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

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

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

16 replies
  1. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    But now more than ever it is life over death. We must nip these laws in the bud by speaking out loudly and forcefully. The Catholic church must take a leadership role. This is the moment. Now.

  2. Mary
    Mary says:

    Why would the pope allow any cardinal or bishop to support anti-gay laws? The pope can do something about this now. He is their leader, and he can command the cardinals and bishops to change their positions on how homosexuals are being treated. There is no time to wait people are suffering now and it has to stop.

  3. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Some of the violent and extreme venom coming from the hierarchs words and hearts might be ignorance. I think some of it is also a “red herring” to take people’s thoughts away from the crimes committed by clergy. And I think some of it is also an immature sexuality and defective understanding of relationships.

    The old and repeated concept of marriage having the purpose of making babies is an example of immaturity and just plain shallow thinking. It totally ignores the relationships people have and turns couples into “production units”.

    But even tho some of the hierarchy are not rational, they are certainly vehement in their superficiality. And drawing in ignorant people, they do much harm.

    • Annette Magjuka
      Annette Magjuka says:

      Even if they stick with the stand that marriage is for making biological babies–they could still say there are other living/loving arrangements that, while not “sanctioned” by the church, are positive and loving choices. And all people deserve dignity and respect. So, on that basis, no firing people, withholding sacraments, maligning, alienating, or making draconian laws against LGBT people or divorced people. And when any union has children, of course they are to be treated with the utmost respect. This is a way to stick with doctrine (however ridiculous) but to stop the draconian laws and firings. Things as they are now are totally unacceptable. If the faithful does not agree with blatant discrimination, then what? The hierarchy are enacting heinous crimes against humanity in our names? NO. No, no, no.

    • Jim Sheil
      Jim Sheil says:

      Phrogge has been my nickname for more years than I can remember. My real name is Jim Sheil, retired Active Duty Army Chaplain and catholic priest. The web page and email are the same as for Phrogge.

  4. Benjamin Regotti
    Benjamin Regotti says:

    Beautifully put, Frank. Thank you!

    >>> “Bondings 2.0” 1/21/2014 1:00 AM >>> newwaysministryblog posted: “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 attitud”

    • Annette Magjuka
      Annette Magjuka says:

      So while we wait for the hierarchy to be educated, they are free to fire people, pass draconian laws, etc.? I have waited my entire life for the men in the hierarchy to see women as equal. Waiting for people to be “educated” is a way to allow more horrific behavior on their part.

  5. Robert
    Robert says:

    If the Catholic Hierarchy in Nigeria is so keen to persecute gay people, then they deserve in turn to be persectued by the Moslims in that country, and i shall not feel sorry for them. Both the moslims and the Catholic Church in Nigeria persecute gay people. May they persecute each other! then they will have less time and energy to persecute gays.


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