As speculation about a possible African pope continues in Rome, news from Malawi and Cameroon about aggressively anti-LGBT actions by Catholics reminds the global church that an African pope might entail troubling views on homosexuality and gender.
Responding to political developments in Malawi, the Catholic bishops in that nation unanimously approved a letter to be read during Sunday Masses that strongly condemns homosexuality. The media in Malawi reports the bishops refer to homosexuality as a â€śtrialâ€ť and reiterate the long-standing claim that same-gender marriage threatens society. This contradicts a trend out of Europe where bishops have spoken positively of same-gender relationships and, while opposing marriage rights, offered an openness to alternative legal structures for LGBT couples.
Malawiâ€™s bishops possess significant clout in the politics of their country:
â€śCatholic bishops in Malawi are influential. The countryâ€™s march to democracy in 1992 was started by the Catholic Church after its bishops issued a pastoral letter critical of later dictator Kamuzu Bandaâ€™s style of leadershipâ€¦
â€śSince 1992, the Church has remained the conscience of Malawi society.â€ť
Across the continent, the Association of Cameroon Roman Catholic Jurists, a legal organization, spoke in defense of that nationâ€™s anti-gay laws at a conference on homosexuality. Homosexuality has been repeatedly condemned by Catholic clergy in Cameroon, claimed by one bishop to be a â€śserious crime against humanity,â€ť and is illegal in the nation. Africa Review reports on the Associationâ€™s statement in the broader context of Cameroonâ€™s human rights record:
â€śThe groupâ€™s position echoes the Churchâ€™s vehement disapproval of homosexuality, which is said to be flourishing even though a it is a criminal offense in the central African nation.
â€śIn Cameroon, homosexuality is punishable by a jail sentence ranging from six months to five years and fines for those convicted could be between $38 and $374â€¦
â€śIn 2011, 14 people were prosecuted for homosexuality in Cameroon and at least 12 were convicted last year, according to Justice ministry records.â€ť
One conviction resulted after a man was caught texting about his love for another man, earning him a three-year jail sentence. This criminalization of homosexuality is prominent in Africa, with nations like Uganda attempting even to pass the death penalty as punishment, and the Catholic hierarchy there has been too often silent about the measures.
In both the Malawi bishopsâ€™ and the Association of Cameroon Roman Catholic Juristsâ€™ statements they mentioned that gay and lesbian individuals should be afforded respect and compassion. Yet, such claims to love and include gay and lesbian Catholics in their nations seem shallow, if not empty. when they continue to speak in such vile terms and support criminalization efforts against the LGBT community. If indeed the next pope is from Africa, we must pray he understands issues of sexual ethics and social justice in more pastoral and loving ways.
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