African bishops say no to blessing of same sex couples but yes to start reflecting on LGBT+ lives
The Vatican declaration Fiducia supplicans that permits the blessing of same sex couples might be an opportunity for the African Catholic Church. The document received a huge backlash from many African bishops before being officially rejected by SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar), an umbrella group of African bishop’s conferences. The statement signed by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, who is the head of SECAM on January 12, 2024, stipulates that the blessing of same sex couples “would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities” and “contrary to the will of God”.
The reaction of African bishops, though it wasn’t surprising, urges one to ask oneself whether it was necessary. The Catholic Church in Africa has either remained silent, with Uganda being a good example, or supported the anti-gay laws in different countries such as Ghana. Religions across the continent are seen as an unsafe place for many LGBT+ people. Priests and pastors with less knowledge on the reality of LGBT+ people and community do not cease weaponizing the Bible and condemning them in their sermons. Only very few new evangelical churches that are present in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa etc. are open to LGBT+ people. These churches are doing an incredible work of spiritual inclusion in places where members of the LGBT+ communities have to fight daily with rigid cultural, spiritual and political views present in society.
“Homosexuality should not be Criminalized” stated Cardinal Emmanuel Akinwotu during his interview with Hardtalk TV Show. Would other bishops that are part of SECAM openly say so? If not then the conversation should start there. A blessing for same sex couples was not an option to be considered for LGBT+ Catholics in many African countries, to some extent except in South Africa. The fear of being arrested, rejected, humiliated, harassed or outed in public stops them from coming out in their religious communities or trusting their church leaders. Which couple would dare to take the risk of seeking blessing in such circumstances? Safety, respect and peace of mind are existential treasures for every LGBT+ catholic person even when the cost is self-denial.
“Francis’ approach is an insistence on the dynamic nature of tradition. In this case, it is the church being invited to be open to those who have been otherized because they do not fit perfectly with the usual canonical and theological expectations.” wrote SimonMary Asese Aihiokhai on National Catholic Reporter. No one is entitled to God’s grace: “It is important we understand that, before God, no one is worthy, and no one is in the state of grace. Being in the state of grace is itself a gift and it calls for an openness to receiving that gift. It must begin with an interior turn to God, and a desire to want to encounter Christ within the church.” Added Aihiokhai
“In the history of the Church, every time there has been a renewal, it has been seen as a potential danger to the established beliefs. However, retrospectively, such moments have always turned out to be a blessing” wrote Father Nnaemeka Ali Omi on his Facebook page. Although SECAM rejected the decision of blessing same sex couples, there is still a chance that Fiducia Supplicans might has opened up a dialogue on LGBT+ Catholics in Africa. “We will continue to reflect on the value of the general theme of this document”, stated in the document. It is a glimpse of hope for the future in a continent that still holds the highest number (over 30 countries) of discriminatory laws against LGBT+ people.