A top African cardinal recently tweeted about a book on reparative therapy and another book that claims the LGBT movement is totalitarian. What exactly is his message in doing so, and what could the pastoral implications be?
In early August, Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, South Africa tweeted about the book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach. He linked to quotes from the book in three tweets, and in one of the tweets commented before the quote’s beginning:
“Just started reading this challenging work on a subject of great importance. ‘And most of all I want to express m. . . ‘” [Ed. note: The tweet ended abruptly.]
The book is authored by Josepn Nicolosi, a founding member and former president of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a reparative therapy advocacy group the . It was published in 2012, and is based on ideas that have long been discredited by mainstream professional communities.
In July, Napier tweeted about another book, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom by Gabriele Kuby, which is also highly critical of LGBT people. Its dust jacket description includes the following:
“From the [LGBT] movement’s trailblazers to the post-Obergefell landscape, she documents in meticulous detail how the tentacles of a budding totalitarian regime are slowly gripping the world in an insidious stranglehold. Here on full display are the re-education techniques of the new permanent revolution, which has migrated from politics and economics to sex.”
Several anti-gay figures have also endorsed Kuby’s book, including Austin Ruse of the Center for Family and Human Rights (classified as a hate group) and leaders with the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom. Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored how these extreme right wing figures and groups have helped import homophobia to Africa, even advocating for harsher criminalization laws.
Finally, Napier retweeted a derogatory image against transgender persons posted by another user. It is a chart of differing gender identities, around which male and female are circled and labeled as “genders.” The other near three dozen identities are circled and labeled as “mental disorders.”
Why is Napier giving a tacit endorsement to these books and this chart by tweeting about them with little to no commentary?
His promotion of them is even more problematic given the Catholic magisterium’s own ambiguity about reparative therapy and what Vatican officials have termed “gender ideology.” The Catechism says the “psychological genesis” of homosexuality is unknown, though admits there is a “non-negligible” number of people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” The U.S. bishops’ document Always Our Children addresses the issue of reparative therapy more directly, but is ambiguous about support for it:
“You can help a homosexual person in two general ways. First, encourage him or her to cooperate with God’s grace to live a chaste life. Second, concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual orientation itself. This implies respecting a person’s freedom to choose or refuse therapy directed toward changing a homosexual orientation. Given the present state of medical and psychological knowledge, there is no guarantee that such therapy will succeed. Thus, there may be no obligation to undertake it, though some may find it helpful.”
Given these statements, Cardinal Napier could be promoting Nicolosi’s book and feel he is defended by church teaching. Doing so, though, is certainly not within the limits of contemporary discourse on these issues, which has overwhelmingly rejected reparative therapy as pseudoscience and where the diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains highly controversial.
What is more problematic for me is not Napier’s ideas engagement with alternative viewpoints or even an engagement of ambiguous doctrine. The problems arise when reading his tweets through a pastoral lens. The harm reparative therapies have caused pastorally and psychologically is well-documented, which has led to a dozen or so countries and at least eight U.S. states to ban it in some or all forms. Of particular concern is forcing children to engage in such therapy, given the long term harm it can cause them. All of these realities seem to suggest it would be pastorally inappropriate to speak positively about Nicolosi’s writings.
Additionally, Napier is a culture warrior. Though not a signatory, he supported five cardinals’ submission of dubia to Pope Francis about perceived doctrinal issues with Amoris Laetitia. His Twitter feed includes many statements and retweets that place him clearly in the right wing of the church, and he emerged as a strong reactionary voice at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family. Read with this knowledge as context, his tweets about reparative therapy, the LGBT movement as totalitarian, and gender diversity as mental disorders read all the more threateningly.
I cannot know what is in Cardinal Napier’s heart or on his mind when tweeting quotes from Nicolosi’s book or linking to Kuby’s book, and especially not when retweeting the gender diversity chart. Still I have one invitation I humbly propose for the cardinal.
Cardinal Napier once claimed he could not be homophobic because he did not personally know any lesbian or gay people. He may not know when he has met an LGBT person, though it is almost assured that he has encountered members of these gender and sexual minority communities.
As a pastor, Napier would be wise to stop reading junk science and spend his time going out to meet with and listen to the stories of LGBT people and their families. That would be the real “challenging work on a subject of great importance,” and it would be the Christ-like path, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 17, 2017