Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, criticized Uganda’s anti-gay law while urging donor nations to sustain their aid commitments. Though his comments have been celebrated by gay advocates, a closer look reveals a more troubling understanding of LGBT issues by the cardinal.
Turkson made his comments at a conference titled “The Church and Human Rights” in Slovakia when he remarked to the media that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not be imprisoned for their sexual identity, according to The Advocate. The cardinal, who is originally from Ghana, echoed several Ugandan organizations in requesting that the international community continue delivering aid, despite the new law. More than $115 million in funding has been pulled since the anti-gay law was passed, while the US and others are still evaluating their commitments.
This negative evaluation of the new law is a shift for Turkson, who once defended Uganda’s anti-gay bill when it included the death penalty as a potential sentence for LGBT people and said prejudices by some Africans were understandable. Turkson has also blamed gay priests for the sexual abuse crisis. Perhaps his shift on this law is due to the influence of Pope Francis, who has taken a much more compassionate approach to LGBT issues than his predecessors.
However, Turkson’s address on religious liberty to the conference reiterated his belief that LGBT equality was not a human rights consideration. A closer look sets his comment to reporters in context, with the text posted by Vatican Radio:
“Another example is the use of the term ‘gender’ to suggest that sex is not biologically grounded as male and female but is simply a social construct or produced by what individuals think or feel they are. Moreover, attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Related to this is the suggestion that marriage could somehow be redefined, despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law. Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.”
Turkson quoted Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s opposition to marriage equality and reiterated verbatim the Catechism’s words on welcoming gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” concluding that section with:
“Thus, while the Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights. See our Lord’s reaction when the townspeople wished to stone a woman to death for adultery: He managed to preserve her life and bodily security (John 8:1-11).”
Turkson’s four words that “homosexuals are not criminals” have been reported as a positive sign. The underlying reality is that he remains far from Pope Francis’ unconditioned call to protect every person’s dignity and for the Church to show love to LGBT people. The cardinal’s shift from supporting executions for gay Ugandans to a most basic recognition of LGBT people’s dignity is progress, but the Church’s leaders must respond with far more when anti-LGBT discrimination and violence is on the rise. We hope that his words will give courage to the Ugandan bishops’ conference, which has yet to make a statement about the new law.
Perhaps Cardinal Turkson needs another conversation with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, as happened last fall. You can read about that here.
While it is good that Turkson made the remark, we still need stronger words from the Vatican about anti-gay laws around the world. You can encourage Pope Francis to make a strong statement against these laws by joining the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign.
–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry