Catholics worldwide are calling on the Vatican to intervene in Ghana, where the nation’s bishops have taken stridently anti-LGBTQ positions, including being involved with the closing of an LGBTQ center.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) has launched a petition in support of LGBTQ people in Ghana, following the arrest of LGBTQ movement leaders and the closing of a community that was raided by security forces. Part of this wave of repression is attributable to the nation’s Catholic bishops who released a statement calling for the closure of that community center and more broadly for homosexuality to remain criminalized. A press release from GNRC leaders begins with a request to the Vatican:
“We are hereby issuing an urgent call to Pope Francis, to Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and to Cardinal Marc Ouellett, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to act swiftly to intervene on behalf of LGBTIQ people in Ghana.”
The statement from GNRC was endorsed by the organization’s African Caucus, the African Regional Representative, Dumisani Macdonald Dube, and GNRC’s international co-chairs. Dube commented on chair of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference refusal to dialogue with activists:
“The African Caucus is disappointed by the Archbishop’s response and support to homophobic actions toward the LGBTIQ community in Ghana. The church is supposed to be a safe haven for everybody regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bishops have failed LGBTIQ citizens by supporting the perpetrators of human rights violations. They should be at this point providing safe space, but they are dealing hate. As a powerful entity in the country, the church should take the lead in protecting the children of God.”
Ruby Almeida and Christopher Vella, GNRC’s co-chairs, added their own thoughts. Vella said, in part:
“The eyes of the world are now turned towards Ghana, where the suppression of human rights for members of the LGBTIQ community is becoming increasingly known. Our church leaders must apologize for the inflammatory words that sparked attacks and must take the lead in standing for the safety and dignity of LGBTIQ people. Our sexuality and gender identity are not ephemeral actions or tendencies, but truly constitute a fundamental part of who we are.”
GNRC is asking Catholics and LGBTQ advocates worldwide to sign the petition that echoes the aforementioned comments by the organization’s leaders. You can add your name here.
The Vatican has previously expressed its support for decriminalizing homosexuality, and Pope Francis has made gestures towards this position, too. But too frequently, local bishops in countries where homophobic attitudes are common fail to uphold the church’s position.
In Ghana, church leaders have given into anti-LGBTQ prejudices in contradiction to the pro-human rights witness they should be offering. Notably, this present approach contrasts with the previous position of Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Cape Coast. He formerly headed the Archdiocese of Accra, and in that role participated in the 2015 Synod on the Family. Asked then by Bondings 2.0 about criminalization laws, the archbishop replied that LGBTQ people do indeed have human rights and should be welcomed in the church. He then appealed to “be patient with Africa” because “we are growing,” and change to anti-gay attitudes could not happen “overnight.” While not perfect, Palmer-Buckle’s words signaled something highly different than what the Ghanian bishops conference has now put out.
Decentralization in the church should still be the priority, as Francis has intended, but there are moments, especially when human life is at risk, for the Vatican to intervene and stop repressive behavior by ecclesial actors.
New Ways Ministry provides several resources for decriminalization efforts on its website, which are available here. These resources include a chronology of Catholic responses to anti-LGBTQ criminalization since 2009, quotes from Catholics on why they oppose criminalization, and a prayer to end these injustices against LGBTQ people. New Ways Ministry is a member of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2021