I would say to not think if it is licit or not licit to work on the Sabbath. I say to humanity: Make justice, and when all can earn a living, when there is not injustice in this world, we can speak of the Sabbath.’ “

Pope Francis’ first apostolic visit to Africa was, in many ways, a profound incarnation of his desired “poor church for the poor.” He led the church to the world’s margins and from there commenced the Year of Mercy. Francis visited an active conflict zone in Central African Republic at personal risk to preach peace, criticized injustice from slums outside Nairobi, and praised Uganda for accepting refugees (though failed to note the 500+ LGBT people who have fled that nation’s harsh conditions).

Pope Francis’ silence on LGBT human rights is notable nonetheless. In a church which mandates a preferential option for those marginalized, allusions that include all people do not suffice. Affirming the dignity of LGBT persons would have strengthened his witness for human rights and social justice while remaining consistent with current articulations of church teaching.

Francis’ silence can aid those like Uganda’s Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo who prayed the pope would not preach tolerance because “[i]t is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves.”

Francis’ silence can harm all those LGBT people who face discrimination and violence for living openly as God created them, like Jackson Mukasa. Dragged from his home by a mob alongside his partner, Mukasa was brutally beaten before his assailants turned him into police for the ‘crime’ of being gay. Mukasa and his partner were jailed for several months under Uganda’s anti-gay law before being released. They now live in fear, forced to seek asylum abroad and asking:

“Is it that being gay is a crime to God? That’s why all these things are happening?”

Pope Francis didn’t need to endorse marriage equality to preach merciful words to those like Jackson Mukasa and to save LGBTQI lives too frequently under attack. That he chose not to is troubling indeed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Africans Ask Pope Francis to Preach Tolerance

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Click to send a message to Pope Francis

LGBT folks are asking Pope Francis to preach tolerance during his upcoming Apostolic Voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic beginning Wednesday.

Frank Mugisha
Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha, who directs Sexual Minorities Uganda and is himself Catholic, understands Pope Francis may be constrained but said speaking out could do much good. He told Reuters:

” ‘If [Francis] starts talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive. . .But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen.’ “

Simply affirming that LGBT people should be “treated like any other children of God” would signal progress in nations where homosexuality is criminalized and the death penalty for those convicted has even been suggested in recent years.

David Kuria

Kenyan advocate David Kuria, who was raised Catholic, echoed those sentiments:

” ‘I hope the Pope would say, “Love everyone,” especially those who are still coming to church.’ “

Kuria is particularly concerned for Catholic parents of LGBT children who often face pressures in their local churches and communities. These social mores cause faithful parents to “doubt themselves as parents or as Christians,” noting his own mother’s expulsion from her village prayer group after Kuria came out.

Jackson Mukasa

Jackson Mukasa, also known as Princess Rihanna, was jailed in Uganda last year on “suspicion of committing homosexual acts,” though not convicted for lack of evidence, according to Reuters. Mukasa’s message for the pope is clear:

” ‘I would like the Pope to at least make people know that being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is not a curse. . .Being a gay in Uganda is a challenge. You expect mob justice, you expect to be killed, you expect to be arrested.’ “

Being openly LGBT in Uganda is dangerous, but equality advocates have made strides, Repeated attempts to pass “Kill the Gays” legislation have been suppressed. The situation in Kenya is better, though still oppressive. While homosexuality is illegal, wider tolerance means the law goes unenforced. Indeed, there are some 500 LGBT refugees from Uganda there.

What is significant is that both nations are highly Catholic, with 40% (Uganda) and 33% (Kenya) of their populations identifying as Roman Catholic. Much of the harshly anti-gay rhetoric comes from evangelical churches. Catholic leaders have been silent, vague, and sometimes supportive of oppressive measures, especially in Uganda. If Pope Francis leads and they follow, they could be critical voices for moderation and even tolerance.

The pope has called for bishops to be close their people, to be shepherds who smell of their sheep and who listen closely. Frank Mugisha, David Kuria, and Jackson Mukasa, on behalf of LGBT communities in their countries, make simple and direct appeals. Will Pope Francis listen?

Their appeals, affirmed by Catholics worldwide through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, call the pope to the margins of his own church where sexual and gender identities remain marginalized. Will he choose to be close?

Exhorting Italy’s bishops a few weeks ago, Pope Francis asked them to begin “a creative movement” to put into practice the welcoming attitude of his apostolic exhortation,Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel).  Clearly condemning anti-LGBTQI laws and violence is a prime opportunity for Pope Francis to be creative in making real the joy of the Gospel — and to save LGBT lives. Will he speak out and preach tolerance?

Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Gay Priest: “The Church Needs a Stonewall.”

CharamsaStonewall“I can’t follow Jesus from the closet,” said Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa, the former Vatican official fired after he publicly came out as gay in October. Charamsa added, “The church needs a Stonewall,” referring to the 1960’s protests outside a New York gay bar of that name which many people identify as the start of the modern gay liberation movement.

Though fired from his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now suspended as a priest by his home diocese in Poland, Charamsa was clear in a Religion News Service interview that he has no regrets:

” ‘I understood that [being closeted and being in a relationship] had nothing to do with reality. . .A moment arrived and I couldn’t do it anymore.”

That moment, just days before the Synod on the Family, arrived following the priest’s frustrated attempts to reform the church from within. Working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Charamsa said he “couldn’t cast doubt on the strategy of homophobia” and “could not even use the word ‘homophobia’. ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented in the article that gay priests who come out usually meet with support from parishioners and friends:

“Priests I know who have come out have often done it gradually and more privately. . .[Publicly] it’s always been received with great support.”

Not all have welcomed Charamsa’s  coming out, though, and a few LGBT Catholic advocates are among his critics according to The Washington Post. Andrea Rubera, an organizer of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics’ conference right before the Synod, criticized the priest’s timing and said further:
” ‘Our fear now is that his coming out, and the way he came out, will build a wall, not a bridge.’ “
 Michael Brinkschröder, who is a leader in the European Forum of Christian LGBT Groups, said pressure “is not the appropriate means to achieve change.”

Charamsa, however, was clear that his coming out was indeed a protest. Despite disagreements over the details, LGBT advocates with whom he consulted were overwhelmingly supportive of his decision. Like any protest, there have been tremendous costs and Charamsa reported that family members in Poland are suffering, too, including the bullying of his brother’s children by their peers at school.

Commenting on the Synod itself, Charamsa said Vatican staff “entered into panic” in response to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod’s more welcoming tone towards lesbian and gay people. Describing this year’s deliberations as “inhuman theater,” he added to his initial criticism of homophobic comments by Cardinal Robert Sarah:

” ‘Sarah should have been reported (to the police) for his statements, but the synod didn’t say anything. . .He’s only one expression of a mentality; they think like him, because they didn’t contradict him. It’s a mentality and a paranoid vision of homosexuals.’ “

Charamsa’s hope is in Pope Francis who can, in the priest’s words, “turn on a light in the hearts of bishops” to promote reform. He is clear, however, that Francis must act concretely for inclusion and not just speak merciful words. The gay priest’s own target for reform is quite clear: institutional homophobia.

In an extensive interview with The Washington Post, Charamsa describes growing up Catholic in Poland.  He said that coming to understand his own identity was “like hell,” asking God for years to cure him of this illness. He explained to AFP:

” ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t actually kill people, but it kills them psychologically. . .It kills them with its backward stance, with its reject, contempt and constant preaching against homosexuals.’ “

Charamsa said church teaching on homosexuality is “like saying Earth is flat” and that these teachings are similar to religious fundamentalism. Speaking specifically about church leaders’ silence when it comes to anti-LGBTQI laws, Charamsa claimed the church was pleased by criminalization as a confirmation of its own teachings. He said further:

” ‘As long as [the church] does not openly reject and condemn this criminalisation, it is an accomplice of anti-homosexual terror.’ “

Krzysztof Charamsa’s decision to come out as a gay priest was a personal one, and he should be applauded for having the integrity such an act entails, particularly with the consequences he has faced. Regardless of how one feels about Charama’s own coming out announcement and the detail that he has had a partner, his points about institutional homophobia ring true. For his decision to speak out publicly against this homophobia, all LGBT Catholics and their allies can be most grateful.

Next week, Pope Francis has an opportunity to condemn LGBTQI criminalization and clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world are asking Francis to send a clear message with the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

In #PopeSpeakOut, Catholics Ask Pope Francis to Save LGBT Lives

Pope Francis on plane
Pope Francis

In just over one week, Pope Francis will begin an apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and the Central African Republic.  where homosexuality is culturally disapproved, and, in the first two nations, is illegal.

New Ways Ministry is relaunching our #PopeSpeakOut campaign to encourage Francis to publicly oppose  the criminalization of, discrimination towards, and violence against LGBT communities.  His pastoral visit is the perfect opportunity to do so.

#PopeSpeakOut was initially launched in 2014, following Pope Francis’ appeal for solidarity in his World Day of Peace message, to save LGBT lives. This campaign uses Twitter to send messages (tweets) to the pope (his Twitter handle:  @pontifex) to speak out for LGBT human rights.  More information on how to send tweets and other electronic messages, with samples of what to say, can be found by clicking here.

Pope Francis’ voice and moral authority on a global level have only grown in the time since. A clear condemnation of social and legal structures which harm LGBT people across the world and especially in Uganda and Kenya which criminalize homosexual people, would send a clear message that the Catholic Church truly does not approve of or tolerate discrimination and violence against sexual and gender diverse minorities. The pope should affirm the following:

  • Catholic teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and all such laws should be repealed;
  • Each and every instance of discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people is morally wrong and should be opposed vigorously;
  • Western nations are not withholding foreign aid based on a recipient nation’s recognition of same-sex relationships, despite what the Synod on the Family’s final report claims.

Already, a multilingual petition has generated 100,000 signatures asking Pope Francis to condemn homophobia and transphobia. You can sign it at Change.org by clicking here.

Despite the dangers that being openly gay or lesbian entails in Uganda, and despite rumors that this nation’s Parliament is considering new legislation to stifle human rights work, a Pride celebration in went on as planned there this summer.  You can view images of it here.

Despite the bleak picture, there are some signs of  progress , too. A Ugandan presidential candidate, while clearly opposing same-sex marriage, did attack homophobia as wrong earlier this year. Advocates like Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda whose work you can read about in a PinkNews article, are continuing to seek justice and equality. International allies must add our voices to these efforts by encouraging  Pope Francis’ to speak out against repression.

Pope Francis’ agenda during his first African excursion is packed. Central African Republic is engulfed in a brutal civil war, and a refugee camp is on the pope’s itinerary, which will surely be a moving experience to witness. Questions of inter-religious cooperation, regional security, and human development will be at the forefront of discussion since they strongly affect a continent where Christianity is growing rapidly.

That said, for a pope exhorting the church to go to the margins, LGBT lives should not be negligible. Even a brief remark during his several planned speeches would go a long way to doing some good.  Even better would be a call for sexual and gender human rights during a homily at Mass.  Most importantly, he needs to educate the bishops in these countries that it is their obligation as pastors and leaders to protect the rights and lives of LGBT people. Anything the pope says positively would reverberate around the globe.  Francis has been too silent on this issues. It is time for the pope to speak out!

Pope Francis touches down in Kenya in less than ten days, which is enough time for you, other Catholics, and others concerned with LGBT human rights to appeal to Pope Francis for a message of solidarity–and more than that, an appeal to save LGBT lives. To take action with #PopeSpeakOut and add your voice, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

U.S. Diplomat Criticizes Vatican Assertion that Western Aid Tied to Marriage Equality

Randy Berry

Visiting the Vatican earlier this week, a United States’ diplomat tasked with LGBTI human rights criticized the Catholic  hierarchy’s assertion that Western governments tie foreign aid to marriage equality. These remarks come just weeks before Pope Francis journeys to Africa, including Uganda where anti-gay legislation became law last year and Kenya where homosexuality is illegal.

Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI People, said of these assertions, recently restated in the Synod on the Family’s final report, “the notion that aid was given on the basis of civil unions is completely false,” reported the The Tablet. He stated flatly: “It is not. Period. Full stop.”

Berry made the comments during meetings with Vatican leaders to discuss about the persecution of LGBT people globally.  He met with representatives from the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  The Tablet reported:

“Mr Berry stressed he had not come to the Vatican to pressure the Church to change its position on same-sex marriage rather to discuss violence and discrimination of gay people in parts of the world where homosexuality is illegal.”

Citing Uganda, Berry admitted that certain aid had been suspended in response to that nation’s anti-gay legislation but only after extensive reviews “to make sure that US taxpayer money was not used to fund legal structures that would prosecute people based on their identity.” The only aid affected is that which would have strengthened the state’s ability to prosecute LGBT people under the law, which Berry importantly noted, “the Church also opposed.”

The Synod document had reaffirmed this idea that humanitarian and development aid is being tied to marriage equality, stating in section 76, as paraphrased by Crux:

“They said local churches shouldn’t be pressured on the question of same-sex marriage, nor should international aid organizations make the acceptance of gay unions a condition of their financial help to poor nations.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, also suggested this connection between aid and marriage equality was the case in an interview with Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo. The cardinal said that while lesbian and gay people’s identities should not be criminalized, no state should be “victimized” by having aid denied because of anti-gay laws. Turkson has had an already ambivalent record on LGBT human rights issues.

Despite the disagreement of Western aid distribution and “clear differences” on same-sex couples’ legal rights, Berry was clear that the U.S. government and Vatican broadly agree that LGBT people should be protected from violence and discrimination. He called the meetings “quite a positive experience” and “an important first dialogue” from which to build collaborative efforts, according to Time.

