There is no doubt that Pope Francis is making a significant mark upon the world by his highly symbolic gestures and statements since his election in March. He washed the feet of women during Holy Week services, including a Muslim woman. And just last week, he talked about ending the marginalization of gays. The Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, printed the word gay for the first time ever in its 150-year history!
Quoting from a recent analysis in the Pennsylvania-based Patriot News, not all Catholics are happy with his quiet revolution.
“Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, had coddled traditionalist Catholics attached to the old Latin Mass and opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That group greeted Francis' election with concern — and now is watching its worst fears come true. Francis has spoken out both publicly and privately against such 'restoratist groups,' which he accuses of being navel-gazing retrogrades out of touch with the evangelizing mission of the church in the 21st century.
"His recent decision to forbid priests of a religious order from celebrating the old Latin Mass without explicit authorization seemed to be abrogating one of the big initiatives of Benedict's papacy, a 2007 decree allowing broader use of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy for all who want it. The Vatican denied he was contradicting Benedict, but these traditional Catholics see in Francis' words and deeds a threat. They are in something of a retreat.
"'Be smart. There will be time in the future for people to sort what Vatican II means and what it doesn't mean,' the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf warned his traditionalist readers in a recent blog post. 'But mark my words: If you gripe about Vatican II right now, in this present environment, you could lose what you have attained.'
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said right-wing Catholics 'generally have not been really happy' with Francis.”
At 76 years old, the first-ever Holy Father from the Global South will not have as much time to influence the Church as his two predecessors but if history is to be repeated, the revolution of Vatican II came about when Pope John XXIII was elected at 77 years old and was at the time expected to be a “caretaker Pope.” Although his Pontificate lasted only five years, his reforms went far beyond the Catholic Church and shaped many other churches and even other faith traditions.
Thoughts in action
For many of us engaged in the work of international HIV prevention and care, Pope Francis’ statement has profound consequences for good.
In Africa, 40% of health service delivery systems are faith-based and largely Catholic. LGBT people have either been deliberately excluded or are reluctant to come forward for testing and services. Often the churches and religious NGOs take part in political campaigns to further criminalize homosexuality and these draconian campaigns go against every significant policy advised by the United Nations, UNAIDS, PEPFAR, the Global Fund to reach and serve vulnerable populations.
A study released this week by amfAR shows the frightening statistics of disproportionately high infection rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) and commercial sex workers in African countries like Cameroon.
Eric Lembembe was a devout practicing Catholic whose ministry was to serve the most marginalized and poor of his community and his focus in recent years was to lead educational campaigns to decrease this kind of stigma and provide information to prevent the spread of HIV. His struggling organization, CAMFAIDS, spent many hours reaching out to religious and secular health care facilities and even to the American Embassy trying to get support and funding.
He was unsuccessful to get funds even from PEPFAR or USAID. He was promised the use of a meeting room in the embassy, but that did not materialize either. His Catholic Archbishop Tonye Bakot used Christmas Eve as an opportunity to condemn the local gay community as those who commit “crimes against humanity” and six months later Eric’s dead body was found in his apartment, with his limbs broken and his face and body burned with an electric iron.
International pressure on the government forced authorities to conduct an investigation and carry out an autopsy before his funeral, scheduled for tomorrow. CAMFAIDS and several other local HIV organizations canceled all further outreach until their safety and security can be assured. The Cameroon government is failing to protect them to do work that the Cameroonian government has pledged to do through signing the UN AIDS Declaration of 2011.
Was the Archbishop of Cameroon fired?
This week, not only did the Pope make a statement about ending the marginalization of LGBT people globally, but he replaced Cameroon Archbishop Tonye Bakot. We are not sure if this was because of Bakot’s repulsive theology and deliberate misinformation or his shady real estate dealings, but he is gone. Several faith leaders are also concerned about the damage his teaching has done to the LGBT community in particular and is requesting the Vatican to investigate him further, which could lead to him being defrocked.
The Catholic and Anglican churches permitted years of this kind of dehumanization in Rwanda without any recourse and the Cameroonian crises gives the Catholic Church a moment of redemption. It is one symbolic gesture to call for the end of gay persecution, it is another to bring perpetrators of hate and violence to justice.
The second action that would help to repair the years of persecution and exclusion of LGBT people from the church and from access to HIV services would be for a recommendation from leading Catholic relief organizations like Caritas, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Conference of Bishops to allocate 10% of all Catholic funding of HIV related services to organizations like CAMFAIDS and to begin to turn the tide on the outrageous infection rates among vulnerable populations. This would not only be a powerful symbolic gesture of repentance and repair, but would place the faith community on the cutting edge of reduction of poverty and disease among some of the world poorest folk-the LGBT community.
The church needs to share its resources with LGBT people
Pope Francis is quoted in Caritas’s website wanting a poor church and a church for the poor. “Everyone should have equal access to opportunities and service.”
This is a noble quest and we have to help the faith community to reach out and share the resources they have and even contribute and match these large government grants with donations that are desperately needed to do difficult work. For example, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave grants to the Catholic Conference of Bishops between 2011-13 totaling close to $750 million. The CDC in Cameroon administers U.S. funding totaling $1.75 million and CAMFAIDS did not receive a dime.
U.S. taxpayers gave gifts of $9,281, 619 to Cameroon with a third of this money going to the Cameroon Baptist Convention, and we could not find a room in our Embassy where Eric Lembembe could have a meeting or the $5,000 needed for his funeral and mortuary costs. What is wrong with this picture? Why is the U.S. government funding organizations who are contributing to the persecution and violation of human rights for millions of LGBT people globally, many of whom will die of HIV because they cannot get funding from us?
Transparency in government
I was amazed by the figures I am reading on a new government website created by the Obama White House in response for more transparency. We give almost $116 million in Ugandan aid this year, and all of the organizations I am working with in Uganda are not yet at the table, yet the vast majority of these funds are going to religious organizations that are not serving the LGBT and other vulnerable populations and in many cases are driving the anti-gay agenda.
So it would be a wonderful gesture and symbol from Pope Francis as he calls to the faithful to end the marginalization of LGBT people, if we agreed to use at least 10% of these funds to reduce the high levels of infection, mainly because of our neglect and statements from people like Bakot. Our government, as a key donor, should take the lead and negotiate this with our contractors, including the Catholic Conference of Bishops. I love today’s Tweet from the Pope:
Pope Francis @Pontifex The security of faith does not make us motionless or close us off, but sends us forth to bear witness and to dialogue with all people.
May he live long and see his dream.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.