Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
ap_897878120473_1

Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Civil Unions Coming to Italy? Pope Francis & Bishops Hope Not

January 30, 2016
sitemgr_photo_312017

Pope Francis

Italy’s Parliament began debating civil unions for same-gender couples this week. Whatever the outcome of a vote expected next Tuesday, Catholics have and will continue to play an essential role in the debate. In a two-part story (today and tomorrow), Bondings 2.0 will highlight Catholics’ varying responses to the potential for same-sex unions being recognized next door to the Vatican.

First, and inevitably, there is speculation about how Pope Francis will engage civil unions in Italy. In a speech to the Roman Rota last week, the pope rejected any legal recognition of same-gender relationships, using his strongest language to date. How to interpret his remarks remains disputed and some have suggested, according to The Washington Post, that his comments had nothing at all to do with Italy’s current debate. Theologian Massimo Faggioli, writing in Commonweal, commented that the pope’s address was notably different from his predecessors who would explicitly comment on Italian politics and reference “non-negotiable values.”

In The Washington Post story, Anthony Faiola compared Francis’ approach to Benedict XVI’s response to a civil unions proposal in 2007:

“As Italy now undertakes its most serious effort yet to legalize civil unions, the more nuanced response of the Vatican in its own back yard is turning the bill into a test case for whether Francis’s inclusive tone can translate to change on the ground.

” ‘My impression is that the pope is determined not to be confrontational and fight this law,’ said Massimo Franco, a Vatican watcher and columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera.”

Faggioli also sees a distinct difference, noting that Pope Francis was “not directly endorsing the upcoming Family Day [protests],” not appealing to Italian politicians or Catholics directly on the matter, and emphasizing repeatedly that the matter is “in the hands of the Catholic laity.”

Faggioli also identified a split in Italy’s Church between “Pope Francis Catholics” and “those who favor a more muscular response.” In Faggioli’s analysis, Francis’ foremost aim here is “protecting the authority of the pope from any attempt to manipulate it” by Italy’s bishops. He wrote:

“Italian bishops are divided, and the once-powerful lay movements are divided between progressives afraid to go on the record in favor of legislation on same-sex unions or same-sex marriage, and those who continue to use the rhetoric of the culture war and plan to descend on Rome for the rally. The paradox is that the only Catholics who are responding to Francis’s call for the engagement of the laity in public issues are those who use the bellicose language that Francis makes a point of eschewing. Catholics who welcome Francis’s style and ecclesiology are now less organized and less motivated to stake out visible positions in the church and in politics.”

Less nuanced, but still changing, is the response from Italy’s bishops who “have largely sided with the opposition” and helped rally anti-LGBT support. The Post noted, however, that the Italian Episcopal Conference “is not directly sponsoring” a planned protest against civil unions this weekend.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the Conference’s general secretary, told Corriere della Sera that society must acknowledge somehow the “growing presence of unions of a different kind” becaue “the state has a duty to give answers to everyone, respecting the common good first.” The newspaper also noted another important fact:

“The Italian news media took note when Francis abruptly canceled a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops conference, after he publicly backed the Family Day protest.”

What impact is all this having on the civil unions debate? Gabrielle Piazzoni of ARCIGAY, an Italian LGBT equality organization, said Pope Francis has had “a meaningful influence” because:

” ‘It’s clear to everyone that the Holy See does not intend to openly support the call to arms coming from other Catholics in Italy.”

If civil unions are approved, Italy will be the last nation in Western Europe (minus Vatican City) to extend legal rights to same-gender couples. The nation faces increasing European pressure to recognize same-gender couples. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated LGB human rights by not doing so. Some LGBT advocates say civil unions are a compromise, but admit marriage equality remains unrealistic in a country where ecclesial politics are intimately tied to civil politics.

Though the Parliament’s house will likely pass the bill, it is unknown whether there will be enough support in the Senate, particularly if a clause allowing adoption of children biologically tied to one partner is included.

Tomorrow’s post will look more closely at Italian Catholics have been involved in the civil unions debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016
president-peter-mutharika-in-a-discussion-with-the-chairman-of-the-episcopal-conference-of-malawi-most-rev-thomas-luke-msusa-at-kamuzu-palace-c-stanley-makuti-600x356

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


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

November 12, 2015

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


Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

April 26, 2014

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Must Act Against Anti-Gay Laws in Nigeria & Elsewhere

March 7, 2014

Today is the Global Day of Action for Nigeria, as LGBT advocates worldwide demonstrate to get that nation’s leaders to retract a recent law imposing harsh penalties on gay people and even those supportive of equal rights. The rise of anti-LGBT legislation has prompted an unusual split among Catholic bishops around the world, and Pope Francis remains quiet as Uganda became the latest nation to pass harsh discrimination laws last week.

U.S. Catholic published a piece highlighting the fissure among the world’s bishops in how they have responded to anti-gay legislation. David Gibson writes:

“The issue is especially pressing in Africa, where Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, recently adopted a harsh law that imposes a 14-year prison term for anyone entering into a same-sex relationship, as well as a 10-year sentence for anyone found to support gay clubs or meetings. Even public displays of affection by gays and lesbians is considered a crime…

“In Nigeria the leader of the hierarchy fully supported that country’s new law, which prompted a wave of violence against gays when it passed.

“In a January letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his ‘courageous and wise decision’ in signing the legislation. Kaigama said it would protect Nigeria ‘against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices.’ “

This letter from Nigeria’s bishops prompted an unusually robust editorial from The Southern Cross, a Catholic weekly associated with southern African bishops. Gibson notes the divided reaction by the hierarchy elsewhere. Whereas Poland’s bishops have launched a war on “the ideology of gender”, India’s leading prelate, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, condemned his nation’s criminalization of homosexuality in January. Gibson also notes the much celebrated comments by Irish archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the graphic to the right.

20140211_Final

Click here to share this graphic

Gibson believes this division of bishops may be an extreme backlash against advances made by LGBT advocates on issues the bishops do oppose, like marriage equality. He cites Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who sees cultural differences and regional politics in Asia and Africa as additional reasons for the split.

Regardless of the reasons, the failure of Catholic bishops to condemn laws targeting gay people for discrimination has angered many Catholics in the pews — and even more so when bishops supported such laws, as in Nigeria. People of faith worldwide have used the#PopeSpeakOut campaign to urge Pope Francis to condemn Nigeria’s law, as well as other efforts around the globe to discriminate against LGBT people.

One sign of hope in all this is the fact that bishops are divided and criticizing one another, which led Pat Perriello, a National Catholic Reporter columnist, to write:

“There appears to be a new willingness among members of the church hierarchy to openly disagree with one another. Nowhere does this seem more pronounced than on the issue of the treatment of gays. Viewpoints veer from unabashed support of criminalization of any kind of gay activity to references in the Catholic catechism calling for respect and acceptance of gay individuals in our midst…

“[H]ow refreshing it is to see and hear once again a bit of ferment in the church. It is reminiscent of vital theological discussions that took place following the Second Vatican Council. This is how the spirit works best. This is how all of us grow and learn more about what God seeks to tell us.”

In the wake of the emerging human rights disaster surrounding LGBT people, these divisions may not be enough. Uganda’s bishops have remained silent on their nation’s law, in fact, they only recently began reviewing it, weeks after its enactment. The Nigerian hierarchy has done worse damage with its vocal support of their nation’s law. It is time for Pope Francis to lead the Church in strongly condemning any law or policy which specifically discriminates against LGBT people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

NPR, “Ugandan Gay Activist: President Will Have No Problem Putting Me In Jail

Spiritual Friendship: “LGBT Rights and the UN: What the Church Does Not Teach


Cardinals’ Ignorance of Homosexuality Will Lead to Violence and Human Rights Abuses

January 21, 2014

Sometimes ignorance on a topic is to be pitied, and the best response to it is not anger, but an effort to educate the person with more accurate information.  But we must not forget that ignorance can cause great damage because it can blossom into attitudes and policies which lead to violence and human rights abuses.  The public statements of two Catholic leaders recently illustrate these principles.

Cardinal Fernando Sebastian

In Spain, Cardinal Fernando Sebastian, who is the retired archbishop of Pamplona, gave an interview to Diario Sur newspaper in which he called homosexuality a “defect” that can be cured. [Note: the previous link will bring you to the original Spanish-language interview.]  New York’s Daily News reported on the Spanish interview:

” ‘Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because this has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation,’ he said in an interview to Diario Sur.

” ‘A homosexual who can’t achieve this (procreation) is failing,’ he added, before saying, ‘Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.’

Sebastian said it was ‘a defect I have to try and correct in whatever way I can.’

” ‘To say that homosexuality is a defect is not an insult: it helps because in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.’ “

Such comments betray the depth of the ignorance which is obviously at work in the minds of many church leaders.  It is shocking and pitiable, and it helps us to see why church teaching and practice is so harsh on LGBT issues.  This ignorance needs to be corrected, not only for the cardinal’s sake, but for the sake of LGBT people throughout the world.

Cardinal John Oniyekan

A case which shows how lack of understanding LGBT issues can be harmful came out in the headlines in the African nation of Nigeria, which last week enacted a law which outlawed same-sex marriage and also outlawed the establishment of gay and lesbian organizations.Soon after the law was signed, Nigeria’s Cardinal John Oniyekan stated that he supported the measure.  According to PMnewsNigeria.com:

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has commended Nigeria’s Federal Government for its uncompromising stand on the anti-gay law in spite of criticisms from a section of the international community.

“Onaiyekan, briefing newsmen on activities to mark his 70th birthday in Abuja on Friday, said Nigeria, being an independent country, should stand firm on its culture, tradition and morals.

“ ‘The church accepts people as they are, we condemn homosexuality, Nigeria is an independent country and we do not beg for food.’ “

The cardinal, like many in Nigeria, have framed the issue of homosexuality as one where Western liberal nations are trying to impose their values on African culture, hence his comment about not begging for food.  But the cardinal seems ignorant of the basics of Catholic social teaching which respects the dignity, equality, and liberty of all people–even those with whom one might disagree.  While he certainly has an obligation to respect Nigerian culture, he also has an obligation to defend Catholic principles on basic human rights.

Bishop Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese also publicly supported the new anti-gay law.

One needs to ask if these bishops have learned nothing from history.  Whenever laws have restricted people’s freedoms or viewed certain groups as second class citizens, it doesn’t take long for violence and human rights abuses to occur. Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America spring quickly to mind.  Laws which restrict freedom or create second class categories give people permission to enact hateful acts.  When religious leaders voice their support of such laws or promote misguided theories about people’s lives, they not only give permission for people to commit hateful acts, but, in fact, they encourage such behavior.

Pope Francis has indicated a more respectful attitude toward LGBT people than any of his predecessors had ever done.  Some people have wondered how he will put that attitude into practice.  One way he can begin is by educating bishops, cardinals, and other church leaders about the basic facts of sexual orientation and the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.  Without such education, their ignorance will fuel violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people.

Ignorance may be pitied, but it cannot be tolerated.  Too many lives hang in the balance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,032 other followers