LGBT advocates are seeking Pope Francis’ intervention as they plead with Cameroon’s Catholic bishops to retract a harsh anti-gay statement released last month .
Following a mid-January meeting, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) released a statement advocating “zero tolerance” of homosexuality. The statement, unanimously approved, also stated that “this abominable thing that goes against nature risks becoming a social outbreak,” reported 76 Crimes, a blogsite which chronicles global developments in LGBT discrimination criminalization.
During the Conference’s discussion of homosexuality, individual bishops lodged their personal condemnations. NECC’s President, Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, commented that homosexuality “threatens. . .the church’s foundations.” Cameroon, where 38% of the population is Catholic, criminalizes homosexuality with jail terms up to five years and steep financial penalties. The country’s bishops have a deeply troubling record on homosexuality, which you can read here, leading the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups to call it as one of Africa’s “most hostile countries” for LGBT people.
Given that this legal reality is coupled with deep social stigma, the LGBTI human rights group “Alternatives Cameroon” is appealing for mercy from the country’s bishops. In a press release reported by 76 Crimes, the organization stated:
“The Catholic Church failed to demonstrate how an individual’s sexuality could influence social cohesion and equilibrium or the sustainability of the family. To the contrary, we believe an individual’s sexual fulfillment can’t help but contribute to cohesion, stability and sustainability.
“With this hypocritical and hateful language condemning homosexuality, the Catholic Church (which accounts for about 37 percent of the Christian population) is contributing yet again to the destabilization of society and the family and their cohesion.”
The statement also said that Catholic leaders seek to divide Cameroonians by the “institutionalization of hatred,” contradicting Pope Francis’ “more conciliatory approach.” Alternatives Cameroon’s statement concluded with two appeals:
“We call on the Catholic Church to fulfill its primary mission to promote peace, love and tolerance and finally to be at the sides of the oppressed and those left behind.
“Finally, we call on Pope Francis (the head of the Catholic Church) to get control of the Cameroonian prelates, including the bishops of the National Episcopal Conference, and to harmonize the discourse of the Church.”
When Pope Francis made his pastoral visit to Africa last fall, Catholics and LGBT advocates worldwide called on him to condemn laws which criminalize homosexuality and to appeal for mercy on behalf of sexual and gender minorities. Francis remained silent. While there is no direct link to the pope, it is easy to see how Cameroon’s bishops feel permitted to make such statements when the pope refuses to condemn anti-LGBT laws.
Importantly, though, the bishops’ call for “zero tolerance” defies even the hierarchy’s own teachings about homosexuality which call for all people to be welcomed with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and for all signs of discrimination to be opposed. Pope Francis seeks a more decentralized church which respects local decision-making, and this can be good. But when people will suffer greatly and even die because of church leaders’ actions, there exists a case of justifiable intervention by a higher authority, according to the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Francis remained silent last fall, but it is not too late for him to speak out and end episcopal prejudice so openly displayed.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry