Tag Archives: African bishops

African Theologian Expects LGBT Welcome, Inclusion to Follow from “Amoris Laetitia”

Many commentators on Amoris Laetitia have expressed disappointment that Pope Francis’ reminder of respect and freedom from discrimination for lesbian and gay people, was not accompanied by an explicit condemnation of the LGBT persecution found across much of Africa, or of the endorsement of criminal sanctions by some Catholic bishops.

However, at least one key African Catholic sees it differently, saying that the Pope’s words “should galvanize the Church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members“.

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ, is a Nigerian Jesuit currently serving in Kenya as the Provincial of the Eastern Africa Province of the Society of Jesus, a position he has held since 2009. An author, editor, and lecturer at Hekima College Jesuit School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, Father Orobator specializes in ethics and theology in the church and religion in African society.

Writing at National Catholic Reporter on his early response to Amoris Laetitia, he admits that he had expected more, says that the exhortation is not “groundbreaking”, and adds,

I believe that there is still a long way to go before we actually make the bold steps that are long overdue with regard to critical issues such as the role of women in church, homosexual unions, reproductive rights, all of which are broached and addressed in the document.

However, LGBT Catholics in particular will welcome his admission that bold steps are long overdue with regard to homosexual unions.

Even more welcome is his expectation that African bishops will in fact take on board Francis’ words on respect and freedom from discrimination, and act to welcome LGBT Catholics in the life of the African Church. We can but hope and pray that he is right. As an African myself, I’m delighted that this is being said from within Africa, by a knowledgeable African Catholic leader. (I’m  less convinced than he is though, that the African bishops will in fact take the message of inclusion on board).

African theologian responds to ‘Amoris Laetitia’

 

Furthermore, on a continent where at least 38 countries criminalize homosexuality, the pope’s trenchant call for respect for human dignity, avoidance of unjust discrimination, aggression, and violence, and respectful pastoral guidance [paragraph 250], should galvanize the church in Africa to embrace wholeheartedly African families and their LGBT members who have been stigmatized, marginalized, and excluded from the life of the church. Church leaders need to dissociate themselves from governments and politicians who persecute gay people, and show example of respect for their dignity. In Africa, we say the church is “family of God,” implying that it welcomes all without discrimination. The preeminent mark of this church and the world church is hospitality. Clearly, Francis is calling the church in Africa to practice what it preaches by becoming a church that welcomes all into the family without discrimination.

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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. Continue reading Senior African Cardinal: “Homosexuals Cannot be Criminalized.”

African Bishop’s Call for Incremental Marriage Process

One of the observations at the Nairobi conference on preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, by the Kenyan Bishop of Malindi, Emanuel Barbara, should be of interest to all. For Africans, he said, seeing marriage as a single, one-step process of saying “I do”, is in conflict with the traditional African understanding of marriage as a gradual process, beginning when a couple start to live together, and only formalized some time later. He criticizes the Church’s insistence on a formal sacrament of matrimony before approval for living together in universal marriage practice as the imposition of a “Latin, German culture” on Africans.

We could expect Pope Francis to have some sympathy with this. In his recent visit to South America, he apologized for the way in which European colonists and missionaries had imposed their cultural norms on indigenous peoples. What he did not say, but should have done, was that this cultural colonialism of the mind, included ideas of sexual morality that had nothing to do with the Gospels.

Where Bishop Barbara is mistaken however, is his belief that an incremental approach to the marriage process is specifically African. In fact, as the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler have shown. this was for many centuries, also common practice in Europe, where there used to be a clear distinction between “marriage” and “wedding”.

“Marriage”, they argue, used to be seen as a private commitment between two people, which began when they started to live together in a committed, faithful sexual relationship in a shared home. The “wedding” was a public celebration of that marriage, which followed later, often with the onset of pregnancy or childbirth, (For poorer people who could not afford it, there might never be a wedding). Conflating “marriage” and “wedding” into the single event of “matrimony” is a relatively late development. Seen in historical perspective, the Vatican insistence on avoiding cohabitation before “marriage” is a nonsense: marriage used to begin with cohabitation. Avoiding cohabitation before the church wedding, is not only in conflict with African culture, it’s also in conflict with widespread European practice of earlier centuries – and is also no longer practised by real – world Catholics even in the modern West.

This is an important issue that the theologians really should be grappling with. It will be a challenge though, because it is in absolute conflict with the assumption in Vatican doctrine that the only licit sexual activity is after marriage. Remove that cornerstone, and the entire shaky house of cards of sexual teaching collapses.

Here’s  Bishop Barbara’s observations, as told by National Catholic Reporter:

…….. the Kenyan bishop said traditional African marriages normally involved much more than the simple “Yes, I do” that provides for consent between married couples in Christian marriages. In the past, he said, consent between couples was even made over years — as the couples lived with one another, and their families came to be gradually meshed together.

“Can we still today speak of a universal form of marriage where the only consent — ‘Yes, I do,’ coming from a Latin, German culture — will be sufficient to sanction a marriage?” Barbara asked.

“In the African context, it used to take stages,” he said. “There used to be involved both families before the marriage will come to be something. Is it enough today still to insist in our own culture, in our environment in Africa, that it is enough that you go in front of the priest or the minister and say, ‘Yes, I do?’ “

Related posts:

African Bishop’s Call for Incremental Marriage Process

Truly Human Sexual Acts: A Response to Patrick Lee and Robert George By Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler in Theological Studies, September 2008

African Bishops’ Priorities for the 2015 Family Synod

European bishops’ preparations for the 2015 Family Synod have largely focussed on challenges of pastoral care arising from two issues of sexual morality,  remarriage after divorce  and homosexuality. African see things rather differently.

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A gathering of African bishops and theologians complained that too much of the 2014 synod was taken up with concerns of Western countries, while the most pressing concerns of Africans were ignored – and no, gay marriage is not one of those. Here’s a partial list, given in a National Catholic Reporterstory on the meeting:

Among the issues, too many to list in full:

  • Identity struggles for Africans who feel separated from their traditional cultures after Christian conversion;

  • Gender-based violence in households, overwhelmingly against women;

  • Missing presence of fathers in family life;

  • Large-scale, crippling poverty;

  • Lack of “principled, ethical leadership” in both governmental and church spheres.

Related posts:

African Bishop’s Call for Incremental Marriage Process

Synod’s Gross Distortion of International Pressure & Gay Marriage

There only two paragraphs In the synod’s final “Relatio” referring specifically to homosexuality. The second of these, which was approved by the comfortable margin of 159 to 21, states (in a modified Google translation):

56 It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer pressure in this matter and that international bodies make financial aid to poor countries conditional on the introduction of laws that establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

If this had any connection with reality on the ground, I would find this completely unexceptional I am a firm supporter of the principle of equal marriage in civil law. I am also an African, and deeply conscious of how well- intentioned Western attempts to influence African governments are perceived (all too often, quite justly) as neo-colonial interference. Such efforts can easily backfire, with serious unintended consequences. For that reason, I agree with the bishops that Western attempts to manipulate foreign aid to force gay marriage on African countries is unacceptable – if such pressure existed, or was even under discussion. It is not. In this matter, the bishops are tilting at windmills, a figment of their fevered collective imagination. The tragedy is that in their terror of the imagined threat of gay marriage, they are ignoring a serious reality, which even an African Archbishop at the synod. acknowledged is a real problem – the criminalization of gay people.

There just is not a single government, multilateral agency, or NGO that has ever suggested that aid should be tied to the introduction of gay marriage, or any other legal recognition of same – sex unions. What has been proposed is quite different: using aid to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality, and the victimization of gay people.

Archbishop Kaigama said the Church’s position against criminalisation has been misrepresented in the media:

“We would defend any person with a homosexual orientation who is being harassed, imprisoned or punished….so when the media takes our story they should balance it….we try to share our point of view (but) we don’t punish them. The government may want to punish them but we don’t, in fact we will work to tell the government to stop punishing those who have different orientations.”

Vatican Radio

I’ve noted before that Archbishop Kaigama’s protestations that the Church’s alleged “misrepresentation in the media” would be more credible if he could demonstrate any actual record of having opposed the criminalization legislation, or other grievous harms against gay and lesbian people in Africa. It is disgraceful that the synod has ignored one real problem, by itself grossly misrepresenting the nature of Western concerns about criminalization and persecution of gay people.