Thu, 22 February 2024
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Africans differ over clerical blessings for same-sex couples

Update : 22 Dec 2023, 13:34

Homosexuality is a controversial topic in Africa, a continent where many people have strong and very conservative views on sexual orientation.

Pope Francis' recent approval of blessings for same-sex couples has left many Africans confused, triggering mixed emotions.

"As a Christian I am very embarrassed. What the pope did, he represented himself not the whole of Christians," Mary Lesiba of South Africa told DW. "How can he say he is a Christian when he is busy approving such things?"

Ayeah Alain Bravo from Cameroon also shares similar discontent. "[The decision] does not make sense to me," he said. "It makes some of us start doubting religion or feeling reluctant or trying to lose my faith."

Such strong reactions worry Francis Mpekansambo, a devout Catholic and religious analyst from the southern African nation of Malawi.

He said the pope's authorization of blessings for same-sex couples has sparked confusion because it's being misconstrued to mean that he is giving his approval to homosexuality.

"The church in Africa has received the news with mixed reaction and in somewhat a confused state," Mpekansambo told DW.

The Vatican said on Monday that following the pope's authorization, Catholic priests can now administer blessings to same-sex couples under the condition that they are not part of regular church rituals or liturgies.

But such blessings, according to a document from the Vatican's doctrinal office, serve only as a signal that God welcomes everyone.

The move doesn't change the church's stance on homosexuality. It remains of the position that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman, although the pope has expressed support for same-sex civil unions. 

'Culturally Africa cannot accept homosexuality'

But in Africa, where many nations have laws that restrict rights of LGBTQ+ people, some feel there can be no justification for the Catholic Church's decision.

"I think this is disheartening," Osman Mrong from Gambia told DW. "Disheartening in the sense that the key person like that of the pope would come up with such an idea. Because same-sex marriage, both Islam and Christianity condemn it."

The Catholic Church's document on the issue, though, is asking priests not to "prevent or prohibit the church's closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God's help through a simple blessing."

Mpekansambo blames Western media for blowing the pope's stance out of proportion.

"Culturally Africa cannot accept homosexuality. The unfortunate thing as well is that the statement by the Vatican was hijacked by the Western circular media [that] picked what they wanted and spun it," he told DW.

"The pope in its communication affirmed the Catholic teaching that the Catholic Church cannot accept same-sex unions."

What the LGBTQ+ community really wants

The LGBTQ+ community across Africa has constantly sought recognition and the right to live without restrictions and discrimination, on a continent that is largely apprehensive toward its members.

Njeri, who is from the Kenyan LGBTQ+ community, told DW that she feels happy about the Catholic Church's decision.

"Honestly, it feels like a step in the right direction, even if it is a small one. The pope acknowledging our relationship, even just saying that they can be blessed, carries weight here in Kenya," Njeri said.

But she quickly added that her community wants more than just blessings for couples.

"It is not everything we want. Recognition is great but full marriage, equality, legal protection and societal acceptance are still hurdles we face every day," she said.

Reverend Sharon Cox from the Triangle Project, an LGBTQ+ organization based in South Africa, told DW that the the community in Africa is not seeking blessings from priests.

"Anytime anybody advances equality, it is a good step. But what Pope Francis has done is only allowing the blessing of same-sex couples and a blessing is defined by Pope Francis as people's increased trust in God. This is something people can do on their own. They don't need a blessing," she said.

Cox added that what the community needs is equality and an end to discrimination.

"What the world needs is equality, that it is seen that equality means whatever you have the right to, I have the right to and that would be complete equality," she pointed out.

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