In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.
London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.” LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.
The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:
“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.
“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.
“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.
“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum. Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.
Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”
For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.
In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017
Over the past few weeks, news about Catholic reaction to Uganda’s newly-enacted anti-gay law has shown how insidious homophobia can be within a culture. The most recent story that caught my attention because is horrific, if true. I make the qualification “if true” because I have only seen one report about it, which is from an independent blogger, not a professional news source.
The O-blog-dee-O-blog-da site, maintained by Melanie Nathan, a respected lawyer, LGBT advocate, and journalist, reports that on Easter Sunday, Bishop Charles Wamika of the Jinja Diocese in Uganda
“called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays.’ The Bishop also asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven.”
Nathan cites an anonymous Ugandan gay man in hiding with reporting on Wamika’s statements.
A Ugandan newspaper, The Daily Monitor, did not mention Wamika in its report of Easter Sunday messages, but it did note that other Catholic bishops in that country also supported the new anti-gay law on Easter Sunday. The paper reported on the statement of Bishop Augustine Salimo of the Sebei Diocese:
In reference to the Anti-Homosexual Act, he also urged the government not to back down but to continue the right path pursued to protect values of Ugandans.
And a third bishop also praised the new law:
“In Tororo District, Bishop Emmanuel Obbo, the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, urged every citizen who supported the anti-homosexuality law to lay down greed, corruption and ‘put them to death and let generosity rise up within us and flow out in abundance.
“ ‘In Christ, we have victory over dysfunctional relationships, bad habits, painful experiences, sexual temptation and devastating circumstances,’ he said.”
These statements show that Uganda’s bishops’ minds have been clouded by homophobia to the point that they ignore basic Catholic teaching on the human dignity of all persons–including towards LGBT people.
Catholic hospitals in Uganda are maintaining a non-discrimination policy toward lesbian and gay people, The Observerreported, though the attitude of the hospital’s administrator indicates a negative bias against them. The news story stated:
“Dr Sam Orach, the executive secretary of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB), yesterday said although AHA [Anti-Homosexuality Act] criminalises homosexuality, which is also considered a sin in the Church, homosexuals would not be locked out of Catholic hospitals.
“ ‘In the current context of the aftermath of the anti-homosexuality law, no health worker in our facilities has expressed concern that service provision is being affected. That is what we believe as UCMB. We equate this to the post-abortion care we provide to a sick woman who has otherwise criminally and immorally committed abortion.
“We distinguish between a crime or a sin and the disease. Catholic health services are, therefore, non- discriminatory,’ Orach said at the opening of UCMB’s hospital managers’ workshop in Kampala.”
Meanwhile, around the globe, more and more commentators have been calling upon Pope Francis to make a clear statement condemning Uganda’s law and other laws like it that have been appearing in other countries.
“Anti-homosexuality legislation is quickly becoming a global threat to human dignity. These laws do not simply violate human rights; they foster a climate of rage, scapegoating, and violence against LGBT people.
“This situation brings to the forefront the ongoing debate among progressive Catholics about the efficacy of the Pope Francis’ kinder, gentler papacy. Some believe Francis’ expressions of compassion will eventually lead to greater inclusion for LGBT Catholics while others argue that Francis’ words are not substantive enough to amount to real change.
“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ “
And in Australia, the head of Rainbow Sash, a Catholic LGBT organization, last week called on Pope Francis to use Easter as the occasion to speak out against anti-LGBT laws. The Star Observer quotes Michael Kelly as saying:
“The whole experience of Easter is about moving from slavery to freedom for persecuted people.
“It would be the perfect time for Pope Francis to make a statement that could be heard around the world about justice for people being persecuted right now in Africa. . . .”
“You can see the seeds of what could be genocide so people abroad have to stand up.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Matt Ford pointed out that Arcbhisop Charles Lwanga of Kampala, the head of the Catholic Church in Uganda, offered a closing prayer at a rally staged by the country’s President Yoweri Museveni to celebrate the signing of the anti-gay law. Many other national religious leaders took part in the event, even giving a plaque to the president to thank him for support of the law.
