The bishop of the Diocese of Roseau in the Caribbean has expressed his support for the continued criminalization of homosexuality in the island nation of Dominica, an apparent reversal of his previous opposition to such a measure.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire recently filed a court document naming the Dominica Christian Council as an interested party opposing a recent lawsuit which aims to overturn the current laws criminalizing homosexuality in Dominica. Malzaire is the president of the Dominica Christian Council, an interdenominational Christian organization. In his filing, Malzaire indicated his support for the continued criminalization of homosexuality.
NCR explained about the affidavit that Malzaire wrote:
“The Dominica Christian Council has a duty to promote Christian values and oppose any legislation that ‘challenges, opposes and/or is likely to degrade these values and beliefs, public decency and/or public morality,’ the bishop wrote in the affidavit.
“’The Christian values concerning sexuality, the family and the sanctity of marriage are no exception,’ Malzaire wrote. ‘It is in this vein that the Applicant [the Dominica Christian Council] wishes to be heard’.”
But in 2013, Malzaire wrote an op-ed for Dominica News Online on behalf of the Catholic Church in Dominica, indicating his support for the official Vatican stance against anti-homosexual discrimination. According to NCR that position was in line with the Vatican’s 2008 letter to the United Nations, which “condemns ‘all forms of violence against homosexual persons’ and urges ‘all States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them’.”
Dominica, which is about 82% Christian, has a deep relationship with Catholicism. Maurice Tomlinson, a senior policy analyst with the HIV Legal Network–one of the groups supporting the claimant in the lawsuit to overturn the criminalization law–says that the bishop’s opinion is particularly relevant because many of the nation’s lawmakers and judges are devout Catholics.
Tomlinson said, “[The bishop’s] word is very powerful and he alone could push the judges to support decriminalization.”
NCR shared further:
“Other Catholic officials in the region have condemned laws that criminalize gay sex. During a November conference on LGBTQ criminalization laws hosted by the HIV Legal Network, Bishop Gregory Alleyne of Georgetown, Guyana, spoke out against such laws in his country.
“‘There is no doubt in my mind that these laws in Guyana should be made null and void,’ he said, at a a recent conference on religion and criminalization laws in the Caribbean. He added that, in his experience, most other bishops in the region also supported removing the laws.”
New Ways Ministry maintains a chronology of Catholic leaders’ responses, positive and negative, on LGBTQ criminalization laws.
Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR that “the Vatican’s statements on these laws have been ‘muddled’ and therefore have not always translated to local bishops in places with anti-LGBTQ laws.” Shine added, “While some church leaders, such as Cardinal Oswald Gracias in Mumbai, India, have spoken against their nations’ anti-LGBTQ laws at great personal risk, others have stayed silent or actively promoted criminalization.”
NCR provided additional examples:
“Similarly, Catholic bishops in Nigeria praised the president for passing laws that punished LGBTQ people who married with 14 years in prison, and criminalized those who run LGBTQ advocacy organizations, according to the Advocate, calling the legislation ‘courageous’.”
Malzaire’s disappointing reversal of opinion places him in contrast to official Vatican teaching on the criminalization of homosexuality and in contradiction to his own previous views. In Dominica, such laws are often used to scapegoat or persecute LGBTQ persons, creating an unjust climate of fear. Tomlinson’s comment to NCR provides the bishop with a basic lesson in Christianity: “Look[..] for the person who is persecuted to lift them up, not to push them down.” Bishop Malzaire would do well to remember the church’s love for the vulnerable in the LGBTQ community.
—Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2021