Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.
Cardinal Peter Turkson serves as the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican. He was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. He had been made a cardinal a by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He also served as archbishop of Accra, in Ghana, his home country. At the 2013 conclave, he was considered a leading candidate to be elected pope.
In the past, Cardinal Turkson’s views on criminalization laws for lesbian and gay people have been considered ambivalent because of a statement he made in 2012 in which he recognized the situation both as a question of rights, but also as influenced by deeply held cultural traditions.
While he was attending the synod in Rome, I had the opportunity to briefly interview Cardinal Turkson about his views on the criminalization of lesbian and gay people.
You’ve made a number of statements on criminalization laws which have been interpreted variously? What is your position on crminalizing lesbian and gay people?
My position has had two parts. Homosexuals cannot be criminalized. Neither can any state be victimized. So, let no state criminalize homosexuals, but let no state by victimized. No state should have aid denied because of this.
Last week, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said that African bishops were reluctant to oppose criminalization, but that they were growing in awareness of lesbian and gay people. Do you see African bishops outgrowing their reluctance to oppose criminalization laws soon?
We are all growing in this regard. When we come to meetings like the synod and listen to one another, we learn from one another. We hear bishops telling stories of their relatives’ pain, and we grow.
Western countries have grown in regard to this issue. When I studied in the United States in the 1970s, science considered [homosexuality] a sickness and a disease. Over the years that evaluation has changed. Other countries have to grow in the same way and it can take time.
Do you think the synod will make a statement on criminalization? Do you think the pope will make a statement against these laws on his visit to Africa?
I don’t know what kind of statement the synod will make. As for the pope, I don’t know what he is going to say.
What would you say to a Catholic politician who is promoting criminalization or persecution of lesbian and gay people?
I don’t think that we should be condemning anybody. People need to grow.
I’m not suggesting that you should condemn politicians, but I am asking what advice you would give them about such laws?
I would tell them that [homosexual] people are not criminals. It is not a crime. A crime is something that hurts another human being. This is not a situation where people are getting hurt.
What advice would you give to Catholics in other countries who are concerned about human rights abuses directed against lesbian and gay people?
I would tell them that they should keep learning about the issue. Academic institutions and the Church are two places that could be providing information.
* * * * * *
Postscript to the interview
At the synod’s midday press briefing later in the day, Cardinal Turkson reiterated his call for “no criminalization, no victimization” of gay and lesbian people and of nations, respectively. When asked if homosexuality was taboo in African nations he responded:
“We don’t consider it taboo, because it has been spoken of in an open way. They have experiences of people in their own families. I don’t believe it is a taboo in Africa. if you think it is taboo, you should go to Russia.
“In an interview this morning, I said I was studying in the U.S. in the 1970s. Every book presented homosexuality as an abnormality. now it has changed. The books had to change their content. That shows, you must admit, that countries that do not accept [homosexuality] need further education. A lot of countries have learned but we need to let them grow and improve. This is why we educate people not to criminal but also to make sure others are not victimized. ” [Editor’s note: I think it is safe to assume that the interview he referenced in this comment was the one that he gave to me that same morning, since he mentioned the same point.]
In a conversation with a reporter about Turkson’s press briefings remarks, I commented that the cardinal’s quip about Russia did not ring true with me:
“There aren’t as many Catholics, or Catholic bishops in Russia as there are in Africa who could be speaking from the Catholic social justice tradition for human dignity and respect for life.
“The fact that Russia’s record on LGBT human rights is dismal is not an excuse for a Catholic cardinal or bishop.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry