Bishops’ Support for Anti-Gay Law Contradicts Pope, Says Human Rights Watch Leader

Graeme Reid

The Catholic bishops in Ghana have taken a position on LGBTQ rights that is directly opposite to that of Pope Francis.  That is the position taken by an opinion writer in The Advocate, a leading U.S. LGBTQ news outlet. 

Written by Graeme Reid, the LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, the essay, entitled “On LGBTQ+ Rights, Ghana’s Bishops Choose to Ignore Pope,” makes the observation that while Francis has enabled incremental gains for LGBTQ people in the church, “in Ghana, the Pope’s remarks have fallen on deaf ears.”

The pope’s approach “not only respects LGBTQ+ people as members of society but calls on governments to provide them basic legal protections.”

As Bondings 2.0 has reported, the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference has been voicing staunch support for the proposed anti-LGBTQ bill, known as “The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021.”

The Ghanaian bishops are standing behind a bill that “broadly targets LGBTQ+ people and purports to criminalize many of their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, and access to information,” writes Reid. In their statement of support, the bishops expressed their belief that “homosexual practices [should be made] illegal in Ghana.” 

If the legislation is enacted, the penalties for violating the law would be harsh. Reid writes:

“Disseminating information about LGBTQ+ people can result in a five-to-ten-year prison sentence. Groups seeking to advance LGBTQ+ rights can be punished with six to ten years in prison. Funding or sponsoring vaguely defined prohibited activities can result in a five-to-ten-year sentence.” 

The bill’s harsh stipulations would worsen the situation for LGBTQ people in Ghana, already a country where the law “fosters a climate of violence and intimidation toward LGBT Ghanaians,” according to Human Rights Watch and local Ghanaian groups.

Reid speaks out strongly against the bishops’ recent actions in light of the existing environment for LGBTQ Ghanaians, calling out the contradictions in what Catholic leaders in Ghana preach about LGBTQ people. Reid writes:

“Given this climate of discrimination and instances of violence, the Ghanaian Catholic bishops’ call for the ‘abominable practice [of homosexuality to be] made illegal in our country’ seems even more appalling. Indeed, the bishops appear to speak out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they say that ‘it is not right to subject homosexuals to any form of harassment simply because they are homosexuals,’ and that LGBTQ+ people should be ‘loved and respected and not discriminated against.’ On the other, they openly support a cruel and unnecessary law that foments the same anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination they claim to abhor.”

Reid comments that the president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Naameh, “has remained steadfast in his support of the bill.” The Vatican, by contrast, “has already taken a public stance in opposing violence, unjust discrimination, and criminal penalties against sexual and gender minorities.” Other faith leaders, including the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, have also spoken out in opposition to the legislation. 

Reid urges Ghana’s bishops to “heed the example of the Pope and the public statements of the Holy See—and join in the condemnation of this heinous law.”

Throughout his papacy, including this fall, Pope Francis has shown how the church can extend a fuller welcome to its LGBTQ members and, indeed, how Catholics can respond to all LGBTQ people with inclusivity and sensitivity. As the pope models, faithful Catholics can and should honor the dignity of LGBTQ people. Catholic leaders have a responsibility to follow Francis’s example, showing the way forward by opposing legislation that would cause discrimination and harm. 

Since 2015, Catholics have been asking Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBTQ criminalization through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign. If you would like to contact the pope about Ghana’s bishops, you can find information on how to do so here.

For New Ways Ministry’s full list of resources on anti-LGBTQ criminalization, including a chronology of Catholic leaders’ positive and negative statements on the issue, click here.

Grace Doerfler (she/her), December 24, 2021

1 reply
    DUANE SHERRY says:

    The bishops appear to be certain–in their faith, actions, and madness.

    “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.” -Anne Lamott


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