A Ugandan bishop used a liturgy for Ash Wednesday to condemn homosexuality, coming just weeks after Pope Francis’ denunciation of criminalization laws that remain in effect in that country.
Monitor reported on the bishop who made the LGBTQ-negative remarks in his homily to mark the beginning of Lent:
“In Lira, the Bishop of Lira Catholic Diocese, Rt Rev Sanctus Lino Wanok, called on Christians luring people into homosexuality to utilise this Lent season for repentance and seek God’s blessings.
“He said God cannot bless what he considers to be sin, and that the Catholic Church will not accept homosexuality.
“‘Don’t lure anybody into the sin of homosexuality as it is not human; it is death, which humanity must repent against. God wants salvation for that person and that person can be saved if we relieve him from that,’ Bishop Wanok said.
“Bishop Wanok said homosexuality is unacceptable and that the Bible condemns it, but since salvation is promised for everyone, including homosexuals, they should repent from such acts. . .
“‘It is a shameful thing actually, they are mocking the Church by saying we want blessings for our union. That mockery should stop, otherwise, it is offensive to God as our creator,’ he explained.”
Elsewhere, the framing of homosexuality in a human rights perspective was condemned by Fr. AGabito Arinaitwe of Uganda Martyrs Catholic Parish, who suggest “It’s time we turn away from our evil deeds and turn back to the Lord.” Monitor also reported on a number of Anglican bishops and priests who made even harsher comments about LGBTQ+ people.
Earlier this month, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) issued a statement of concern about the Ugandan government’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ groups, which may strip some 22 groups of their non-governmental organization status. GNRC’s leaders said “the good social and pastoral work” by groups such as Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) is “being dismantled by the Ugandan government.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, one of GNRC’s co-chairs, commented:
“FARUG and groups like it have worked tirelessly to care for some of the most vulnerable people across Uganda for many years. We wholeheartedly support their efforts to care for our LGBT+ sisters, brothers, and kin, especially those who have suffered violence or been driven from their homes.”
Chris Vella, another co-chair, stated:
“The harassment, the limitations on their right of association and their right to work for and on behalf of the LGBT people in their country are unacceptable. We appeal for the fundamental respect of human rights.”
The situation for LGBTQ+ people in Uganda is dire. Same-gender relationships remain illegal, with a potential penalty of life imprisonment, and anti-LGBTQ+ violence and discrimination are commonplace. Given some 40% of Ugandans are Catholic, the institutional church continues to influence the nation’s politics and culture. But Catholic leaders have a troubling record of supporting criminalization, including efforts to strengthen punishments back in 2014.
Pope Francis has made clear this year that the Catholic Church stridently opposes criminalization laws. In less reported comments, he suggested bishops with LGBTQ-negative attitudes must under a “process of conversion” and focus on instead treating gay people with the same “tenderness. . .[that] God has for each one of us.”
The rhetoric used by Bishop Wanok and other clergy to speak about homosexuality is not only unacceptable, it is inconsistent with what the church actually teaches and the inclusive vision this pope has for the church. Lent is indeed a time to turn away from evil and towards God. Bishop Wanok, Fr. Arinaitwe, and other Ugandan clergy with similar attitudes should turn away from homophobia and towards human rights for gay people.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2023