Despite Pope Francis’ more welcoming style towards LGBTQ people, he has appointed a number of LGBTQ-negative churchmen as bishops. In at least two instances, these problematic bishops have recently attracted public criticism.
In Spain, residents of the city of Orihuela are calling for their mayor to cancel an historic ceremony used to welcome new bishops when Bishop José Ignacio Munilla is installed next month.
The incoming head of the Diocese of Orihuela-Alicante, who is a high-profile media figure, has admitted to being personally involved in conversion therapy efforts with at least three people. In 2010, while leading the Diocese of San Sebastián, he said that being gay is a “disorder,” suggesting homosexuality is due to childhood trauma or pornography use.
Información reported further that he commented on the issue of LGBTQ parents adopting children by saying “experiments are done with soda, not with children.” He has also said feminism is “suicide” for women’s dignity, characterized masturbation as a form of violence, among other extreme statements.
Because of these ccomments, city residents object to the incoming bishop being honored in a ceremony which has occurred for hundreds of years. A Change.org petition reads, in part:
“[Munilla’s] homophobic and anti-feminist theories do not correspond to the reality of Spain, nor the reality of Orihuela, where religion, LGTB + rights and dignity coexist in a changing and respectful society between all its fellow citizens.
“Therefore, as citizens, we want to ask the mayor of Orihuela, Emilio Bascuñana Galiano, to cancel the welcoming ceremony of the new Bishop of Orihuela-Alicante, José Ignacio Munilla, as long as he, publicly, does not retract from his words or show his respect for those citizens (and believers) who may have been offended by their sexual orientation.
“An act with honors and of this tradition, should not be stained with radicalism and lack of respect. This man is not worthy of Orihuela. And we, as citizens of Orihuela, will not attend this event.”
In another appointment, the pope has named Bishop Paul Ssemogerere as the new archbishop of Kampala, Uganda, where he had been serving as apostolic administrator since early 2021. The human rights group 76 Crimes reported part of Ssemogerere’s record:
“As a prominent Church leader, Ssemwogerere campaigned in 2016 against a proposed sex education program that was going to be introduced in Uganda’s schools, alleging that the program promoted homosexuality, which he said was contrary to nature and Church teachings.
“The donors bring money, now that programme they brought along is teaching our children homosexuality. It is now in 100 schools. Please parents; it is your responsibility to teach children sex education rightly,” he is quoted as saying in the Uganda Observer.”
Criticism of Ssemwogerere also comes from Kikonyogo Kivumbi, the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, who writes of the negative impact that having anti-gay figures like the new archbishop in power has:
“The Catholic Church in Uganda is an important institution in the welfare of the people, with many health care, education and other vital services under the church. Some LGBT activists fear that faith-based services that discriminate against queer people may put them at greater risk of poor health.”
What are LGBTQ Catholics and allies to make of this dissonance between the pope’s own style and his episcopal appointments?
First, expectation setting is always helpful in Catholic discussions: we are dealing with one human being charged with 1.34 billion other people’s care. Pope Francis cannot be personally involved with the appointment of every bishop, of whom there are more than 5,000 globally. Cultures take years to shift, and even with the time Francis has had, the Curia remains strongly resistant in spots. Bad appointments will be made. Even with the best pope, under the current schema, this reality is inevitable. And despite some bad decisions, Pope Francis has indeed made many appointments of churchmen with positive LGBTQ records.
But second, and more importantly, these two incidents in Spain and Uganda show why Catholics and LGBTQ advocates need to be engaged locally with their church leaders. We need to be conscious of who is being appointed, what their record is, and where challenges—or new opportunities to dialogue—might arise that require action on our part. It is up to the People of God, not just Pope Francis, to ensure our pastors are providing the care we are due.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2022