Pope Francis (Pic: Jeffrey Bruno)
Pope Francis has acknowledged the fervent opposition from African Catholics regarding his more inclusive approach to homosexuality and same-sex relationships.
The Vatican, under Francis’s leadership, has gradually adopted a more receptive attitude towards LGBTQI+ individuals.
In December, the church even sanctioned limited blessings by priests for people in same-sex relationships, a step previously deemed unthinkable.
Uproar Among African Catholic Leaders
This move triggered an uproar among conservative traditionalists, particularly from African Catholic leaders.
In January, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa & Madagascar (SECAM), representing African Catholic bishops, responded with a letter rejecting any acceptance of homosexuality or same-sex unions.
Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the Archbishop of Kinshasa and President of SECAM, cited biblical condemnations of homosexuality and insisted that it is especially unacceptable in Africa.
“The cultural context in Africa, deeply rooted in the values of the natural law regarding marriage and family, further complicates the acceptance of unions of persons of the same sex, as they are seen as contradictory to cultural norms and intrinsically corrupt,” he wrote.
He asserted that “We, the African Bishops, do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples because, in our context, this would cause confusion and would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities.”
Pope Francis Acknowledges African Resistance
In an interview published by La Stampa newspaper on Monday, Pope Francis acknowledged the resistance against LGBTQI+ tolerance, stating that those who strongly oppose it “belong to small ideological groups.”
However, he added, “A special case is Africans: for them, homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view; they don’t tolerate it.”
The irony lies in the fact that LGBTQI+ intolerance and the criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa are widely recognised as having their roots in colonialism, primarily through European churches.
In more recent years, this has been fueled by American Christian evangelists and groups that have sought to influence policies and laws on the continent by vilifying LGBTIQ+ people as a threat to families and children.
Namibian LGBTQI+ activist Omar van Reenen pointed this out on X, tweeting: “No Pope Francis, incorrect. African culture has always celebrated, respected, and welcomed LGBTQI+ persons in our communities.”
Van Reenen continued, “It is colonialism, apartheid & religious extremism that is influencing Africans to be intolerant. Hate from Church leaders funded by Family Watch Int. [a fundamentalist Christian lobbying organisation].”
Positive Steps Amidst Doctrinal Challenges
In November, the Vatican also confirmed that transgender individuals, including those who have undergone medical transitions, can be baptised as Catholics and are eligible to serve as godparents and witnesses.
Despite these positive developments, official Catholic doctrine continues to define same-sex intimacy as “[acts] of grave depravity,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “contrary to the natural law.”