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 Observer reported, 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.
Yet, Ford also notes that, significantly, Pope Francis has turned down an invitation to visit Uganda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs, who resisted a native king’s homosexual advances. Perhaps it was good that Pope Francis rejected the invitation to the event since it could easily have been used to suggest his support for the new law. But, as Ford points out, Francis can not be silent forever:
“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!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry