John M. Becker

Catholic Bishops Suddenly Silent as LGBT Ugandans Face Possible Death

Filed By John M. Becker | November 14, 2012 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-homosexuality bill, Catholic bishops, Kill the Gays bill, Uganda

By any measure, last week's elections marked a watershed moment in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement. The most pro-LGBT president in American history was re-elected, marriage equality won at the ballot box for the first time (in three states!), Minnesota beat back a constitutional marriage discrimination amendment, and the 113th Congress will contain a record number of out LGBT lawmakers, including Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, who will be the first member of our community to openly serve in the United States Senate.

These historic victories came despite weeks of concerted attacks against President Obama and LGBT equality from America's Catholic bishops which were, to the best of my memory, unprecedented in both their stridency and overt partisanship. Green Bay Bishop David Ricken and Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki both told Catholics in their respective dioceses that voting for candidates who support issues like marriage equality, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were putting their eternal souls in jeopardy -- Thumbnail image for catholic-jesus.jpgessentially telling the faithful that if they vote Democrat, they were going to hell. Other bishops, like John Myers of Newark and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, declared that sexually active LGBTs and pro-marriage equality Catholics were unfit to present themselves for Communion. And earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI publicly endorsed these spiritual bullying tactics in an address delivered to a group that included Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, one of the most enthusiastically outspoken proponents of Minnesota's failed amendment effort.

Against this putrid backdrop, American Catholics did what they've learned to do on other issues like contraception: they ignored the bishops and voted with their consciences. And in a stinging rebuke to the prelates who lead them, a majority voted to re-elect Barack Obama. To this former Catholic, the public backfiring of the bishops' divisive anti-gay agenda was nothing short of divine.

But I was abruptly snapped out of my post-election euphoria by the incredibly disturbing news that the government of the central African nation of Uganda plans to pass its notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of this year. According to a report from the Washington Post, MP Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of the Ugandan parliament, insisted in an interview with the AP that Ugandans are "demanding" the body swiftly pass the bill, which would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death; punish same-sex Ugandan couples marrying abroad with lifetime prison sentences when they return home; outlaw all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people including the provision of medical care, lodging, and basic services; and require citizens to report any LGBT people they know to the police. (Under the proposed law, refusing to report one's LGBT friends, neighbors, and family members constitutes "aiding and abetting homosexuality," a crime that carries a seven-year jail sentence.) Some Christian leaders apparently went even further, perversely claiming that the bill's passage would be "a Christmas gift" to the nation.

Among those Christian leaders advocating for the passage of this barbaric bill are Uganda's Catholic bishops, according to reports filed this summer by New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive Catholic social justice organization. The bishops initially had opposed the bill because of its draconian sentencing provisions (while simultaneously lauding the government's efforts to "protect the traditional family and its values"), but they abruptly reversed themselves and signed an ecumenical statement supporting the measure. This support carries a lot of weight in this highly religious country, as the Catholic Church represents Uganda's largest single Christian denomination.

And how have their brother bishops in America -- so eager to engage in anti-gay politicking at home -- responded to this unmistakably un-Christian reversal? How are they reacting to their colleagues' endorsement of a bill that would bring horror, persecution, and bloodshed to Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community?

With stone cold silence, that's how.

The Vatican has remained largely silent as well. In fact, the only time the Holy See even bothered to acknowledge the very real threat to the lives of LGBT Ugandans was in a statement it released in December 2009 opposing "all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons" and asserting that "the murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State." This was widely interpreted as a reference to the "Kill the Gays Bill," but the Vatican refused to even mention Uganda by name. And now, in 2012 -- when the bill appears to be closer to passage than ever before -- not a word.

America's Catholic bishops and their counterparts in Rome have a moral obligation to publicly, forcefully, and unequivocally condemn Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a gross injustice, a crime against humanity, and a reprehensible distortion of Jesus' loving and inclusive message. They cannot -- they must not -- stand by, silent and stone-faced, as thousands of Ugandans are condemned to death for the "crime" of simply being who they are.

To paraphrase the great and wise Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, silence in the face of injustice means one has chosen the side of the oppressor. If Catholic bishops remain silent and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passes, the blood of murdered gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans Ugandans will be on their hands.


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