Malawi Bishops’ Anti-Gay Remarks Raise Human Rights Issues

January 4, 2016
bishop-mtumbuka

Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka

LGBT communities in a number of African nations face some of the world’s most oppressive contexts. Worse yet, socially-sanctioned discrimination and violence are supported and even encouraged by religious leadership. Two recent incidents in Malawi, which is 20% Catholic, reveal how church officials contribute to homophobia and transphobia.

Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a women’s gathering that lesbian and gay people are “sinners who need to repent,” adding that Scripture’s condemnation of homosexuality is clear. These comments come just as the nation’s government dropped charges against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani for homosexual activity, both of whom were forced to undergo invasive physical examinations while in custody reported All Africa

In a separate incident, Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi addressed homosexuality negatively in a homily last Sunday, according to All Africa. Despite saying the church “does not hate” gay people, the bishop applauded a Catholic musician, Lucius Banda, who cancelled a concert on Christmas Day after observing two male audience members kissing each other. A human rights advocate noted that it would very unlikely for a gay couple to kiss publicly in Malawi, and suggested that the whole event was staged to stir up anti-gay sentiments, according to Nyasa Times.  Banda is a member of Malawi’s Parliament.

Sitima also said Malawi’s government “should not sell out our culture and our religion in exchange for money,” referencing the generally false but popular notion that Western foreign aid is tied to LGBT human rights. This connection between LGBT human rights and international aid was explicitly included in the Synod on the Family’s Final Report, presumably at the insistence of African bishops who present it as a new form of colonialism.

This reality of LGBT oppression, Catholic leaders’ complicity, and the colonial history of unjust Western interventions in Africa raise questions about how LGBT advocates in the U.S. can justly respond.

A recent article in The New York Times claimed that U.S support for LGBT human rights is backfiring in Africa, where the federal government has spent more than $350 million since 2012. Private support is increasing, too, as U.S. advocates seek to work internationally, following major victories at home. This work seeks, in part, to counter influential U.S.-funded Evangelical groups promoting anti-gay laws abroad.

Increased visibility is actually leading to more anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the estimation of some advocates. Rev. Kapya Kaoma of the U.S.-based Political Research Associates suggested that “African L.G.B.T. persons are just collateral damage to U.S. politics on both ends.”

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

But not all agree, including Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is Catholic and wrote in The New York Times:

“There will always be backlash to activism. That is not news.

“Instead of elevating the significance of American influence, it would have been better if the article had focused on African politicians who employ any narrative at their disposal — including ‘neocolonial’ ones — to maintain their power at the expense of scapegoated minorities like L.G.B.T.I. people, regardless of what the United States may, or may not, do.

“Is there more violence now that L.G.B.T.I. people are more visible in Nigeria and elsewhere? Maybe, but it is homophobia, not funding, that is at fault.”

Catholic officials could easily be added to the African politicians Mugisha labeled as those who use anti-LGBT sentiments for their own purposes. In conveying church teachings on homosexuality, church leaders like Bishop Mtumbuka too often rely on a biblical fundamentalism at odds with Catholic principles for scriptural interpretation. They ignore, almost entirely, relevant Catholic teachings about LGBT people related to social justice. Bishops like Bishop Sitima employ false narratives, like homosexuality being a Western import or Western governments denying aid to nations without marriage equality, with dangerous repercussions. Neither one of the Malawian bishops condemned the human rights abuses enacted against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, even though their treatment was contradictory to Catholic teaching.

Why do Catholic bishops in Africa behave in this fashion? There are likely many as many reasons as bishops. Perhaps the expansion of Evangelical churches in Africa has something to do with their statements. Christianity is exponentially exploding among Africans, and denominations are fighting for adherents. Established Catholic and Protestant churches are struggling to retain adherents against successful Evangelical and Pentecostal efforts. Similar to politicians scapegoating LGBT people for electoral victories, Catholic officials may fear being seen as ‘weak’ on homosexuality.

These complex situations leave U.S. and other Western LGBT advocates puzzled when it comes to human rights work in Malawi, Uganda, and other nations which criminalize and stigmatize minority sexual and gender identities. Frank Mugisha makes clear, though, that, ultimately, we are united in the fight against homophobia and transphobia wherever we live.