That this meeting between high-level diplomats even occurred is historic and a sign of progress in the church. Berry, who is gay and the first person to hold this LGBTI special envoy position, requested the meeting so he could “brief Vatican officials myself.” He was on the continent for a three-week tour through Eastern Europe. Elizabeth Dias of Time commented on the event’s significance:

“It is a sign that the Obama administration sees future opportunity to work with the Vatican after the Pope’s September visit, with the possibility to build on the partnership they have strengthened on climate change and migration. It is also a sign that Vatican diplomatic efforts are willing to take certain amount of risk by talking with the U.S. on this issue, as any LGBT issues thrusts the Church into an often conflicted spotlight.”

Berry has visited more than thirty nations since taking office in February, and he described his role as one of listening as well as advocacy. Affirming Pope Francis’ style of openness, the envoy said:

“That inclusive approach speaks volumes. . .I would hope that be because I think they are completely consistent with what we’ve seen from His Holiness in the past.”

This goal of ending discrimination and violence against LGBT people, particularly their criminalization, is indisputably consistent with Catholic teaching. Uganda and Kenya both criminalize homosexuality because civil leaders have used sexual minorities as political scapegoats. Catholic leaders’ responses have been lackluster, if not quite negative in certain instances. Pope Francis should use his upcoming apostolic visit to speak out for the human rights of all, but note the particular challenges LGBT people face.

In this way, Francis can make clearer his commitment to mercy for LGBT communities and position the Church geo-politically as an ally to those seeking to protect the rights of all sexual and gender diverse communities. No endorsement or even discussion of marriage or civil unions is required.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Kenyan Catholic Bishops Warn Obama: Stay Silent on LGBT Rights During Visit

Kenya’s bishops during their ad limina visit with Pope Francis

Keep silent on LGBT rights. This is the message Kenyan Catholic bishops have sent to U.S. President Barack Obama in the days before his planned July visit, a belief shared by their continental colleagues, and a belief increasingly at odds with Pope Francis’ vision for the church.

Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president, said the bishops “are not going to allow same-sex marriage” and debate should end.

Presenting a different reason for not focusing on the marriage topic was Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute in South Africa, told the Catholic Sentinel:

” ‘There are far more pressing issues’ than same-sex marriage that the church in Africa needs to address…It will be ‘sad and a missed opportunity if the focus of Obama’s visit is narrow…’ “

Such concerns about the topic have arisen largely due to the Supreme Court’s June decision to enact equal marriage rights nationwide, celebrated by President Obama by lighting up the White House in rainbow colors on the night of the ruling.

Bishops in Nigeria weighed in on the Court’s marriage decision, which allegedly threatens Africa because of Western cultures massive influence on nations there. They called marriage equality’s global expansion:

“a sad, unjust and lamentable situation based largely upon a distorted perception of natural law, the will of God and human nature.”

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria president, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, added that decriminalizing homosexuality leads to the “festering of the homosexual culture/sub-culture” as he claims is happening in Mozambique, reported Leadership. Nigerian legislators recently passed a law, supported by 87% of citizens according to GLAAD, that sentences couples to fourteen years in prison for marrying.

This resistance to Obama’s visit and the advancement of LGBT equality is a stark reminder post-Obergefell that much work remains in ensuring justice for all people. The Guardian’s Observer column writes:

“[The bishops’ warnings] serve as a chilling reminder that, globally, the war for LGBTI rights is being fought on two fronts. . .across much of the Middle East, Africa and Russia, the fight takes a crueller [sic] form: for the right not to suffer criminal punishment for exercising the right to love whomever one wishes.

“Across most of Africa, same-sex relationships remain illegal and public attitudes towards homosexuality are the most negative in the world.”

Indeed, as some countries advance, others regress. At least 34 African nations criminalize homosexuality and in places like Uganda, there has been much debate over enhancing such laws to even include the death penalty.

African bishops should better inform themselves about the realities of LGBT existence in their communities before speaking any further on the topic. While nations there face issues related to poverty, climate change, and other papal themes, they must also address as entirely inconsistent with the Gospel the violence and discrimination instigated because of victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity. All of these are “pressing” issues.

Endorsing same-gender marriage may be too much to ask, but preserving the life and the dignity of all people, especially those most marginalized, must become a core part of these bishops’ response to LGBT communities.

Kenya’s bishops were not alone in telling Obama to stay silent on LGBT rights, having been joined by other religious and political leaders. But Catholic bishops in Africa should do better. They could start by looking to Pope Francis in moderating their opposition and striking a different, indeed prophetic tone of inclusion, mercy, dialogue, encounter, and welcome instead.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry