Catholic Coalition Urges Bishops to Speak Out on Uganda’s Controversial Bill

As Ugandans continue to debate the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill which would apply the death penalty, life imprisonment, and severe sentences to people known to be lesbian or gay,  religious leaders have begun to speak out against these draconian measures.

We’ve already reported on a student coalition that is collecting signatures to get religious leaders Equally Blessed Logoto make statements against the bill.  Today, Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people, has released a statement calling on the U.S. Catholic bishops to contact their Ugandan counterparts to speak out against the bill.   The statement reads:

“Catholics hold a variety of positions on the morality of homosexual relationships, yet the church has long taught that we must respect the dignity and cherish the life of each of God’s children. That is why we are imploring Catholics in the United States and other nations to join us in working against legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament that could cost many LGBT people their lives, make criminals of priests who counsel gays and lesbians and hasten the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout central Africa.

“Please join us in signing the online petition that will be delivered to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, asking them “to reject the needless, deeply harmful, dehumanizing bill.”  Join us also in sending an email to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urging them to intercede with their fellow bishops in Uganda and imploring them to oppose legislation that will open new wounds in the body of Christ.

“Pope Benedict XVI is firmly opposed to legislation that singles out LGBT people for persecution. A Vatican representative made the following statement to a panel on anti-gay violence at the United Nations in 2009:

“[T]he Holy See continues to oppose all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons, such as the use of the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. …

“[T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State. While the Holy See’s position on the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity remains well known, we continue to call on all States and individuals to respect the rights of all persons and to work to promote their inherent dignity and worth.”

“The Ugandan legislation clearly conflicts with the values expressed by the Vatican and held deeply by faithful Catholics. The final content of the bill is still under debate, but in its current form, it proposes the death penalty for certain homosexual activities and life imprisonment for touching another individual with homosexual “intent.” But the penalties do not stop there.

“Belonging to a gay organization, advocating gay rights and providing condoms or safe-sex advice to gays and lesbians to  stop the spread of HIV and AIDS could result in a seven-year prison sentence. Failing to report violations of the law within 24 hours would be punishable by a three-year prison term. This means, in effect, that anyone who knows a sexually active gay or lesbian person and does not report them to the authorities puts himself or herself at risk. The confidentiality required in a pastoral relationship is impossible under these conditions.

 “Some 40 percent of Ugandans are Catholics, and the church wields significant influence there. As Catholics, we are compelled to raise our voices on behalf of those who will bear a possibly lethal burden if this bill becomes law. Please join us in signing the petition and calling upon our bishops to work against this hurtful legislation.”

The four organizations that comprise Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Additionally, Religion News Service reports that Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called on Ugandans to reject the bill.  In part, Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his work against apartheid, stated:

“My brothers and sisters, you stood with people who were oppressed because of their skin color. If you are going to be true to the Lord you worship, you are also going to be there for the people who are being oppressed for something they can do nothing about: their sexual orientation.”

We urge you to sign the petition and to send an email to the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.   Do it today! Time is running out!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

Commencement speaker controversies at two Catholic campuses on opposite sides of the country have sparked petition drives that have resulted in opposite results.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the West Coast, in Spokane, Washington, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University has held firm in hosting South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as commencement speaker this year.   A petition drive to rescind the invitation, motivated in part because of Tutu’s support for the ordination of gay clergy, collected 700 signatures.  However, another petition drive in support of Tutu collected 11,000 signatures in 48 hours, according to an article in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

NCR quotes Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh’s statement of support for Tutu:

“We are very much looking forward to having him.I really believe that this is very consistent with what both the church and Jesuits want for its institutions; and of course in any community people will have different points of view around that.”

In an earlier NCR article, McCulloh offered his reasoning for inviting Tutu:

“While we have received messages both positive and negative about our decision to invite Archbishop Tutu, the vast majority of responses indicate that there is great support. People see our invitation as honoring Tutu and the social justice activism of our institution.”

The same article cites a Religion News Service story which notes Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich’s support of Gonzaga’s decision:

“When Bishop Cupich was asked in person about Gonzaga honoring this commencement speaker who publicly espouses views in fundamental opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations, he indicated support for Gonzaga’s decision stating Archbishop Tutu is being honored for the work he did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

On the East Coast, a 20,000-signature petition failed to convince Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus to ask Anna Maria College to reconsider its decision to cancel Victoria Reggie Kennedy as commencement speaker.   (You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 posting about this decision here.)  According to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

“The liberal arts school in Paxton [Massachusetts] disinvited Mrs. Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the bishop told Anna Maria College President Jack Calareso that he had concerns about her positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.”

Bishop McManus released a statement on the diocese’s website in support of Calareso’s decision:

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March. As such, I support the public statement of the College’s Board of Trustees that ‘the invitation be withdrawn in the best interest of all parties and most importantly the students which will be graduating.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry