As Pope Francis arrives for his pastoral visit in three African nations today, the world’s LGBT community has its eyes and ears open to take note of any opposition he may articulate to the terrible trend of laws which criminalize LGBT people.
I’ve been reading press reports all week about LGBT issues in the three nations he will visit–Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic–and one item in particular has caused me pause to consider the true gravity of the situation.
In a Voice of America article, two Catholic Ugandan lay leaders were quoted, each noting their support of Pope Francis’ more tolerant, welcoming attitude toward LGBT people. Yet, at the same time, both leaders said they supported their nation’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Law. While neither of these people are church officials, their statements reveal the influence of cultural standards–a force that is sometimes stronger than orthodoxy:
One of these leaders, Joanne Banura, said she supported Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” sentiment, and emphasized that she believed there is a religious imperative to welcome gay and lesbian people:
“Jesus never condemned anybody so that’s what he’s [the pope] also doing. He’s representing the image of Jesus Christ on Earth. So if homosexuals come up and they tell us ‘we are homosexual’ and want to be accepted, we shall accept them being as they are also created in the image of God.”
But Banura made an important distinction between church acceptance and civil acceptance:
“When they come to the Church, they will not be condemned.When they come to the community in Uganda, they will be condemned by other people, because the law of the country will take over.”
I found this to be a curious distinction, and I wished that the reporter had elicited more thoughts from Banura to explain how she could hold such a seeming contradiction. I wonder, though, that her reasoning might be similar to the other lay Catholic quoted in the story.
Joseph Ntuwa, the parish secretary of Our Lady of Africa Church in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, stated:
“I believe Pope Francis when his message might be about us not condemning the homosexuals, but us trying to help them because you get some of them who were just trained. Who were recruited when they were still young. And we’re judging them harshly. So I think his message will be more into how to help them and accommodate them in our community.”
Ntuwa’s attitude reveals an incredible lack of knowledge about sexuality and sexual orientation. No one is “trained” to be a homosexual. No one is recruited to be one, either.
This lack of knowledge is most likely what fuels much of what Banura referred to as the local customs which do not support homosexuality.
Awareness of this glaring lack of information makes me realize that, while a message of support for LGBT human rights by Pope Francis is certainly needed, it is also certainly not enough. What is also needed is education. I see three important ideas that need to be clarified.
The first is the notion that homosexuality is something that is somehow learned or forced upon someone. Those ideas existed in other countries until research proved them wrong. That research needs to be shared.
The biggest obstacle I see to Pope Francis or the Vatican sharing such research is that in a sense, they haven’t fully accepted it yet themselves. We–and by “we,” I mean the entire Church–need a clear statement from church leaders acknowledging that sexual orientation is a naturally occurring variant of human sexuality.
The second idea in need of correction is the idea that one can be compassionate to a person in Church, while at the same time working against their human rights in civil society. That Banura’s and Ntuwa’s religious message is compassionate while their civil judgment is harsh is a major contradiction. If church people believe in human dignity, which is the basis of a compassionate response, they need to be educated about how to put that into practice in the civil realm. Pope Francis’ message of mercy should not be reduced to a message of pity, while, at the same time, working against the human good for a segment of the population.
I sincerely hope that Pope Francis speaks out against laws which criminalize LGBT people, but I also hope that he will initiate educational programs that help people come to a better understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as understanding a Christian’s responsibility in civic life.
Encourage Pope Francis to speak out for LGBTQI human rights. Join with Catholics across the world who using the #PopeSpeakOut campaign to ask Francis to send a clear message with
To send a message to Pope Francis and add your voice to the many Catholics openly critical of institutionalized homophobia, visit the campaign’s website by clicking here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Huffington Post: “Uganda’s Gay Community Has High Hopes For Pope Francis’s Visit”