‘Known Lesbian’ Reaches Out to Cardinal Without LGBT Friends

In mid-April, Bondings 2.0 reported on a South African cardinal who claimed to know of no LGBT individuals personally, and thus rejected any claims he could be homophobic. Now, a self-ascribed “known lesbian” has written to Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier to challenge his statements, and, in between, presents a novel argument for why Catholic prelates fight so fiercely to deny LGBT equality.

Melanie Judge’s piece was published in the Mail & Guardian, a leading African paper, under the title, “Hi, Cardinal Napier. I’m lesbian.” She begins by questioning the cardinal’s involvement on issues of sexuality if he knows of no LGBT individuals:

“For someone who doesn’t know any homosexuals, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time concerning yourself with the lives of lesbian and gay people – specifically our rights to equality and protection under the law.

“If you don’t know us, and then by implication there aren’t any of us in your church, it seems queer that you would assume such an active position in denying us our right to rights.”

Ms. Judge is not content to say that Napier is simply anti-gay.   Instead, she believes his staunch opposition to South African legislation that would legalize civil unions is merely an attempt to preserve his power, and the power of the Catholic Church, that

“…entrenches a version of social relations and human sexuality based on male supremacy, the subordination of women, and the abjection of homosexuality….Perhaps your investment in the lives of sinful others is driven by an interest in protecting that power and the ideology that props it up. If so, I can understand why you’d rail against gays, lesbians and women who challenge your ideology.”

She continues by shedding light on Napier’s attempt to make LGBT people invisible, which contradicts the Church’s call to acknowledge, welcome, and include LGBT people:

“As you would know, a powerful way to neutralise nonconforming people whose very existence challenges your church’s prescription for human interaction is to make them invisible. To deny the very existence of gay and lesbian people is to render them unknowable and unseeable. Excluding people in this way sends a message to lesbian and gay people in your church (many of whom I know and see, and I’m not even Catholic) that they will be not be acknowledged by your leadership. To deny recognition is to deny human dignity, a strategy at the heart of homophobia.”

Ms. Judge’s comments examine the desperate attempts by Catholic bishops to maintain their privilege in a society structured around heterosexual relationships and male dominance, adding the unique perspective of a South African to her critique of oppression:

“Sexuality and gender were heavily regulated and constrained under apartheid and colonialism. Women and queers ‘knew their place’ and ‘suffered’ quietly and invisibly. Now we see a burgeoning of sexual and gender diversity – it’s exciting stuff, Cardinal. It’s a sign of a plural and democratising society in which ­difference is no longer synonymous with dysfunction.

“Shunning difference and enforcing conformity is how the church has asserted its control over populations for centuries. But this unchecked grip on power has been slipping in the face of democratic pressures. I feel for you, Cardinal; it’s hard to compete with the divine prospect of freedom and equality…

“Queers and women are laying claim to the resources, recognition and representations of citizenship – both inside and outside the church. It’s the stuff of democracy and of human rights. Still, none so blind as those who will not see.”

Melanie Judge respectfully confronts Cardinal Napier for both the ignorance his statement contains and the the underlying causes driving his anti-LGBT efforts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

South African Cardinal Claims He’s Not Homophobic ‘Because I Don’t Know Any Homosexuals’

Cardinal  Wilfrid Fox Napier
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier

A South African cardinal has made the claim that he is not homophobic, and has used as his evidence that he doesn’t know any lesbian or gay people.

Agence France Presse reports that Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, OFM, of Durban, South Africa, recently stated in a newspaper interview:

“I can’t be accused of homophobia because I don’t know any homosexuals.”

The cardinal didn’t stop there, though.  The news report continues:

The Archbishop of Durban also lashed out as US conditions on aid, including distribution of condoms, and the promotion of gay rights as ‘a new kind of slavery.’

” ‘With the same-sex marriages, we are carrying out someone else’s agenda,’ he said.

” ‘It’s a new kind of slavery, with America saying you won’t get aid unless you distribute condoms, legalise homosexuality…’

“Same-sex marriages are legal in South Africa.

“His comments prompted outrage, just weeks after he was forced to apologise for describing paedophilia as a sickness and not a crime.

” ‘Paedophilia is actually an illness — it is not a criminal condition,’ he told the BBC last month.”

The cardinal’s comment as homophobia can only be described as ludicrous.  We can analyze it in a number of different ways:

  1. He doesn’t realize that he he knows gay people, many of whom likely serve in the church he leads.
  2. Perhaps the gay people around him are fearful of acknowledging their orientations to him because he has not shown that he would be accepting.
  3. He needs to get out in the world and start meeting some lesbian and gay people and developing relationships with them.
  4. He is not telling the whole truth.

With LGBT issues so prominent in world and church discussions,  one would think that if the cardinal indeed does not know any lesbian or gay people that he would think it important to go out and meet some.  In one sense,  to not know any gay or lesbian people is the very definition of homophobia, and so his claim that he is not homophobic falls totally flat.  His very denial indicates that in fact he is very homophobic.

If his attitude were an isolated phenomenon, it could perhaps be dismissed.  But I fear that it is part of a trend which exists among the hierarchy.  I have two examples.  When I was visiting Poland a few years ago, I met with a group of LGBT Catholics in Warsaw.  We shared experiences with one another.  Their leader said that he had written to the Polish Bishops’ Conference to request that they appoint a priest-chaplain for the LGBT group.  The response they received from the bishops was that there was no need to appoint a chaplain because there were no homosexuals in Poland.

Similarly, when New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick had an accidental meeting with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on an airplane, she asked him if he knew any lesbian or gay people. His response was that he had seen homosexuals protesting Pope John Paul II’s visit to Berlin.  That was his acknowledged extent of “knowing” lesbian and gay people.

These stories indicate a willful ignorance on the part of church leaders, and that is a dangerous and harmful phenomenon.  The fact that a cardinal can proudly say he doesn’t know any gay and lesbian people, and then claim that this proves he isn’t homophobic, reveals the low level of leadership that the Catholic Church currently operates under.  If church leaders truly don’t know lesbian or gay people, then how informed can their thinking be on LGBT topics?

Our church deserves leaders who will get over their blatant homophobia and go out to meet and dialogue with the people upon whom they comment so frequently and glibly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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

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

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry