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, 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.
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, 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