India’s Cardinal Gracias Wants Homosexuality Decriminalized

February 7, 2016
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Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s top bishop supports the legalization of homosexuality in his country, which may now be possible that the nation’s Supreme Court is reviewing the issue. His acceptance is hopefully leading more Catholics to their own acceptance of LGBT people, too.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said the law which currently criminalizes homosexual acts among India’s 1.2 billion residents should be repealed, reported Gay Star News. He said:

” ‘I have met some groups and associations of LGBTs and I had an understanding for them. I don’t want them to feel ostracised. . .I feel that homosexuality should not be criminalised. For me it’s a question of understanding that it’s an orientation.’ “

The cardinal, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of India as well, said, given the choice, “why would you be harsh” and reject people from society instead of loving them. Though he does not accept the validity of same-gender marriages, Gracias said this “does not mean you throw out these people as bad.” He explained, too:

” ‘I believe maybe people have this orientation that God has given them and for this reason they should not be ostracised from society. The Church is concerned, and if you’re Christian or Catholic and if you’re part of the Church you have to have compassion, sympathy and understanding toward them.’ “

These are not Cardinal Gracias’ first compassionate words for marginalized communities. Interviewed by Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo at last year’s Synod on the Family, the cardinal told LGBT people that the church “wants you, needs you, embraces you.” When India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in 2013, Gracias was the only religious leader in India to oppose this controversial move publicly . He has also instructed priests in his archdiocese to exercise greater sensitivity and compassion when discussing sexuality and gender.

The Supreme Court of India said earlier this week it would reconsider whether homosexuality should be criminalized. This rare “curative petition” will subject the Court’s 2013 ruling to a five-judge constitutional bench. Though it is an uphill battle, that the court took this case at all could lead to expanded justice for lesbian, gay, and bi Indians, reported Buzzfeed.

There is and will be resistance from some Catholics, which represent Indian society overall, because many hold sharp prejudices.  For LGBT people, invisibility is the preferred form of social acceptance. But there are others who, like Cardinal Gracias, wish to see LGB people more welcomed in society and even in the church. An article from Open Democracy cited one example which revealed a more accepting, though because of all its complexities, a far from perfect approach:

“Geof, a traditionalist Catholic male confessed, ‘After watching LGBT guests on Aamir’s show [a popular television talk show],  I was reduced to tears. These are real people, making the best of traumatic circumstances they were born into. For long I’ve judged them because I didn’t ‘know’ them. May I add that I’m a straight male who won’t turn gay because of the show. I also support Pope Francis all the way!”

Another Catholic, a retired teacher named Edith, said that before there was no language for LGBT students who suffered intense bullying. She now calls for acceptance:

” ‘They are mocked by other children who are products of a hate-filled heteronormative society. I know for sure that these kids were born this way and not deviants who chose a sinful, promiscuous lifestyle. Their lives are difficult enough. Let’s stop condemning.’ “

These perspectives from Indian Catholics reveal an emerging consciousness that Cardinal Gracias represents about the need to defend LGBT people’s human rights.

For many U.S. and European advocates, the notion that simply advocating for the legalization of homosexuality, while not approving of marriage, could be difficult to understand. Yet in other contexts, like Indian society or the current political debates in some African nations, Cardinal Gracias’ appeal for loving acceptance is radical. To come out as LGBT in hostile areas could mean discrimination, violence, even death at much higher rates.

Cardinal Gracias is a Catholic official who is saying simply that we must accept people’s identities rather than punish them.  In his cultural context, that certainly is prophetic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016
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President Peter Mutharika, left, with Archbishop Thomas Msusa

As Malawi debates whether to repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for the keeping such laws on the books.

Most recently, the Catholic bishops conference of the nation, called the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), sought an audience with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry, who visited the country this month. ECM Chair Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre explained why the bishops wanted such a meeting, as reported by Nyasa Times:

“Any discussion affecting the social and moral fibre of Malawi should at its best be as inclusive and accommodative as possible. Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional change to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.”

But, while Berry met with government offices and civic organizations, he did not meet religious leaders who wanted to defend homosexuality’s criminalization or believed international aid was tied to LGBT laws. Berry said assertions that U.S. aid is conditioned upon LGBT rights are “completely false,” but that these human rights could not be separated from broader concerns about governance in Malawi, reported Nysasa Times.

Five ECM bishops also brought up the idea of alleged international pressures about homosexuality in their mid-January meeting with President Peter Mutharika. They told him to “resist pressure” on LGBT human rights because these are “alien to most Malawians” and are “being championed by foreigners,” said Archbishop Msusa. He continued, according to All Africa:

” ‘As the Catholic Church, we say “no” to supporting these gay activities and we will follow strictly our church doctrine.’ “

President Mutharika recently said LGBTI people’s rights “should be protected,” but believes ultimately the populace should decide on whether to repeal Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law.

Malawi’s church leaders have spoken publicly against homosexuality from the pulpit, too. Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a Catholic women’s gathering that gay people are “sinners who need to repent.” Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi applauded a Catholic musician for cancelling his concert when questionable reports surfaced about two men kissing in the audience.

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Bishops’ Anti-Gay Remarks Raise Human Rights Issues

January 4, 2016
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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


As Year of Mercy Begins, Cardinal Says Being Gay Is Not a Crime

December 8, 2015
Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Being gay should not be illegal. This is a top Indian prelate’s message as the nation’s legislators consider decriminalizing homosexuality, coming just as Pope Francis formally commences the Year of Mercy today.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of the Archdiocese of Bombay  (city of Mumbai) spoke to The Hindu Times about his public opposition to Section 377, which criminalizes homosexuality. He explained:

“For me it’s a question of understanding that it’s an orientation. . .I know there is still research being done whether it’s a matter of choice or matter of orientation and there are two opinions on this matter. But I believe maybe people have this orientation that God has given them and for this reason they should not be ostracised from society.”

Gracias was India’s only religious leader to criticize the re-criminalization of homosexuality in 2013. When the Delhi High Court’s decided to reinstate Section 377, he remained opposed to it in principle and is hoping legislators will act now to remove it.

Criminalizing a person’s sexual identity is a form of discrimination which the church opposes. Gracias further noted that “the Vatican itself is not for criminalisation of these people” and that such matters are distinct from questions of sexual ethics.

Beyond repealing Section 377, Cardinal Gracias’ encounter with LGBT people has implications for the church. He affirmed that those he met seek to serve faithfully both their church and their society. Citing the Year of Mercy, Gracias said “society should change its attitude towards [LGBT people], be more welcoming and understanding” and the church desires these same ends.  The Indian Church can help expand people’s thinking, said the cardinal, and added:

“The Church also has an important role to play in providing them a sense of security. It’s not just that they should be tolerated, they should also be accepted. For many of them, through no fault of their own, this is a great suffering. They may like to have a family, have children but they cannot. It’s a cross that they have to bear.”

Gracias criticized “judgmental language,” mainly by those who think “it is a choice to be same-sex oriented.” Meeting with India’s National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which he heads, the cardinal said those gathered agreed their rhetoric about lesbian and gay people was too harsh. Locally, Gracias recently asked a priest to tone down his preaching on homosexuality.

The cardinal is realistic, however, about both the local Church and broader Indian culture being very traditional and resistant to change. He expressed fears of a backlash if LGBT rights are pushed too far, but said fear could not stop progress because communities “should not suffer because of that.” He concluded:

“Maybe this is a change that will take some time to come because Indian society is truly not ready for it but it is certainly a change that should come today, or tomorrow, whatever is the best time.”

As the Year of Mercy begins, I would call attention to the reason Cardinal Gracias gave for his more inclusive approach to LGBT issues. He explained:

“I had been reflecting on the question of whether the church should be more welcoming towards members of the LGBT community for some time. I met some groups and associations of LGBTs and I had an understanding for them. I don’t want them to feel ostracised. That’s why I came out publicly some time back saying I was in favour of decriminalisation of Section 377. . .

“When you interact with them you realise that they are everybody, they are sons and daughters of our own friends and our own society. But it is still something that is hidden and in the closet. People are frightened to come out because of the lack of acceptance.”

Cardinal Gracias’ public statements against criminalization are laudatory, as were remarks made in an exclusive interview with Bondings 2.o during the Synod on the Family that the church “embraces. . .wants. . .needs” LGBT people. What is most instructive, however, is his willingness to encounter LGBT people and risk being moved by their stories.

Pope Francis has called for a ‘culture of encounter,’ but few church leaders have made it real. Bondings 2.0‘s readers include many committed advocates who do much good in their local churches by creating encounters. While we cannot know the power of any specific letter or meeting, but we do know with certainty this is how change in the church and in society always happens.

The Year of Mercy is a perfect moment for renewed dialogue between LGBT Catholics, their families and faith communities, and church leaders across the world. Let us not wait to get started!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Forgoes LGBT Human Rights During First Visit to Africa

December 1, 2015
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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


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

November 16, 2015
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


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