On LGBTQ + rights, the bishops of Ghana choose to ignore the Pope
Pope Francis has been in the news several times this fall, calling for a Catholic Church that is more welcoming to LGBTQ + people. In October, a new documentary on the life of the Pope posted previous comments in favor of civil unions between persons of the same sex. During a visit in September to Hungary and Slovakia, the Pope commented on the need for the Church to âdo pastoral workâ with same-sex couples. TO press conference a few days later, he remarked on the prospect of homosexual civil unions, estimating that “if a homosexual couple wants to lead a life together, the State has the possibility of giving them security, stability, inheritance”.
These comments have led some Catholic observers to praise the Pope’s âpastoral approach to LGBT peopleâ. This approach not only respects LGBTQ + people as members of society, but calls on governments to provide them with basic legal protections.
Yet it seems that in Ghana, the pope’s words have fallen on deaf ears.
Just days after the Pope’s visit to Hungary and Slovakia, the Ghana Conference of Catholic Bishops publicly expressed support for a draconian bill making its way to parliament – The 2021 Bill on the Promotion of Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values – and declared that “homosexual practices [should be made] illegal in Ghana.
As the bishops suggest, the Ghanaian bill widely targets LGBTQ + people and claims to criminalize many of their fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and access to information. Sanctions for violation of the bill are drastic. Disseminating information about LGBTQ + people can lead to a sentence of five to ten years in prison. Groups seeking to advance LGBTQ + rights can be punished with six to ten years in prison. Funding or sponsoring loosely defined prohibited activities can carry a sentence of five to ten years.
Even without this bill, Ghanaian laws are already creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ + people. The Criminal Offenses Act of 1960 criminalizes same-sex relationships. Although rarely applied directly, Human Rights Watch and local groups documented how the law fosters a climate of violence and intimidation against LGBT Ghanaians. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch and Ghanaian groups also documented how Ghanaian authorities are using existing laws regarding illegal gatherings to target LGBTQ + people for arbitrary arrest and other abuse.
Faced with this climate of discrimination and violence, the call of the Ghanaian Catholic bishops to the “abominable practice [of homosexuality to be] made illegal in our country âseems even more appalling. Indeed, bishops seem to speak on both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they say that “it is not fair to subject homosexuals to any form of harassment just for being homosexual” and that LGBTQ + people should be “loved and respected and not subjected to harassment. discrimination â. On the other, they openly support a cruel and unnecessary law that fosters the same anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination they claim to hate. Archbishop Philip Naameh, president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, remained unwavering in its support for the bill.
The Holy See has already taken a public stand to oppose violence, unjust discrimination and criminal sanctions against sexual and gender minorities. In its teachings as well as in several public statements to the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), the Catholic Church has expressed the need to protect the human dignity of each person.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican World Communion, said he is “gravely concerned” about the Ghanaian bill, which has sparked controversy with the Anglican Church of Ghana.
As the Ghanaian parliament continues to debate this bill, it appears Archbishop Naameh and his colleagues would do well to follow the Pope’s lead and the Holy See’s public statements – and join in the condemnation of this odious law.
Graeme Reid is the Director of LGBT Rights at Human Rights Watch.