“This time around, it seems, Pope Francis is not taking Uganda’s Catholic leaders up on their invitation to visit the shrine—at least not yet. But regardless of whether he travels to the country, will he take a public position on the debate over homosexuality in Uganda—and similar debates taking place elsewhere in the world?
“The pontiff’s tenure, now in its second year, has so far been characterized by two themes: greater compassion on social issues in the developed world, and greater outreach to and inclusion of the developing world. Until now, these goals have rarely clashed. How he bridges the divide between the two in Uganda, if he chooses to try, will be one of the great challenges of his papacy.”
You can help urge Pope Francis to speak out by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign. Send him an email or a tweet today!
Pope Francis’ response, or, more accurately, his lack of response to the passage of anti-gay laws and policies in places like Uganda, Nigeria, India, Russia, has been one of the more puzzling questions of the past few months for those interested in Catholic LGBT issues. This pope, who has expressed a greater openness toward LGBT human rights than any of his predecessors, and who has not shown any timidity on speaking out on controversial social issues has remained strangely silent on this vicious trend toward more repressive anti-gay laws.
Two recent essays analyze the papal silence. Both are worth reading in full, and contemplating seriously. I will summarize both, but recommend that you follow the links to read the entire articles.
O’Loughlin begins by noting that Pope Francis recently met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed the anti-gay bill. Yet, other than a vague statement about protecting human rights, the pope made no reference to the new law. O’Loughlin also describes local Catholic support and complicity for the new repressive measures in Africa:
Catholic bishops in Nigeria, in a letter to Jonathan, heralded the new law as “courageous” and “a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.” They weren’t the only religious leaders happy with a stepping-up of repression against gay Africans. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that threatens openly gay Ugandans with lifetime prison sentences. While Catholic leaders rejected the 2009 version of the bill, which contained an infamous death penalty provision, some bishops — as well as Anglican and Orthodox leaders — have been vocal in their support of the most recent measure. (Africa is the Roman Catholic Church’s fastest-growing region, in terms of membership.)
After examining the many ways that Francis has opened up the conversation about LGBT people in the Church over the past year, O’Loughlin speculates as to what might be the pope’s reason for silence:
“The disconnect between the pope’s words and actions stems partly from the fact that Pope Francis appears hesitant to become involved with what the Vatican considers local issues, which includes national laws punishing gay people for their sexual orientation. And although counterintuitive, this hesitance actually reflects a certain liberalism about the internal dynamics of the church: Catholic progressives, used to the rigid, authoritarian rule of Rome over the past few decades, have long wanted to see the devolution of power away from the Vatican. This was the only way, they believed, that lay people — with more access to bishops than to Rome’s highest echelons — could gain some input in the church’s decision-making processes.”
But, such a reason is not enough to justify his silence, O’Loughlin suggests. He calls on the pope to become a more vocal advocate for justice for LGBT people, if his initial gestures and statements are to have any real meaning:
“Yet if he truly wants to move forward, he will have to build on his initial outreach and ask, publicly, that Catholic bishops and other leaders keep up. If the pope truly wants the Catholic Church to chart a course for social justice around the world, his leadership on this issue must demonstrate that his powerful institution is a genuine voice for the oppressed.”
Pope Francis’ leadership in regard to these repressive laws is needed since local bishops have been so quick to support the anti-gay measures. Nigerian bishops were explicit in their support of the new law in their nation. Ugandan bishops, at first, were silent about their country’s law, but, as Jamie Manson points out in her column:
“That was until Monday, when, at a ‘thanksgiving’ celebration for the new law held in Kampala, their actions spoke louder than words.
“International media outlets reported that the thanksgiving rally and ceremony was organized by a nonspecific ‘coalition of religious leaders.’ But a photo in one of Uganda’s major newspapers revealed that Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala not only attended the thanksgiving celebration, he was part of a contingent of five clergymen (including a Muslim sheikh, a Pentecostal bishop and an Anglican bishop) who gave Museveni an engraved plaque to congratulate him for signing the bill.
“A YouTube video also shows Lwanga offering prayers at the ceremony for those ‘led astray in this vice of homosexuality.’ “
Manson notes why Catholic opinion is so important in Uganda:
“An estimated 44 percent of Uganda is Catholic, which suggests that the Roman Catholic hierarchy holds significant influence over the beliefs of the people and the development of public policy. By offering public praise of Museveni’s signing of this law, Lwanga has given his blessing to legislation that violates the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and that gays and lesbians should not be subjected to violence or social discrimination.”
She concludes with a call to the pope to exercise his leadership by putting substance behind his words:
“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’
“The global crisis of anti-homosexuality laws calls Pope Francis not only to uphold church doctrine, but to act on his own pastoral words — words that have inspired many to believe that the Catholic church has entered a new era of justice and dignity for the LGBT community worldwide.”
Both O’Loughlin and Manson mentioned New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, now entering its third month. We, and other Catholic and LGBT groups have been asking people to send a tweet to the pope, asking him to speak out against this trend toward more repressive anti-LGBT laws. You can read more about the campaign here. And if you want to send a tweet or email to the pope, those tasks will be made easier for you if you check out our helpful resource by clicking here.
It is important for the pope to speak out. It is equally important for Catholics around the globe to speak out to the pope to let him know that our lived Catholic faith has taught us that anti-LGBT laws are not acceptable at all.
As Ugandans continue to debate the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill which would apply the death penalty, life imprisonment, and severe sentences to people known to be lesbian or gay, religious leaders have begun to speak out against these draconian measures.
We’ve already reported on a student coalition that is collecting signatures to get religious leaders to make statements against the bill. Today, Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people, has released a statement calling on the U.S. Catholic bishops to contact their Ugandan counterparts to speak out against the bill. The statement reads:
“Catholics hold a variety of positions on the morality of homosexual relationships, yet the church has long taught that we must respect the dignity and cherish the life of each of God’s children. That is why we are imploring Catholics in the United States and other nations to join us in working against legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament that could cost many LGBT people their lives, make criminals of priests who counsel gays and lesbians and hasten the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout central Africa.
“Please join us in signing the online petition that will be delivered to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, asking them “to reject the needless, deeply harmful, dehumanizing bill.” Join us also in sending an email to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urging them to intercede with their fellow bishops in Uganda and imploring them to oppose legislation that will open new wounds in the body of Christ.
“Pope Benedict XVI is firmly opposed to legislation that singles out LGBT people for persecution. A Vatican representative made the following statement to a panel on anti-gay violence at the United Nations in 2009:
“[T]he Holy See continues to oppose all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons, such as the use of the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. …
“[T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State. While the Holy See’s position on the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity remains well known, we continue to call on all States and individuals to respect the rights of all persons and to work to promote their inherent dignity and worth.”
“The Ugandan legislation clearly conflicts with the values expressed by the Vatican and held deeply by faithful Catholics. The final content of the bill is still under debate, but in its current form, it proposes the death penalty for certain homosexual activities and life imprisonment for touching another individual with homosexual “intent.” But the penalties do not stop there.
“Belonging to a gay organization, advocating gay rights and providing condoms or safe-sex advice to gays and lesbians to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS could result in a seven-year prison sentence. Failing to report violations of the law within 24 hours would be punishable by a three-year prison term. This means, in effect, that anyone who knows a sexually active gay or lesbian person and does not report them to the authorities puts himself or herself at risk. The confidentiality required in a pastoral relationship is impossible under these conditions.
“Some 40 percent of Ugandans are Catholics, and the church wields significant influence there. As Catholics, we are compelled to raise our voices on behalf of those who will bear a possibly lethal burden if this bill becomes law. Please join us in signing the petition and calling upon our bishops to work against this hurtful legislation.”
Additionally, Religion News Service reports that Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called on Ugandans to reject the bill. In part, Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his work against apartheid, stated:
“My brothers and sisters, you stood with people who were oppressed because of their skin color. If you are going to be true to the Lord you worship, you are also going to be there for the people who are being oppressed for something they can do nothing about: their sexual orientation.”
We urge you to sign the petition and to send an email to the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops. Do it today! Time is running out!