Senior African Cardinal: “Homosexuals Cannot be Criminalized.”

Cardinal Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

Homosexuals cannot be criminalized.

and

We are all growing in this regard.

These are important statements, coming from one of the two most senior African officials at the Vatican, Cardinal Turkson made them in an interview with Frank DeBenardo of New Ways Ministry, who is in Rome for the Family Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

They are important in themselves, and also for the lessons they hold about the importance of LGBT engagement with Catholic bishops. There’s some useful background to this.

Earlier this year, two groups of LGBT Catholic pilgrims were in Rome. One from the USA was led by DeBenardo and Sr Jeannine Grammick,  and the other was from the UK, led by led by my friend and colleague Martin Pendergast of the Westminster Diocese Lesbian and Gay Catholic Pastoral Council. Pendergast’s partner Julian Filichowski has a strong record of professional abd voluntary work for the Catholic Church in areas relating to justice and peace. While in Rome, armed with a letter of introduction from Cardinal Vincent Nichols  (see correction below)  Pendergast and Filichowski secured a private meeting with Cardinal Turkson. Pendergast told me later that they had been expecting a polite, brief discussion over a cup of tea. In fact, they were with him for over an hour, and discussed some really substantive issues. These included issues relating to LGBT rights and freedom from  persecution as a matter of justice, and the importance for Catholic prelates to avoid speaking about LGBT people, unless they also speak to us,

So, these are the lessons I think for LGBT Catholics.

  • It’s important to remember that LGBT issues can and should be approached as matters of justice, and not exclusively as matters of sexual morality, which is the usual approach. Taken as a whole, Catholic teaching is far more concerned with justice, help for the marginalized and inclusion for all, than it does on details of sexual ethics.  This is especially important in Africa, where people have a strong sense of historic injustice and continuing prejudice, marginalization and exclusion. Talk about injustice resonates with their experience.
  • We need to engage with the bishops at every opportunity, and build on each successful meeting. Pendergast and Filichowski are unlikely to have achieved their February meeting without the introduction from Cardinal Nichols, based on their records of work in the English Church. It is likely that their meeting in turn paved the way for DeBenardo’s interview, not least because it will have alerted DeBenardo to the potential value of seeking it. (In the same way, the meeting last year between Quest chair Ruby Almeida with Cardinal Gracias in India, will have alerted DeBenardo to the value of an interview with  him, which he reported on earlier).
  • We need community support. DeBenardo is in Rome because he is executive director of New Ways Ministry, which enabled him to achieve press accreditation for the Synod, and to cover the substantial financial costs of being there. Alone, neither would have been possible. Backed by the organizational support and financial contributions, he has been able to be present in Rome throughout the synod assembly, to attend all press briefings, to put some valuable questions from an LGBT perspective, and to arrange notable private interviews, such as those with Cardinals Turkson and Gracias.

Along with these helpful lessons, there’s also an important warning.

In declaring his opposition to the criminalization of homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson also declared his opposition to what he called the “criminalization of states”, referring to efforts by some Western countries to use economic penalties as a weapon to pressurize African countries to make progress on LGBT equality.

Neither can any state be victimized. So, let no state criminalize homosexuals, but let no state by victimized. No state should have aid denied because of this.

Just as arguments about injustice resonate with Africans, any appearance of ideological neocolonialism is strongly resented.  Well intentioned but badly judged attempts to nudge Africa to greater justice by using economic threats or incentives can easily backfire.

Here are DeBenardo’s first two questions and Cardinal Turkson’s responses from the interview. Read the full transcript at Bondings 2.0:

You’ve made a number of statements on criminalization laws which have been interpreted variously?  What is your position on criminalizing  lesbian and gay people?

My position has had two parts.  Homosexuals cannot be criminalized. Neither can any state be victimized. So, let no state criminalize homosexuals, but let no state by victimized. No state should have aid denied because of this.

Last week, Archbishop Palmer-Buckle said that African bishops were reluctant to oppose criminalization, but that they were growing in awareness of lesbian and gay people.  Do you see African bishops outgrowing their reluctance to oppose criminalization laws soon?

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We are all growing in this regard.  When we come to meetings like the synod and listen to one another, we learn from one another.  We hear bishops telling stories of their relatives’ pain, and we grow.

Source:  Bondings 2.0

CORRECTION:

Martin Pendergast has corrected my earlier statement on his meeting with Cardinal Turkson. I apologize unreservedly for getting it wrong, which I put down to faulty recall or misunderstanding in a private conversation.:

Thanks for putting Cardinal Turkson’s comments in a wider context, Terry. However, I must correct your point about our February 2015 meeting with the Cardinal. The two-and-a-half hour long meeting was not held as a result of an introduction by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Cardinal Turkson had responded in a friendly manner to an invitation to attend the 11 October 2014 Conference “When Identity Becomes a Crime: The Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally”, organised by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and others. He regretted being unable to attend due it taking place in the middle of the October 2014 Synod Session. I was asked by the European Forum to see if we could get an appointment with Cardinal Turkson, during our Rome Pilgrimage, in order to discuss his views on LGBT criminalisation, as well as other matters relating to the 2015 Synod Session. We were very pleased to have the opportunity for such an in-depth discussion with Cardinal Turkson and Fr. Michael Czerny SJ, his Assistant, and in turn I was asked to send him a Briefing Paper on the topics discussed. This was sent to him in June 2015. 

2 thoughts on “Senior African Cardinal: “Homosexuals Cannot be Criminalized.””

  1. Thanks for putting Cardinal Turkson’s comments in a wider context, Terry. However, I must correct your point about our February 2015 meeting with the Cardinal. The two-and-a-half hour long meeting was not held as a result of an introduction by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
    Cardinal Turkson had responded in a friendly manner to an invitation to attend the 11 October 2014 Conference “When Identity Becomes a Crime: The Criminalization of Homosexuality Globally”, organised by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and others. He regretted being unable to attend due it taking place in the middle of the October 2014 Synod Session. I was asked by the European Forum to see if we could get an appointment with Cardinal Turkson, during our Rome Pilgrimage, in order to discuss his views on LGBT criminalisation, as well as other matters relating to the 2015 Synod Session. We were very pleased to have the opportunity for such an in-depth discussion with Cardinal Turkson and Fr. Michael Czerny SJ, his Assistant, and in turn I was asked to send him a Briefing Paper on the topics discussed. This was sent to him in June 2015.

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