The Pope: LGBT people should be protected by the law. A message for Africa
The words of Pope Francis in the new documentary released Wednesday 21 October seemed to shake the world. In one of the interviews in the documentary, Pope Francis once again showed his position on LGBT people and showed his concern. He said:
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to have is a civil union law—that way they are legally covered. I supported that.”
After the documentary’s release, many questions arose, wondering whether the pope’s words had been manipulated either through video editing or if they are the fruit of a mistranslation, some assumed they are not new but simply a repetition of what he had said before and the biggest question was whether the statement signified a change in church teaching.
The interview appeared in the documentary premiered on Wednesday 21, at the Rome Film festival, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky The supreme Pontiff endorse gay civil union rights. Martin James appointed by Pope Francis in 2017 as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for communications, is an American Jesuit priest known for his courage to reach out to LGBT community and his teaching for an inclusive church. On his Facebook, he explained to people claiming that the message of the Pope wasn’t real, reminding them that since 2013, the Pope never changed his position on LGBT people. In the interview done in 2016, in his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia “he spoke about the place of LGBT people in the family.
In 2018 during an in-flight press conference on the way back from the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, the Pope said: “…that son and daughter has a right to family, and their family is this family, just as it is” and also added, “Do not throw them out of the family”. In the case of gay civil union, Fr James recalled that from the time The Pope was Archibishop of Buenos aires he always supported the gay civil union. However, the catholic church around Africa reacted differently.
Reaction in Africa
The reaction of the Catholic church in many countries around Africa was confusing. At first, the reaction was denying the authenticity of the video due to comments and news claiming that the Pope endorses gay Marriage which shocked many Christians. After they tried to clarify the news by explaining the difference between Marriage and civil but condemnation of homosexuality could be seen between the lines.
Fr Tatah Mbuy coordinator of catholic communications on behalf of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroun, in the letter released to explain the situation and clarify the position of Pope Francis, seemed to focus on the preaching on God loving the sinner but not the sin and added that the church doesn’t reject homosexuals but it does reject homosexuality. A very ambiguous message which contained some insight. “No one is allowed to discriminate or stereotype another, even if such is a homosexual.” They added.
Fr Pierre Affognon, Chaplain of the catholic cadres of Togo sent a message which later appeared on the Facebook page of Radio Maria (Togo) saying:” Before any criticism, let’s read the official documents of the Church. I offer you two issues of A.L signed by Pope Francis. Lobbies of homosexuals, freemasons, rich people, and Ideologues who are hidden behind the media have an interest in sowing confusion and teaching their false doctrine …Pray for them.”
The Pope called families to open up their hearts and give them place in the family. This was a strong message to African church leaders to stand for inclusion and not discrimination which in many countries LGBT people are facing. The message does not call only to open churches for LGBT people but also to stand with them till they feel respected and protected by the law in their respective countries. It is a calling for the catholic church to promote inclusivity not only within the church but also for inclusive laws.
The hostility shown on social media these days in many African countries shows how far the Catholic church was not ready to receive such a message. Nevertheless, the church in Africa is known to be conservative and keeping some topics such as homosexuality a taboo. It has never pronounced its stand over laws criminalizing homosexuality in the 33 countries in Africa which the sentence goes from 1 month of imprisonment to death sentence. It voted for silence on the topic.
James Alison an English priest and theologian who for many years has been an advocate for and minister for LGBT Catholics reacted to messages saying the Pope’s words are not new by saying they are, “a big deal” for two reasons. First, because the holy father is representing such civil unions as a good and desirable thing to be promoted, rather than a lesser evil. Second, because he affirms the rightness of same-sex couples forming a family and being part of the family, of the church. A wave that would definitely heat countries where homosexuality is still illegal. Francis’ position is inconceivable for someone who believes same-sex acts to be mortal sins leading those involved to go to hell because those who believe so seek to break up gay couples, not to stabilize them.