More than a month after Uganda’s president signed an infamous anti-gay law, that nation’s bishops still remain silent on the controversial legislation which has received international condemnation. In this same period, it was announced that Pope Francis will not visit Uganda next fall, as had been discussed, causing speculation about whether this cancellation is related to the anti-gay law.
Initially, the Ugandan [Catholic] Episcopal Conference’s head announced the bishops would study the new law before commenting. America magazine now reports any public remarks, especially a condemnation, seems unlikely. The magazine cites two priests with knowledge of the situation:
“An informed Ugandan priest, meanwhile, suggested the bishops had opted to keep ‘safe’ and silent over the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act.
” ‘I am not aware that there has been an official statement … nor that there should be,’ said Msgr. John Wynand Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda’s capital…
“The same day, a Catholic priest based in Uganda told CNS that, to his knowledge, the bishops would not officially be commenting on the contentious new law.
” ‘The bishops, to my knowledge, opted to keep safe off the issue, saying that they were not given the original text. But now … they have said that the law should not be politicized,’ the priest said on condition of anonymity.”
However, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, stated that Catholic bishops have privately expressed their support for the law and there is a well-document record of religious leaders supporting the anti-gay law.
Hundreds have urged the pope to condemn such laws through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, and Catholics outside Uganda have been vocal in their defense of LGBT people’s lives. However, Pope Francis has remained quiet while Uganda and other nations have passed laws criminalizing homosexuality and creating stiff penalties for LGBT people. It is now confirmed the pope will not travel to Uganda in October for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Martyr’s canonizations, according to the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor. Pope Francis’ global popularity resounds in Africa as well, with one Kenyan columnist urging Africans to “vote with the Pope” on gay rights:
“The revolutionary bishop from Argentina took a sledgehammer to homophobes when he asked – ‘who am I to judge?’ Those simple, if venerable five words, demolished millennia of official hatred for homosexuals in the Church that Saint Peter built…
“To the Jesuit Pope, gays should be welcomed, loved, and accepted. That’s why Pope Francis is a godsend. I’ve watched with dismay – and utter disbelief – as some states in Africa descend into an orgy of homophobia…Rogue politicians and bigoted clergymen whip up hapless followers with anti-gay propaganda…
“Pope Francis wasn’t only criticising longstanding Church doctrine. The Pope’s message was a sharp rebuke to unprincipled politicians and leaders like Mr Museveni. It’s leaders like Mr Museveni who use ‘wedge’ hot-button issues like sexuality, mini-skirts, abortion, or fake attacks on cultural imperialism to cling to power…Why all the vitriol and anger against gays who’ve never done a thing to you? I end where I started…Let’s vote with the Pope on gays – and embrace them.”
It is unclear whether Pope Francis cancelled this trip or declined the invitation in the first place. What is clear is this provided an opportunity for Pope Francis to condemn clearly laws which violate the dignity and well-being of LGBT people and call upon bishops around the world to raise their voices as well. However, perhaps he declined to visit the country because he did not want to seem to be approving of the new law. He is already seen as a gay-positive influence in the Church and in the world. It is time for Pope Francis to speak out clearly and forcefully against Uganda’s law, and other similar anti-gay laws around the globe. He can save lives.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry