Cardinal Responds to U.N.'s Criticism of Africa's Social Policies

Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Robert Sarah (photo: CNA/Alan Holdren)

VATICAN CITY — A senior African Vatican official has called on U.S. and African Catholic bishops to respond more forcefully to efforts by the United Nations to impose policies on African nations that run contrary to the faith and the continent’s culture.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, responded forcefully to a speech given by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who told African nations to repeal criminal laws that place sanctions on homosexual conduct and to stop discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Speaking to the Register Feb. 13 on the sidelines of a conference on Africa at the Vatican, the Guinean cardinal said “African bishops must react” to such a move, as “this is not our culture; it’s against our faith.” He described the secretary general’s comments as “stupid” and added that the “Catholic bishops of America must help us in Africa, by reacting themselves.”

“It’s not possible to impose on the poor this kind of European mentality,” he said.

In a Jan. 28 address to 54 African nations at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ki-moon said discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender equality “has been ignored or even sanctioned by many states for far too long.” He added that some governments treat homosexual people as “second-class citizens or even criminals” and that “we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration.”

According to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), most African countries frown upon homosexuality as immoral and degrading, with many criminalizing homosexual acts, some even going as far as prescribing the death penalty. Many of these laws post-date the colonial period and have been enacted during the past 10 years. In most of these countries, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” (LGBT) rights are not even contemplated as possibilities in the distant future.

Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, the Church has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstance can they be approved (2357).”

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition (2358).”

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said some of the sanctions imposed on homosexuals in Africa are an “exaggeration,” but argued that the “intensity of the reaction is probably commensurate with tradition.”

Referring to the issue of stigma surrounding homosexuality in Africa, the cardinal said it is important to understand the reasons behind it. “Just as there’s a sense of a call for rights, there’s also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people,” he said. “So, if it’s being stigmatized, in fairness, it’s probably right to find out why it is being stigmatized.”

Moreover, the cardinal called for a distinction to be made between moral issues and human rights.

“We [the Church] push for the rights of prisoners, the rights of others; and the last thing we want to do is infringe upon the rights of anyone. But when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights?” the cardinal said. “He [Ban ki-moon] needs to recognize there’s a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified.”

C-FAM notes that mentions of “LGBT” rights in the international context are ambiguous at best. It says that reference is frequently made to the rights of all human beings to be free from violence and discrimination, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties. But it adds that the object of such mentions “is evidently the adoption of the whole gamut of demands by the homosexual lobby, beginning with the removal of penal laws proscribing homosexual conduct, then granting homosexual unions the same legal rights as married couples, and ending with the recognition of all manner of sexual orientations and gender identities.”

The pro-life group, which defends sovereignty and human dignity at the United Nations and other international institutions, stressed that such rights “were rejected, or not even contemplated, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties were drafted.”

International legal experts also point out that no international treaty mentions the rights of homosexual persons and that it is “beyond the scope of the secretary general and other world leaders to re-interpret international law to push homosexual persons’ rights on other nations.” So far, C-FAM notes, “few nations have given any indication that they will bow to such pressure.”

Asked if Ban Ki-moon was overstepping his responsibilities, Cardinal Sarah replied: “Sure, you cannot impose something stupid like that.” He added: “Poor countries like Africa just accept it because it’s imposed upon them through money, through being tied to aid.” Last year, Hillary Clinton declared the Obama administration would fight discrimination against homosexuals abroad by using foreign aid and diplomacy. British Prime Minister David Cameron also proposed doing the same.

The cardinal said he felt that bishops worldwide have not been strong enough in resisting these kinds of agendas coming from the U.N. and other world leaders.

“The Holy Father is alone; he’s isolated. The bishops should support him more strongly,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve supported him enough. Maybe some bishops from Spain have fought; in France, Belgium, Germany, they didn’t react.”

But above all on this issue, he would like to see African bishops speaking out more forcefully: “That could also be a help for European bishops.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.