“It is Better to Die of Hunger” Than to Accept Homosexuality, Says Tanzanian Cardinal

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo

It would be better to starve to death than to accept homosexuality, said a top African church leader while asking government officials to reject foreign aid allegedly tied to advancing LGBT equality.

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, made his comments during a Mass last month that celebrated the harvest. A news report posted by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa explained:

“[Pengo] said that there are some threats from developed countries alleging that ‘they will stop support us if we are against homosexuality. It is better to die of hunger than to receive aid and be compelled to do things that are contrary to God’s desire,’ Cardinal Pengo said adding that ‘the sin of homosexuality was the cause of destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and that, these things are contrary to God’s plan in creation and should not be accepted at all.’

“He thanked the Tanzanian Government for its position on the matter while stressing that all Tanzanians should say no to homosexual which apparently is encroaching very fast in African countries.

“‘We cannot accept such displeasing things to God; and if we are starving because we have refused to engage in such acts, then we would rather die with our God. Accepting homosexual is denying God,’ Cardinal Pengo further expressed.'” [Editor’s note:  What may seem like grammatical errors or typos in the above quotes from the cardinal are actually variations in spoken English used in Tanzania.]

The cardinal’s remarks during Mass came while the LGBT community in Tanzania, and specifically in Dar es Salaam, suffered renewed persecution. In late October of this year, the city’s governor announced a new team of vigilantes to identify and jail LGBT people. Hundreds of people have either fled the city or gone into hiding since, and the risks remain high to this day. Being lesbian or gay is still criminalized nationwide, and incidents of discrimination and violence in Tanzania overall have been increasing since the 2015 of President John Magufuli. HIV/AIDS activists and workers have also been targeted by the government.

Pengo is not the first Catholic official to claim Western donors have sought to impose LGBT rights on unwilling recipient nations. Lack of evidence that foreign aid to any nation has been withheld over a recipient nation’s LGBT record has not stopped these false ideas from spreading. These ideas made it into the Synod on the Family’s 2015 final report, and Pope Francis has criticized repeatedly what he terms “ideological colonization” (e.g. here, here, and here). Even though the ideas he promoted further are not novel, there is something uniquely cruel about Pengo’s words. I offer two reasons for this claim.

First, the foreign aid that Tanzania’s government receives, funding a third of its budget, is desperately needed. According to Crux, the nation has “one of the highest percentages of malnourished citizens in the world” and “more than 75 percent of the country’s population have in the last year suffered food shortages.” To suggest to an already suffering people that faithful Catholics should starve themselves to death rather than, for instance, end anti-LGBT criminalization is grotesque and abusive logic.

Second, in the midst of anti-LGBT persecution which has caused great suffering, a church leader should be injecting the words of Christ’s love. Pengo should be calling for everyone’s life and dignity to be protected, not conceding to his own prejudices and stoking the homophobic fires well ablaze in Dar es Salaam. He has made himself actively complicit in all the violence being carried out.

Often when church leaders make insensitive or harmful comments about LGBT issues, Catholics rightly call on them to apologize. But an apology will not be sufficient in the case of Cardinal Prengo. He must also use his authority to stop the very anti-LGBT persecution which he has helped foment.

To learn more about anti-LGBT criminalization and ways Catholics can take action against such laws, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2018

12 replies
  1. Richard Boyle, OSM
    Richard Boyle, OSM says:

    I wonder if anyone “out there” might enlighten me a bit: Why do so many of the African leaders in the RC Church express such homophobic attitudes? Is it cultural overall across Africa? Is it more restricted to certain areas, countries, or even tribal groups? I simply confess my ignorance as a counterpoint to my anger over such (to me) ignorant and offensive statements (per Card. Pengo).

    • ignatzz
      ignatzz says:

      It’s probably cultural. African Anglican Bishops also express extreme homophobia, despite Anglicans being quite liberal overall.

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    I very much doubt whether Cardinal Prengo will be among the starving. I can’t see a so-called and pampered ‘Prince of the Church’ offer himself for such ‘martyrdom’.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    The man is completely daft. This is a textbook illustration of how NOT to invite people of good will and good faith to explore the spiritual richness of contemporary Catholicism.

  4. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Both Jewish and Christian Biblical scholars have written that the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah was the sin of being inhospitable to strangers. Funny how things can be interpreted and re interpreted . Surprising that a Cardinal would make such a statement.

  5. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    This cleric doesn’t seem to have missed many meals. Does he ever ruminate on the sexual abuses of clerics like him against nuns, girls and women? Do the other clerics talk with him about his abuse of power and that perhaps all his people don’t want to starve? What a sorry, sorry state of affairs if this man is allowed to continue as the leader of the RCC in Tanzania. I also suspect though that many high level clerics like him from all over the world speak this way when they think we can’t hear them. Let them eat cake!

  6. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Feeding the hungry was a big part of Jesus’ message and life’s work – at least according to the Gospel stories. Yet there is not a single word in the Gospels about a condemnation of homosexual relationships and actions from Jesus. The Cardinal’s words say much more about himself than they do about the life and words of Jesus. So the idea of his saying it would be better for poor people in his country (of course excluding himself) to starve to death rather than accept a legal system that doesn’t target homosexuals, is not only obscene, it is contrary to the very message of the Jesus he purports to represent. A church that supports what this Cardinal stands for is not only unchristian, it is repulsive.

  7. Vincent, OSF
    Vincent, OSF says:

    The question I must ask is “what Bible is this Churchman and those like him reading??”. The copy I have tells us that Jesus ate and associated with those “outside the accepted” social order. If anyone has a copy of this Bible, please let me know.

  8. Tom Gaudet
    Tom Gaudet says:

    Let’s not forget the contribution made to this atmosphere of homophobia in Africa by American fundamentalist Evangelical “Christians” who, once they realized they were losing the culture wars in America, were bent on bringing their message to the African churches. It is no surprise to find this in the RC hierarchy in Tanzania or any other African nation. Fundamentalists from America have been on the march trying to accomplish there what couldn’t be accomplished here. And the pope talks about “ideological colonization” as if it were a thing unique to the liberal Left. The real tragedy is that the Vatican/Pope/Curia does not put an end to these divisive and hateful statements. By its silence, Rome is complicit. Pro-life? Yeah, right.

  9. Jim
    Jim says:

    I understand that historically Africans and African-Americans have been among the most oppressed people. It is very sad, however, that some of them need to have another group of people to oppress, i.e. Gay People in this case. Horizontal hostility of an oppressed people towards another oppressed people is “the dream come true” of OPPRESSORS and Haters. We must NOT imitate our oppressors . . . by oppressing others.
    Oh and by the way, if we removed all homosexuals from the Catholic Church, we would have very few priests, nuns, brothers left in it. If we removed all the artistic contributions of homosexuals from the Catholic Church, we would have almost nothing of artistic merit left: music, painting (e.g.,da Vinci’s Last Supper), architecture (Bruneleschi’s dome), sculpture (e.g., Michelangelo’s Pieta).

  10. Fano Ngcobo
    Fano Ngcobo says:

    What planet is the cardinal living in! Besides, what is wrong with living with a homosexuality condition as do many with his ranks in the African Church.


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