African Catholics tell Pope Francis they reject same-sex blessings

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo and Pope Francis

African Catholic leaders have announced that they will not be abiding by Pope Francis’s recent approval of same-sex blessings.

Pope Francis announced in December that same-sex couples could be blessed by Roman Catholic priests as long as the blessings were not part of regular church rituals and did not resemble a marriage rite.

It was the biggest pro-LGBTQ+ milestone yet for Pope Francis, who has made it clear since he first became head of the Catholic Church that he wanted to make the religion more inclusive to people of all sexual identities – without altering the moral doctrine on same-sex activity.

African Catholic Bishops have announced that they reject Pope Francis’s introduction of same-sex blessings.. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

The announcement was celebrated by gay rights groups who commended Pope Francis for “accurately recognizes that LGBTQ people and our relationships are worthy of the same affirmation and support in the Church” – but questioned by some more conservative bishops who argued that this would directly contradict the church’s stance on gay marriage and homosexuality.

Most recently, Catholic bishops in Africa issued a joint statement to inform the Vatican that they refused to follow suit and would not offer same-sex blessings to their congregations, Vatican News reports.

The statement, signed by Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo on behalf of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) stated: “Within the church family of God in Africa, this declaration has caused a shockwave, it has sown misconceptions and unrest in the minds of many lay faithful, consecrated persons and even pastors, and has aroused strong reactions.”

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It added that blessing same-sex unions would not only contradict biblical teachings, but African cultural context, and would “cause confusion and be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities.”

It clarified that, despite their rejection of same-sex blessings, Catholic Bishops of Africa and Madagascar were still in “communion with” Pope Francis.

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Pope Francis speaking at an event.
Pope Francis has been steadfast in his support for LGBTQ+ people, despite previous comments. (Getty)

The joint statement comes shortly after the Vatican acknowledged that some more conservative bishops may take issue with same-sex blessings, but encouraged them to think on it with an “extended period of pastoral reflection.”

In a statement issued last Thursday (4 January), the Vatican acknowledged that there are some territories, particularly in Africa, where it would prove dangerous or unwise to bestow same-sex blessings due to anti-homosexuality laws.

“If there are laws that condemn the mere act of declaring oneself as a homosexual with prison and in some cases with torture and even death, it goes without saying that a blessing would be imprudent,” the statement read.

For example, Uganda is still facing intense backlash worldwide for its deadly Anti-Homosexuality Act signed into law last year, which imposes the death penalty for what it calls “aggravated homosexuality”, which includes sexual activity with disabled people and people who are HIV positive.

The controversial law has also incited a spike in targetted attacks on and harassment of LGBTQ+ people by civilians and police, activists have warned.

Additionally, the president of Burundi suggested that citizens stone people who engage in same-sex marriage. He also encouraged any Burundians who are living away from the East African country and practicing homosexuality “not to return home.”

Zambian bishops had already been told that same-sex blessings were “not for implementation” there, where gay sex is punishable by a prison sentence lasting from 15 years to life.

In February 2023, Pope Francis declared that laws that criminalise homosexuality were “an injustice” and “a sin.”

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