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