YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Bishops across Africa, from Nairobi to Yaoundé and from Cotonou to Lilongwe, have registered strong reactions to a new Vatican document on the blessing of same-sex relationships, generally suggesting such relationships are both unethical and contrary to African tradition.
As a result, those bishops have said, the limited authorization for blessings provided by Fiducia Supplicans, which was issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith Dec. 18, will not be implemented in their territory.
“We, the Bishops of Cameroon, reiterate our disapproval of homosexuality and homosexual unions,” the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference said Dec. 21.
Fiducia Supplicans differentiates between blessings in a liturgical context, which it says risks confusion with marriage, and outside liturgies, which it says may be permitted. However, the Cameroonian bishops called that distinction “hypocritical.”
“The act of blessing, whether performed in a liturgical assembly or in private, remains a blessing,” they said.
“Literally, ‘to bless’ is ‘to speak well of’. And to ‘speak well of’ in order to gain grace through the gesture of blessing a homosexual couple would be tantamount to encouraging a choice and a practice of life that cannot be recognized as being objectively ordered to the revealed designs of God,” the bishops said.
“We therefore declare non-compliant any form of blessing, public or private, that tends to recognize ‘same-sex couples’ as a state of life,” they said.
They insisted that there are only two sexes in the world, male and female, and explained that “this invariable difference, which is the foundation of their relationship and their complementarity, is fulfilled in the bonds of marriage.”
They said blessing “homosexual couples” falsifies and corrupts human anthropology and trivializes sexuality, marriage and the family.
“Marriage between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, doesn’t work,” said Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya, President of the Cameroon Episcopal Conference, as he spoke to the media on Christmas Day.
“Even animals don’t engage in same-sex relationships,” the cleric said.
The bishops’ Dec. 21 statement asserted that the practice of homosexuality is, in African culture, a break with “family and social values,” terming it “a flagrant violation of the heritage bequeathed to us by our ancestors.”
“ln the history of peoples, the practice of homosexuality has never led to societal evolution, but is a clear sign of the imploding decadence of civilizations. In fact, homosexuality sets humanity against itself and destroys it,” the bishops said.
The same harsh reception of the Vatican document is reflected in the wordings of several other episcopal conferences around the Continent.
In Benin, the episcopal conference released a two-page statement blasting homosexual unions as decidedly against God’s will.
“Homosexuality has been contrary to God’s will since the creation of the world,” the clerics said in a Dec. 19 statement.
“The Catholic Church, like our African traditional religions and other religions from elsewhere, do not admit homosexuality or the stable union between two people of the same sex,” the Benin bishops said.
They asserted that the Church’s conception of marriage is an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman naturally open to the procreation of children.
“Dear compatriots and leaders of our country, to avoid the establishment of homosexuality in our customs, the duty to respect the cultural values of our people becomes more and more constraining, because from now on it is based first on natural law and then on the divine word and law,” they said.
In Malawi, bishops in a Dec. 19 statement said they were directing that that “for pastoral reasons, blessings of any kind and for same sex unions of any kind are not permitted in Malawi.”
In Nigeria, bishops said there was no possibility of blessing homosexual couples and doing so would be sending the wrong message.
“There is no possibility in the Church of blessing same sex unions and activities,” the Nigerian prelates said. “That would go against God’s law, the teachings of the Church, and the laws of our nation and the cultural sensibilities of our people.”
LGBTQ activists in Africa, however, largely welcomed the document.
“I feel like the pope making the decision is … good for queer people. I’m having a good reaction [feeling] about it,” said an unidentified Nigerian Catholic transgender woman in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
She acknowledged that there would be resistance, noting that “African people will definitely protest against it, saying “They mostly use religion against us, the queer people.”
Of Africa’s 55 countries, 31 have laws criminalizing homosexuality, according to the Human Dignity Trust, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.
People identifying as gay could face the death penalty in countries such as Uganda, Mauritania, Somalia, as well as certain states of Nigeria where sharia law is applied. People with same-sex orientations can be jailed for life in countries like Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, and for lesser periods in Gambia, Kenya and Malawi.