For Catholics, as members of the universal church, we cannot abandon this work as long as oppression exists. Moving forward, we must ensure that not only the ends we seek, but the means  with which we seek them, are just on all accounts. Catholic Social Teaching is one of the richest sources for figuring out how to do just that, and the Year of Mercy is the perfect time to recommit to seeking justice for LGBT people around the world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

December 10, 2015
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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.

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


Standing Erect in the Face of Catastrophes—Cosmic and Otherwise

November 29, 2015

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by New Ways Ministry’s Associate Director, Matthew Myers.  The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Jeremiah 33:1416; Psalm 25:4-5,8-10,14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel sets a pretty bleak scene.  Cosmic catastrophe.  War on earth.  Oceans in turmoil.  People dying of fright.  It sounds like a disaster flick worthy of Hollywood.  

To be honest, most interpretations of this Gospel reading are lost on me.  I harbor polite but thoroughly disinterested feelings toward the Second Coming of Jesus and the need for apocalyptic vigilance; these things do not offer much direction or inspiration for my daily life.  But the kernel of this reading with profound meaning for me is the seemingly innocuous exhortation for Christians to “stand erect and raise [their] heads” in spite of awful circumstances.  

What type of person can stand tall during terrible adversity, even when others shrink away?  A person with integrity. Such a person knows what they are for and what they are against — and has the courage to consistently speak and act in accordance with these values.  You can trust a person with integrity because they do what they believe and believe what they do.  In other words, what you see is what you get.  That type of wholeness — indeed, of holiness — gives a person strength and courage, even in the dire straits of today’s Gospel reading, when others readily die of fright.  

What does a person with integrity look like in real life?  Frank Mugisha is a Catholic LGBT rights activist who in 2014 said, “I am a gay man. I am also Ugandan. There is nothing un-African about me.”  Mugisha risks life and limb to speak the truth about his sexual orientation in a hostile culture.  He could have made innumerable (and understandable) excuses to remain in the closet and preserve both his privacy and his safety.  But as a person of integrity, Mugisha chooses to advocate for his own rights and the rights of all LGBT Africans; he has the courage to stand tall, be seen, and speak his truth to church and state because to do otherwise would be a violation of himself and his values.  I think Frank Mugisha hears and is responding prophetically to the Gospel writer’s call to “stand erect and raise your heads.”

In perhaps less dramatic circumstances than Mugisha, what does this call to integrity mean to us?   Most LGBT people have struggled intensely to define their identity (e.g. Am I gay? What is my gender?) and their values (e.g. Should I come out to my loved ones? Should I publicly transition my gender?) in a less than welcoming church and society.  Fortunately, many  of these same LGBT people have chosen to stand tall, be seen, and speak their truth publicly.  We must continue their work by choosing to be people of integrity, by sharing our stories, and by remaining faithful to our values.  In this way,  I believe LGBT people can cultivate the gifts of honesty and wholeness in our Catholic faith communities — by bringing what is hidden into the light, by encouraging each person to grapple with the hard questions of life.  

As we begin this Advent season, each of us receives a call to stand tall and be seen for who we are.  May we persevere in our efforts and, as the Psalmist writes today, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Praying for Synod and for New Ways Ministry’s Presence in Rome and Portugal

September 28, 2014

One week from today, Pope Francis will open the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the topic, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  For Catholic LGBT advocates, there has been great anticipation of the event, perhaps mainly because Pope Francis asked the bishops of the world to consult the laity on marriage and family topics, and, even more so, because pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples was one of the areas for which input was sought.

Today has been set aside as a day of prayer for the Synod, and Pope Francis has composed a Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod.   You can access this prayer, and other prayer intentions for the Synod, by clicking here.   Of course, we ask that you include in your prayer for the Synod that the concerns of families with LGBT members or those headed by same-gender couples will be heard and responded to pastorally by the bishops.

When the Synod opens on Sunday, October 5th, New Ways Ministry representatives will be in Rome.  Both Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, will be traveling there to participate in several events surrounding the Synod, and also with the hope that they will be able to provide a pro-LGBT voice in the public discussions of the Synod that the media will offer.  In addition, DeBernardo will travel to Portugal for the first international meeting of Catholic LGBT groups.

Joining them, too, in Rome will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.  Bishop Robinson spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Church’s system of sexual ethics.

The following are the various events that these three people will participate in:

  • “The Ways of Love: International Conference on pastoral care with homosexual and trans people,” Friday October 3, 2014, at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Aula Magna, via Pietro Cossa 40, Rome.  For more information, and to see the line-up of speakers, click here.    (For a previous blog post about this event, click here.)
  • “Lets’s witness our hope,”  a forum for Italian Christian LGBT groups, Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, 2014, at Centro Pellegrini Santa Teresa Couderc, Via Vincenzo Ambrosio 9, Rome.  For more information about this event, click here.
  • “The Path from the 2014 Synod to the 2015 Synod: The Pastoral Challenges for Welcoming LGBT people,” a lecture by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Wednesday, October 8, 2014,  Via Marianna Dionigi, 59, Rome.  This lecture is sponsored by Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  For more information, click here.
  • “When Identity Becomes a Crime: Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally,” an international conference, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 4:30-6:3o pm, at the Capitoline Museum, Sala Pietro da’ Cortona, piazza del Campidoglio 1, Rome. The speakers will be Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBT activist, Jules Eloundou, a human rights defender from Cameroon, André du Plessis, UN program and advocacy director for ILGA World, and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director. Dr. Michael Brinkschröder, a co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, will moderate.  Bishops participating in the Synod are invited to attend.   The event is sponsored by the City of Rome and Dutch Ministry’s Department of Education, Science & Culture.

While in Europe, New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo will also travel to Portugal to attend a meeting of Catholic LGBT groups from around the globe who are gathering to discuss the inauguration of a world-wide association for those who work for LGBT equality in the Church.  The meeting will be held in the city of Portimão on October 6-8, 2014.

28 organizations from 16 different countries will be attending this first World Congress of Catholic Homosexual Associations.   Organized by Rumos Novos,  a Portugese Catholic gay and lesbian group (whose name, incidentally, translates as “New Ways”), this meeting’s theme will be “Building Bridges.”  According to the meeting’s website:

“This congress invites us to look with serenity and deepness towards our Church and our life, allowing that on ‘both sides of the bridge’ light can brighten the view of all, often distorted  by prejudices, fears and sorrows.”

DeBernardo will be a speaker at the conference, addressing the topic of the gifts that LGBT people bring to the Church.

José Leote, the coordinator of the conference, in an interview with Algarve Daily News, said the meeting’s participants will send a letter to Pope Francis.  They will ask the pope, among other things, that gay and lesbian people will experience “integration at all levels of the Church and the possibility of working in parishes without the stigma of sexual orientation.”

The Portugal News described the two-pronged parts of this meeting:

“The congress will take part in two phases, the first being a public phase and open to anyone interested, and a second part reserved for representatives of the associations in which the basis of the future World Organisation is to be set.”

While New Ways Ministry asks for your prayers for the Synod, especially that LGBT concerns will be heard, we also ask your prayers for Sister Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, as they journey to these events.  Please pray that God will bless them with wisdom, courage, and fortitude during these important events.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Uganda Passes Anti-Gay Bill; Pope Francis Must Speak Out Against It

December 20, 2013

Uganda’s Parliament has passed a bill calling for tougher punishments for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment for those considered repeat offenders.   It remains for the president of Uganda to sign it into law.

Sky News reported that the death penalty, which had been in the original draft of the bill in 2010, was not included in the final version.  The bill also criminalizes the public promotion of homosexuality.

The news article reports that David Bahati, the lawmaker who initiated the bill, used religious language to praise the bill’s passage.  Bahati stated:

“This is victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil.”

“Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way.

“It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks.”

Frank Mugisha, the leading Ugandan gay activist, who is a Catholic, criticized the Parliament’s action, saying:

“I am officially illegal.”

Frank Mugisha

Because Catholics are the largest denomination in Uganda, making up over 40% of the population, it is imperative that Pope Francis speak out against this terrible human rights development.   Uganda’s Catholic bishops have been ambivalent about the bill, sometimes supporting it, sometimes speaking weakly against it.  So, it will take Pope Francis’ strong moral leadership to make any kind of impact on this very Catholic nation.  We need Pope Francis’ voice to stop the punitive measures against LGBT people in Nigeria, India, and other nations, too.

