Pope responds to African protests against gay blessings
Pope Francis has described opposition from Catholic bishops in Africa to his directive permitting priests to bless same-sex unions as a special case that is motivated by their cultural beliefs.
The Pontiff made the comment during an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa on Monday, in response to widespread criticism over his authorization of a Vatican document allowing blessings for same-sex couples in certain circumstances.
The declaration called ‘Fiducia Supplicans’, published last month, opens the possibility of blessing couples whose relationship is not “valid” in the Catholic Church, including unmarried couples, divorced-and-remarried couples, and homosexual couples.
Earlier this month, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) – an association of Catholic bishops on the continent – denounced the Pope’s decision as “inappropriate.” Permitting such rituals would cause “confusion” and be in “direct contradiction” with the cultural values of African communities, SECAM president Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo said in a statement.
A group of British priests from the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy had also protested against the extra-liturgical blessings, insisting that the Church’s traditional values were “unchangeable.” Catholic bishops in Central Asia have also called for the reversal of the Pope’s directive approving same-sex blessing, with Kazakhstani Bishops Tomash Peta and Athanasius Schneider describing the move as a contradiction of the Church’s long-standing practice and doctrine.
However, on Monday, Pope Francis said that, with the exception of Africans, those who oppose his decision would eventually understand it.
“Those who protest vehemently belong to small ideological groups. A special case are Africans: for them, homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view, they don’t tolerate it,” he told La Stampa.
“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 pontiff added.
He had previously sought to clarify the December 18 declaration, stating last week that the decision to grant blessings to gay couples was not an endorsement of a potentially sinful lifestyle, but of individuals seeking to draw closer to God.
Homosexuality remains heavily criminalized in many African countries, including Uganda, where same-sex activities can result in punishments ranging from life imprisonment to the death penalty.