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Pope's Same-Sex Blessings Policy Spells Danger to Africans as Zimbabwe Bishops Lash Out

By Melanie Nathan, December 28, 2023,


The Pope has placed many in danger while perhaps having some positive impact. How does his new policy impact criminalizing countries that can send people to jail for so called "promotion of homosexuality," or for "holding out as LGBTQI" (Ghana's new law before Parliament) or for allowing "same-sex marriage ceremonies whether legal or not as in Nigeria and what of other countries where people see such unions as an abomination, such as Zimbabwe (with violent retribution), and many other countries??


Pope Francis has formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God’s love and mercy shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it. The question is the minions. The bigger question is the leadership that leads the minions. How will those Catholic Church subjects respond to this, shall we say “rule change” in African countries and societies of heavy anti-Homosexuality indoctrination, where the American Evangelicals and Muslim Jihadists have been at play!

 

The document from the Vatican’s doctrine office elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessings could be offered under some circumstances if they didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.


As far as some countries are concerned, where Catholicism has lagged civil law, it is about time and it is all very well to throw an overnight wrench into centuries of dicta and expect the abara cadabera. After all the law has you covered, such as in America - you are not a criminal for being gay! And so dear late to the table Catholics, you will not go to jail, if you abide. However where is the careful crafting, the follow up planning by the Pope and the Church, when it comes to some countries which may house the majority of Catholics?


In these countries the reality of harms are prevalent, when trying to balance what such sudden pronouncement can bring to criminalizing countries? In over 30 African countries (not to mention the rest of the world) there is at this time a spectrum of criminalization and societies conditioned to individual and mob retribution by state and non-state actors, even to include families.


Even if a Bishop in the countries like Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, were to give such blessing, his religious freedom to do so would translate into a crime, for said Bishop and his dear brides or grooms, whether real marriage or even a mere blessing.


This could be interpreted as “promotion of homosexuality” under Ugandan law by way of one example, or a myriad of other country laws either in effect, perceived to be in effect, or about to be legislated such as in Ghana. Even if the Pope’s Cardinals and Bishops were to follow the Pope’s direction, they could land in personal hot water, subject to a harsh consequences that all those who are allies or advocates can and have been subjected to in the past, including extreme violence. Yes they could be jailed, beaten, banished, evicted, killed and the list goes on….

 

Already there is an understandable pushback to the Pope’s “cat amongst the pigeons” in Zimbabwe where Bishops refuse to abide. To give their blessing would place them in direct danger.

 

The new document does not create any equality for Catholics, as it reaffirms that marriage is ONLY between a man and woman. And it stresses that blessings in question must be non-liturgical in nature and should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding. However, it still asks clergy to participate in the aspect of tolerating gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, and the affirming of same-sex relationships.


This flies directly in the face of nations whose laws and society have for centuries under colonizing penal codes, and religious zealots, with newly affirmed harsh anti-Homosexuality legislation and climates, served to affirm that LGBTQI+ people are demons and satanic.  The attempt at tolerance is easier said than done, when it comes to countries where the Catholic Church’s very own indoctrination – as furthered by American Evangelicalism’s export of homophobia, has ensured that anything between 79-98% of populace abhor gays and view them as abominations. This new policy and its 'cat amongst the pigeon' approach is bound to be just that! That cat amongst the pigeons is now seeing feathers fly in Zimbabwe. The Catholic rebellion has begun. Will we see splintering as we have done with the Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists on this question?

 

What the Vatican says ought to be Gospel, but not in the case of Zimbabwe.  Catholic bishops in Zimbabwe  (as in other countries) are asserting that they will not implement the new Vatican policy allowing blessings for same-sex couples. If they are probably more afraid of their own governments and the deeply indoctrinated populace, than they are of the Pope, then that says a lot. They are well aware that this could land them in public beatings, run out of churches, Burning of churches as has been seen in some cases where Preachers in that country have shown support pf LGBTQI Parishioners.


BULAWAYO (ZIMBABWE)  REPORTS: “Some of the strongest responses came from bishops in Africa, home to 265 million Catholics, or nearly a quarter of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics. Many of those Catholics live and their churches operate in societies where homosexuality is condemned and outlawed. Out of the continent's 54 countries, 31 have laws criminalizing homosexuality, more than any other continent, according to the Human Dignity Trust, which defends LGBTQ+ rights. Zambia's bishops conference said same-sex couple blessings were "not for implementation in Zambia." The bishops conference of Malawi said "blessings of any kind" for "same-sex unions of any kind" would not be permitted. In Zambia, gay sex is punishable by between 15 years and life in prison and the law puts it in the same section as bestiality. Malawi's laws call for up to 14 years in prison for homosexual sex, with the option of corporal punishment for those convicted. Zambian bishops said there should be "further reflection" on the blessings and cited the country's laws against homosexuality and its "cultural heritage"

 

The impact of this all is newly emerging and we will keep an eye here at AHRC and report back as we see things play out in the field. In our work we often see much that is never reported publicly out of fear of authority.


In conclusion I note that it is extremely dangerous at this time for LGBTQI people and their allies to think this Pope policy garners any protection or safety from the criminalizing laws and the retributive societies. Whether state or non-state actors the danger is extreme and should not be sugar coated.


This new rule will need very slow careful couching and implementation through the undoing of way too many decades of deeply rooted harms. However, on a positive note, this could be good news as it must surely go a long way toward influencing those who would rather think differently given the nod of such high powered influencer such as the Pope.  (see https://www.africanhrc.org/single-post/will-the-pope-s-new-gay-marriage-policy-help-ugandan-judges-and-ghana-s-parliamentarians )


This could have an impact on re-thinking religious freedoms, differently from the other perspective. It could also license a dramatically new way of thinking toward understanding and decriminalizing persuading those Parliamentarians away from legislating harsher laws, some with death penalties, and for those Judges adjudicating constitutionality questions as well as the of what the Pope now sees as love.  




Melanie Nathan Executive Director African Human Rights Coalition Country expert witness for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from African countries commissionermnathan@gmail.com



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