Pope Francis says opponents of gay couples blessings are ‘small ideological groups’ and Africans

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer at the Vatican, Jan 7, 2024.

By Anugrah Kumar

Addressing the controversy surrounding the Vatican’s decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples, Pope Francis said the critics of the guidance, except for Africans, belong to “small ideological groups.”

The pontiff claimed that even in Africa, the resistance is more cultural, as homosexuality is generally not tolerated, Reuters quoted him as saying in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Francis was referring to the December 2023 document “Fiducia Supplicans” issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has sparked widespread debate within the Catholic Church. The guidance stated that priests may bless same-sex couples that approach them for blessings but distinguishes between liturgical blessings and pastoral blessings, which do not give approval to same-sex relationships.

“Those who protest vehemently belong to small ideological groups,” Francis was quoted as saying. “A special case are Africans: for them homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view, they don’t tolerate it.”

“But in general, I trust that gradually everyone will be reassured by the spirit of the ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ declaration by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith: it aims to include, not divide,” the pope said.

He acknowledged the strong resistance from African bishops as there are harsh legal penalties for same-sex relationships in some African countries. The pope stressed the importance of context and sensitivity when blessing same-sex couples.

Pope Francis remains undeterred despite opposition from some theological conservatives. He advised focusing on moving forward rather than dwelling on talks of schism, which he believes are led by small groups.

“We must leave them to it and move on … and look forward,” he said.

In his remarks at the plenary session of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith last Friday, Pope Francis clarified that the Church’s teachings on homosexual practices and same-sex relationships remain unchanged. The “Fiducia Supplicans” declaration, while allowing blessings for same-sex couples, does not equate these blessings with marriage, nor does it validate relationships deemed irregular by the Church.

The Pope explained that these blessings are meant to demonstrate the Church’s closeness to those in various situations without demanding moral perfection. He emphasized that the blessings are for the individuals, not the union, and should consider the local context and sensitivities.

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, author of the declaration, released a statement earlier this month to clarify the document’s intent. He stated that the blessings, lasting no more than 15 seconds, are a pastoral response and do not justify anything morally unacceptable. The declaration has faced opposition from some bishops, like the leader of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan, who has prohibited these blessings in his diocese.

The Vatican’s guidance is part of a series of responses to questions from bishops worldwide. It includes clarifications on issues like the eligibility of single mothers who have confessed their sins to receive the eucharist.

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Catholic clergy in Uganda accuse the West of a new colonialism through LGBTQ activism

— Most Ugandan Catholics oppose Pope Francis’ recent move to allow priests to administer blessings to same-sex couples.

A nun reflects during a solemn moment as Pope Francis leads a Holy Mass for the Martyrs of Uganda at the area of the Catholic Sanctuary in the Namugongo area of Kampala, Uganda, on Nov. 28, 2015.

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Gilbert Lubega sat in a white plastic chair at his home in Wakiso, a suburb of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, contemplating two photos of a young gay female couple kissing and another one of a male gay couple kissing at their wedding ceremony.

“These images make me think the world is coming to an end,” he said. “They are things you can’t imagine happening, and people blindly support them.”

The 55-year-old father of six, who owns a food kiosk in Wakiso, blamed the West for invading his culture and destroying its values. He believes foreign governments are sponsoring LGBTQ people and their activities in the country.

“The people who call themselves LGBTQ activists are now recruiting many people, including our children,” Lubega said. “They don’t know what they are doing, but they are destroying people’s lives by engaging them in unethical activities. The West want to make our country Sodom and Gomorrah, and we won’t accept it.”

Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa.

Last year in May, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a measure calling for life imprisonment for anyone convicted of same-sex activity. The law also calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which involves cases of same-sex relations involving people who are HIV positive, children and other vulnerable people.

Many LGBTQ Ugandans have since fled to neighboring countries to escape homophobia.