While it is a busy time of year for all, please consider taking a moment to write to the Pope to ask him to speak out against this bill.  His mailing address is:

His Holiness Pope Francis,  Apostolic Palace, Vatican City 11020

Please keep Uganda’s gay and lesbian people in your prayers during this holy season.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

July 25, 2012: Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

August 13, 2012: Former Ambassador to the Vatican Speaks Out Against Ugandan Discrimination

November 14, 2012: Catholic Leaders Must Speak Out Against Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

December 6, 2012: Catholic Coalition Urges Bishops to Speak Out on Uganda’s Controversial Bill


Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill Is Postponed

December 14, 2012

The Ugandan Parliament closed its session today without taking action on the controversial proposed “Kill the Gays” bill, which would have imposed severe sentences, including the death penalty, for lesbian and gay people in that African nation.

The Montreal Gazette reports the reaction of one of Uganda’s LGBT leaders:

Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha

“ ‘This bill won’t stop us,’ said Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), . . . . ‘We will continue to fight until we are free of this legislation. We cannot have oppression forever.’ ”

According to blogger Warren Throckmorton:

“. . . the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will not have a second reading until at least February of next year.”

So the good news is that the bill has been forestalled.  The bad news is that the fight to prevent it from becoming law must still continue.

New Ways Ministry continues to ask you to write to your bishop to ask him to try to persuade the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican to speak against this bill.  The Ugandan bishops, whose record on this bill has been ambiguous, still have on their website a statement against the bill from 2009, when it was first introduced.   Though they oppose the bill, the language and argument of their statement is extremely negative toward homosexuality.

Please continue your prayers and advocacy on this important issue into the new year.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement

July 25, 2012

A new report from a Boston-based political research group identifies the key conservative U.S.-based Christian organizations that are supporting the anti-gay movement in Africa, including the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.

Political Research Associates yesterday released their report, “Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” and identifies a key Catholic organization, Human Life International, as one of the key players in supporting anti-gay activity.

According to an Associated Press report in The Boston Herald:

“The report’s main author, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, said that while such evangelical groups are in the minority in the United States, they are able to punch way above their weight in Africa, where many oppose homosexuality. Here, many believe the religious right’s contentions that gay men are ‘recruiting’ in schools, Kaoma said.

” ‘Those kind of lies, when presented in Africa, become factual, so we need to worry that they are misleading people with these lies,’ Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, said in a telephone interview from Boston.

“And conservative groups have access to powerful politicians, including the presidents of many countries.

“Kaoma’s report identifies groups belonging to a loose network of right-wing charismatic Christians. They include Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Catholic Church’s Human Life International (HLI) and the Mormon-led Family Watch International. All have launched or expanded offices in Africa over the past five years. . . .

Rev. Kapya Kaoma

” ‘By hiring locals as office staff, ACLJ and HLI in particular hide an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and (the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people) as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the U.S. right’s activities,’ the report said.

“Anti-gay laws passed in Burundi in 2009, Malawi in 2010 and Nigeria in 2011.

“Uganda’s so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ law, which would levy the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ was thought to have been defeated after Kaoma and Political Research Associates exposed the legislation’s American instigators in 2009. But it was reintroduced in Uganda’s Parliament this February.”

Bondings 2.0 attended a teleconference yesterday with Rev. Kaoma and Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and the recipient of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.   Kaoma and Mugisha elaborated on the role of the Catholic church in these activities.

“It’s not true that they [Roman Catholics] are not involved,” said Rev. Kaoma, noting that Human Life International has good relationships with the Catholic hierarchy. “Together with Anglican archbishops, certain Roman Catholics demanded the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda be passed.”

Frank Mugisha

Mugisha noted that the Catholic archbishop in Uganda did ask that the death penalty be removed from the bill, but that the Catholic Church still has not taken an official position on whether the bill should be passed.

“In Uganda, they [Roman Catholic Institution] haven’t stepped up to say anything or challenge the bill,” Mugisha said.  He added that in fact, the Catholic bishops have joined with other Christian groups to support the bill.

Rev. Kaoma also noted that the Ugandan Catholic bishops had a hand in inviting Ed Silvoso of the International Transformation Network, a reparative therapy group, to speak at a conference in Africa.

At the conclusion of the teleconference, it was suggested that the best way that people of faith in Western countries can help the African situation is to ask their church’s leaders to make public statements against the anti-gay legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on Uganda:

June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

June 11. 2012: Uganda’s Catholic Bishops Reverse Their Stance to Support Anti-Homosexual Bill

March 29, 2012: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 4, 2012: When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

December 26, 2011: Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations

December 23, 2011: A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks; Cardinal George Should Listen

 

 

 


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