Here in the United States, there have been many requests and petitions for Catholic LGBT voices to be heard at October 2015’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held in Rome. The need is great for such a dialogue to occur because the bishops will be discussing pastoral care to families with LGBT members, and because for far too long, upper Church leadership has ignored these individuals.
The European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups has recently released a report on the experiences of group of Catholic LGBT people who have probably been even more ignored by Church leaders: the LGBT Catholics who live in Africa. The interviews were conducted by Davis Mac-Iyalla in four African nations during March 2015. The Washington Blade published this report which tells moving stories about the oppression these Catholics experience, but also about their courage in speaking out.
Bondings 2.0 has covered stories over the years about African Catholic leaders’ support of laws which criminalize LGBT people. Until now, we have had few opportunities to share with you some of the stories of Catholic LGBT individuals, their life experiences and their faith journeys. Here are some excerpts from the report published in The Washington Blade:
“Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal and can result in long prison sentences. The situation with lesbians is less clearly defined, but still highly problematic.
His interview with a lesbian advocate describes how people there work against such laws in their daily lives:
“Rosebud, a Christian, lesbian and midwife who works for the government hospital, leads an informal group of Catholic lesbians. It started among fellow lesbians at her church, but women from other churches are discovering her group. She currently has members from the Anglican, Presbyterian as well Pentecostal churches. Although the group is based in Accra, it is growing to be Ghana wide. They have not given the group a name, but come together once a month to pray and listen to each other’s stories. With little support from their churches on the issues that their sexuality raises in society, the group has become their only means of support as they discuss and help each other on LGBT issues. They organize parties and social events, but have to be very discrete, so as not to incur the wrath of the authorities.
“Rosebud thinks that in a homophobic society, ‘the churches should be the first places to welcome LGBT people, not persecute them.’ “
“. . . [T]here has been an increase in reports of men raping underage boys. These men are labelled gay, and the LGBT community become scapegoats for these crimes. Accusations of rape accompanied by blackmail are a common means of extorting money from rich locals and foreign tourists.
“Most LGBT people in Togo live in fear because they don’t want to be disowned by their family, so they go underground. In Togo, LGBT people are called by the abusive term ‘adowe.’ ”
“Sadly, the biggest threat to the Togo LGBT community is the church and religious leaders. The Catholic Church is very powerful there, strongly influencing moral, political and other issues. Specifically the Catholic Church and its bishops are highly regarded by people of the country. She reflects that bishops and religious leaders in Togo frequently come on air to blame any mishap or natural disaster that happens in the country on homosexuals. Therefore, she would appreciate support and work with the LGBT community in the area of lobbying at the wider international/church level.
“This anti-LGBT stance drives Catholics away from the Church. Edenedi, a bisexual woman who was baptized and brought up Catholic, is now worshiping in the charismatic faith. She feels she can no longer go to church on Sunday, sit down and listen to unchristian preaching about LGBT people. Despite this she still identifies herself as Catholic.”
Mac-Iyalla also profiled a Catholic gay man:
“Aziable is a well-known, prominent gay Catholic activist from Atapkame. Until recently, he was a knight of the church. Knighthood is an honour and invested upon those that the Bishop feels are actively contributing to the life of the diocese. Knights are charged by the church to utilize their potential for mission and evangelism. However, Aziable was dismissed from his knighthood once his sexuality became known. ‘I will never leave the church because doing so is giving victory to my oppressors,’ he emotionally states. He feels that church leaders need help and education to understand properly the gospel that they are claiming to represent.”
“The three explained that the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in the country and holds great power, influences social attitudes and fuels homophobic prejudice. The thing, which saddened me the most, was to hear that if a known homosexual dies, he or she is buried in a different cemetery from everyone else, a place where outcasts are buried. Marginalized and hated in life, marginalized and hated in death. The three interviewees wept as they spoke. One of them named Abib asked me to be honest in my reply and to tell them that if they died would they go to hell or heaven? ‘Priests say that transsexuals are demons in the kingdom of the devil.’ This was very shocking for me to hear. In my years living in Nigeria and Togo I have heard much homophobia, and know well the negative attitudes of church and society towards gay people, but this priest’s words still shocked me. At this point I stopped interviewing them and spent the rest of our time together teaching and reassuring them of the unconditional love of Christ, and telling them that all baptized members of the church regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.”
He also interviewed the mother of a gay man:
“Mary is a parent of a 21-year-old gay man living in Porto Novo. She is a practicing Catholic and told me that she knew that her son was different right from the age of 12. . . . She once was told by a fellow parishioner that her son’s female behavior was because of a lack of a father figure in his life. This was so offensive to Mary that she reported it to her priest, but nothing happened as the priest agreed with what the parishioner had said. She feels angry about the attitudes of the church towards homosexuals and single parents. ‘I love my church and my country, but I love my child more and I will do everything to protect him.’ “
“In Nigeria, the church and the government both persecute LGBT people. On the 7th of January 2014 the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law. This act imposes lengthy prison sentences of up to 14 years on any person who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union; who participates in a gay club, society or organization; or who makes a public display of affection with a person of the same sex.”
In Nigeria, he interviewed Rashidi, a young scientist and strong human rights defender:
“As a young man, he was scared he was going to be consumed by fire whenever he stepped up to the altar. He feared that his homosexuality would be revealed to the church and he would become an object of mockery amongst his peers. He remarked, ‘Many homosexuals within the church in Nigeria still have those same feelings and are scared about people finding the truth of who they are.’
“Rashidi expressed his anger over the Same Sex Marriage Act. Many LGBT Catholics in Nigeria were very disappointed to read in the press that The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria made statements in support of the bill saying that the law was a ‘step in the right direction for the protection of the dignity of the human person.’ Rashidi angrily commented, ‘I cannot understand how the church could support the persecutions of LGBT Nigerians and still call itself Christian.’ There had been an increase in violent attacks against Nigerian LGBT people since the bill was signed into law. Painful for him is the lack of pastoral care and support from the Nigerian Catholic Church towards its LGBT members. While the bishop pays ‘lip-service’ to human rights and equality, the Catholic Church does not seem to put these ideals into practice.”
“Rashidi followed the Catholic Family Synod through the international media. ‘Why the Catholic Church can’t be more like Christ to give everyone a place, I do not know,’ he muses.”
In the conclusion to his report, Mac-Iyalla made the following observation:
“The anti-gay laws in these countries prevent constructive dialogue between the state, church and LGBTs. These laws are used as ammunition to justify persecution and the refusal of pastoral care and support by religious and community leaders. This isolates LGBTs and propagates fear, hatred and even violence against the LGBT community.
“The Catholic Church in West Africa has not initiated the family debate in their churches and parishes. Church leaders are disconnected from reality about their LGBT members. In turn the LGBT members are ignorant of what is going on at the higher level of the Catholic Church both in their own countries and internationally.
“Despite all of this, Catholic LGBT’s do not want to walk away from the Catholic Church. They want to be accepted, to be welcomed by the church, to have dialogue, and education. . . .They want to participate in the Family Synod discussions. They want to have a voice, to tell their stories, to relate their situations and to let the world know of their plight and their fight.”
You can read the entire report by clicking here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry