“Criminalizing homosexuality is a sin”, a message to the catholic church in Africa?
On his way back from a papal visit in Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis during a press conference on board the plane responded to a question on homosexuality. He emphasized his comment from an interview with Associated Press which appeared on a documentary a week before his trip to Africa. He said openly that laws that criminalize homosexuality, therefore, “LGBTQ+ people” are unjust.He did not hide his belief that condemning LGBTQ+ person is a sin, and laws that condemn homosexuality are unjust.
According to data from ILGA World, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, sixty-six UN member states continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations. Among these states, thirty three are African. In addition, more than 10 countries have laws that include criminalizing consensual same sex with a death penalty. Four are African countries: Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritius and Somalia.
Over the years, Pope Francis has been openly showing his stand on LGBTQ+ community. He is convinced that the “criminalization of homosexuality is a problem that should not be left aside”.From “who am I to Judge” on his way back from Brazil, July 2013, to affirming that same sex couple are “ Children of God…they have right to be legally protected” in a documentary premiered on Rome Film Festival, october 2020. His stance has become a more radical shift from previous pontiffs and the Catholic church traditions, though still a lot to be done.
The call on criminalization of homosexuality during the time of visiting two African countries should be seen as an invitation to the African Catholic church. The Catholic church in Africa assisted the law criminalizing homosexuality in silence in most cases (Ghana), or supporting them in other cases. This time, the hope is to see a church that opens up for the LGBTQ+ community to fight against injustice and discrimination. “It is a beautiful message that advocates inclusion and also marks an evolution of the church” said Scaly Kep’na, an LGBTQ+ activist from Congo, founder and president of Jeunialisme, during an interview with reuters on Pope Francis 3 days visit in RDC, which started January 31st.
“We think this will change the perception of all the religious people in our countries who think that when you are homesexual you must be shot, dehumanized, you are demons” Declared Julia Mukuala, 38 years old , a Congolese activist and member of the ILGA Pan African administration counsel, added in an interview with zone bourse/reuters.Though the message of Pope Francis is appreciated, the language used is still ambiguous which make the journey for inclusion and justice more complicated due to different interpretation.
The tone of the message from Pope Francis is welcome,loved and applauded by the LGBTQ+ community. However the language is still debatable for many activists and LGBTQ+ christians. In the interview His Holiness uses language such as “homosexual tendencies’ ‘ which can make one wonder if beneath the statement something isn’t implied on what homosexuality is or isn’t. For this reason many consider the Pope’s message important but as long as the language is not well betterned, the African Church will struggle to find a common understanding on Homesexuality and LGBTQ+ community as it is being witnessed in the Anglican church.