By: Dennis Caeton
Fresh from the pews of St. Paul Newman Center (a Catholic parish) in Fresno, a few weeks before my birthday, I felt compelled to enter the rare air of the Diocese, the offices of Bishop John T. Steinbock, to hand deliver a letter concerning Uganda’s plan to exterminate homosexuals-Uganda’s “Final Solution,” so to speak.
Usually, the Church asks us to take action. This time, I was asking them and it left me feeling uncertain. I fully expected to be challenged with a, “What do you want of the great Oz, you clinking, clanking, clattering collection of kaligenous junk?” Instead, a pleasant person greeted me warmly. She took my letter. But my birthday has come and gone, and I still await a response.
Uganda’s Final Solution for Homosexuality
Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati, a member of the ruling Ugandan National Resistance Movement and an evangelical Christian, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.
The National Catholic Reporter summarizes the bill as follows:
* Death penalty. The measure creates a new category of “aggravated homosexuality” subject to the death penalty. For a single instance of homosexual behavior, it establishes life in prison as the penalty.
* Informing. Anyone failing to report homosexuals to the police would face a prison term of three years.
* Free speech. The act prohibits speech that is considered to “promote” homosexuality, and its language outlaws any pro-gay groups or even critical speech of the law itself.
I contacted my bishop because, despite widespread international protest against this legislation, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy have remained conspicuously silent. In the letter, I urged Bishop Steinbock to speak out against what MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has dubbed the “kill the gays” bill.
I wrote that Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugish, a Ugandan priest and recipient of the Buddhist Peace Prize, had early on called this legislation a proposition for genocide and crimes against humanity. Since then, thousands, perhaps millions, of religious and political leaders, scientists, educators, professionals and citizens have joined in condemnation of this legislation. Yet, there has been no unequivocal condemnation by the pope or the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Africa-Oil, Aid and Fundamentalism
Uganda is a country bulging with oil, foreign aid and religion but ruptured by poverty and violence. So what is the issue? Is it oil? Oil is on the radar but for religions, it is bodies, and religions need bodies. Africa is the new mother lode for organized religion. The National Catholic Reporter notes that explosive growth of the Catholic Church is turning Africa into a 21st-century Catholic powerhouse.
But Catholics aren’t the only ones interested in bodies. According to the New York Times, the “kill the gays” bill can be traced to three theocons: Scott Lively, an evangelist; Don Schmierer of Exodus International; and Caleb Brundidge, an “ex-gay healer.” Their message is right out of Music Man: “My fellow Ugandans, you got trouble, trouble right here, that’s trouble, spelled with a capital Q, and that stands for Queers.”
Why didn’t Uganda run these three theocons out of town? The theocons didn’t have to do much convincing. Uganda already gives long prison sentences for homosexuals, and death penalties for homosexuality in African countries are not unusual. But could the motive of the government be to stir up an evil brew to give the oppressed poor someone to hate besides the government? Or perhaps to create a bargaining chip in a bid for billions of dollars in aid and foreign capital?
Catholic Church and Uganda
In response to this budding holocaust, neither the pope or any of his bishops has said a word. Will Fresno’s Bishop Steinbock be the first?
In January, the pope’s attach‚ said that the pope is opposed to “unjust discrimination” against gay men and lesbians. But the message never mentioned Uganda or the “kill the gays” bill. It did introduce a scary little modifier, unjust. Little word, big effect?
Does the Catholic Church Favor Uganda’s Final Solution?
Also in January, Honolulu’s Bishop Clarence “Larry” Silva urged Catholics to lobby against Hawaii’s proposal for domestic partnerships. Silva called domestic partnerships “simply a euphemism” for gay marriage and, on this issue, discrimination toward gays was justified.
So now we know. If the pope concurs with Silva, he has created a loophole through which you could drive a pope-mobile: “Hang ’em, lock ’em up, just don’t do it unjustly.”
Recently, Uganda’s interfaith body, which includes Muslims, Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations, came out in support of the “kill the gays” bill. It called on the government to resist foreign pressure to abandon the legislation and to insist that Western countries respect Ugandan spiritual values and not interfere.
Pope Benedict XVI has aggressively and harshly censured theologians and priests, yet he hasn’t said one word to those Ugandan clergy.
After his attach’s remarks, the pope could have come out strongly for human rights. Instead, he sent a welcome letter to Uganda’s new Holy See ambassador, Francis Butagira. The pope didn’t mention the legislation, and he commended Uganda for creating a climate of freedom and respect–actually praising the Ugandan government for its welcoming and accepting culture.
In contrast, when speaking in Portugal and England, he issued a blistering condemnation of their efforts to award civil rights to LGBT persons. It was widely reported that he said LGBT persons are a threat to God’s creation, including humans, and that gay marriage endangers humanity.
Does this mean a response from Bishop Steinbock will not be forthcoming?
My Letter to Bishop Steinbock
My letter stated that by remaining silent the Catholic Church is lending its tacit approval to Uganda’s plan to exterminate those they hate.
I included an article by Michael Winters who writes about Uganda in the National Catholic Reporter. Winters says that the Catholic hierarchy has a special opportunity in this matter to demonstrate that its opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with anti-gay bigotry.
I also referred the Bishop to a petition written by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Faith in Public Life (CACG) condemning the “kill the gays” bill. I asked him to sign it or, alternatively, to support its content. I wrote that his support would confirm the Catholic Church’s words that homosexual persons should be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
Parishioners should probably not remind bishops of scripture. But I had to mention that in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that our neighbors are not just those “like us” or the pleasant, or the rich and powerful. Even those annoying people in Gay Pride parades are our neighbors.
The leadership of the Catholic Church rarely, if ever, discusses its opposition to gay marriage without taking the chance to affirm the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians.
Will Uganda memorialize into law this inhumane attitude? The message to the people of Uganda by the state and religion is that killing gay people is good for Uganda. This legislation is designed to root out every homosexual and either kill them or lock them up for life. And to be sure that none are missed, anyone harboring one or knowing of one and not informing on them is subject to imprisonment. This is ominously like Hitler’s words: Jews possess “bad” genes.
Will the Vatican by words, action or inaction embrace the path of denial through diplomacy for the immediate rewards in Africa? Pope Pius XII, purportedly to protect the Catholic Church, in 1933 signed a Concordant with Hitler-a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” between the Vatican and the Nazis. Some say the pope’s bizarre premise was that for the good of Catholicism, incomprehensible horror should be addressed by diplomacy.
Can religion or government ever undo the immeasurable harm this bill would inflict on the people of Uganda? Another chilling reality is the fallout from the perceived approval by the state and religion that homosexuals should be exterminated from their midst. What can we suppose the people of Uganda are likely to conclude? Will beatings, lynchings and burnings become acts of patriotism and sanctification?
Will I get a response from my bishop? Who knows, it’s been months. The bigger question is, Will homosexuals in Uganda get a response?