A church official in Cameroon claimed another bishop who died did not die by suicide as police have argued but was killed by gay priests.
Monsignor Joseph Akonga Essomba made his accusation while preaching at a memorial Mass for Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala, who led the Diocese of Bafia, reported Crux.
Akonga said the “Catholic Church has come under attack,” both by government officials who had Benoit “brutally murdered” and the gay priests who informed on him:
“‘Shame to all those people in black suits and black spectacles [government officials] always sitting in the front rows of the Church. . .Shame to all those priests who have come here, pretending to sympathize. These are the people who killed our bishop, because he said ‘no’ to the homosexuality perpetrated by those priests.'”
Benoit’s body was found in a river, a few miles downstream from his car which was parked on a bridge and had a note inside that said, “I am in the water.” Government officials and foreign experts all concluded through an extensive investigation that included forensic evidence that the bishop drowned, potentially as a suicide.
Cameroon’s bishops have rejected these findings, as have many Catholics. Bishop George Nkuo said:
“‘The same reasons for which Christ was crucified apply to the killing of the bishop. . .He was killed because he stood for the truth. Any pastor, any bishop, any priest who stands for the truth should be ready to face the sword. It’s a beautiful way to die.'”
Bishop Sosthéne Léopold Bayemi of Obala said Benoit’s death proved that the church “will always resist the forces of evil,” while Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, who heads the National Episcopal Conference, said the government should be truthful about who really killed Benoit.
The hierarchy’s rhetoric is highly dangerous and reckless. Since no one has presented any evidence for the involvement of gay priests in Benoit’s death, the accusation smacks of the lowest kind of scapegoating. Serious consequences to LGBT people and to priests can result because of such rhetoric.
There is a complete lack of concern for the dignity of such populations when bishops should be especially concerned with marginalized populations. If there are legitimate questions about the government’s investigations, the bishops should present facts, not accusations against an already stigmatized group.
Homosexuality is illegal in Cameroon, and some human rights group say it is the most aggressive nation in the world enforcing a gay criminalization law. Targeting gay priests for committing violence greatly increases the stigmas about and potential violence against LGBT people in general.
The bishops can correct their dangerous rhetoric if they retract their claims about gay involvement in Benoit’s death and make a positive statement about showing “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for LGBT people. This case is also a powerful reminder of how a strong statement from Pope Francis condemning criminalization laws and violence against LGBT people could be. It is time for both Cameroon’s bishops and Pope Francis to speak out.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 13, 2017