Lubega, who wants the government to ban LGBTQ rights groups, is a staunch Catholic, and like many of his co-religionists opposes Pope Francis’ recent move to allow priests to administer blessings to same-sex couples. The organization of Catholic bishops in Africa and Madagascar stated earlier this month that they will refuse to follow Francis’ declaration.

The bishop of Lira Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Sanctus Lino Wanok, has launched a campaign against all forms of LGBTQ identity or activism in northern Uganda, calling LGBTQ advocates to repent and seek God’s blessings.

“It’s shameful to see some people promoting sin and luring people to join in committing sin,” Wanok told RNS. “People must not accept homosexuality because it’s a mockery of God, our creator.”

They are among the religious leaders, government officials and some rights group activists who have blamed the West for promoting LGBTQ acceptance in the country, saying the activities have recently increased with pro-gay activists targeting school-going children.

A Catholic LGBTQ activist who asked for anonymity for his safety praised Francis’ declaration permitting priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples. However, he said the pope approval has only prompted the government and citizens to increase attacks on their members.

He said families have disowned LGBTQ members, churches have given strict instructions not to allow them in the church’s compounds, landlords have evicted them and some have lost jobs.

“We live in fear because we cannot identify as gay, lesbian or transgender,” said the activist. “Pope Francis should give clear instructions to bishops and priests to allow LGBTQ members to worship God and nourish their spirits.”

The Western world has for years called on African governments to give LGBTQ people equal rights by decriminalizing same-sex sexual acts and protecting their rights.

In June last year, the United States imposed visa restrictions on dozens of Uganda officials in response to the country’s anti-gay laws.

“As Africans, we should be very careful and not accept everything white people tell us,” warned catechist Charles Kiwuwa from the Archdiocese of Tororo in the eastern region of Uganda in an interview with RNS. “They have told us that polygamy is a sin because they know most Africans embrace it and that homosexuality is righteousness because we disagree.”

The Catholic leaders have begun a countrywide campaign to fight “agents of homosexuality” in the country who they believe are being supported by foreign governments to spread LGBTQ activism in schools and other institutions. The church leaders have expressed concern over increasing cases of same-sex attraction among the youth and school-going children, accusing these agents of luring school children with money and other luxurious gifts to recruit them.

“As a church, we have decided to fight homosexuality to save our children and the country from collapsing because the Bible teaches us that homosexuality is evil, as read in Genesis Chapters 18 and 19,” the Rev. Richard Nyombi told RNS.

Nyombi, the parish priest of Mapeera Nabulagala in Kampala, said religious leaders had fought same-sex attraction from time immemorial, both in the Bible and today, and they are unwilling to allow foreign culture to influence the country.

“We are preaching against homosexuality during Mass and other gatherings to help our brothers and sisters not fall prey to the vice and for those who have already been lured into the practice to repent and follow God’s way,” he said.

Many Ugandan LGBTQ refugees at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya are seeking safety after escaping homophobic attacks in Uganda. Refugees demonstrate at the UNHCR refugee camp in northwest Kenya on Nov. 23, 2022. (RNS photo/Tonny Onyulo)
Many Ugandan LGBTQ refugees at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya are seeking safety after escaping homophobic attacks in Uganda. Refugees demonstrate at the UNHCR refugee camp in northwest Kenya on Nov. 23, 2022.

Church leaders have been meeting with youth, parents, children, elders and government officers in an effort to curb the spread of “immoral” behavior among people, especially children. The leaders have also been advising parents during Masses and other gatherings to warn their children against same-sex attraction and to urge them to be content with what their parents have given them, so they are not tempted by money.

“We have started to sensitize children in schools and homes against the vice of homosexuality,” said the Rev. Fr. Francis Xavier Kikomeko, the parish priest of Kisubi in Kampala, who also said they offer weekly workshops.

“We want to make children and parents aware that homosexuality is a sin, and pro-gay activists should never influence them to join LGTBQ groups because it’s evil and not accepted in the Bible.”

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