Pope Benedict XVI recently joined Twitter. On the same day he sent his first tweet, he also met with — and blessed — a Ugandan politician committed to implementing a new policy that would introduce the death penalty for some gay people.
Guess which one made the news?
Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of the Ugandan Parliament and the sponsor of its horrific “Kill the Gays” bill — one of the world’s harshest pieces of anti-gay legislation — called the meeting a “very great moment.”
Once the bill passes (and it will pass in some form, even if Kadaga failed to deliver it by Christmas, as she had hoped), it will mean gay Ugandans convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” could face the death penalty. The proposed bill requires that parents turn their gay children in to authorities to face prosecution. If passed, gay refugees could face the death penalty for their “crimes” in other countries if they return home, and gay support groups, such as those that work in HIV prevention, would be shut down.
By blessing Kadaga, who was given a personal audience with the pope, the Vatican has sent an unmistakable message to the world: that Uganda is following the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Kadaga, who was at the Vatican for a human rights conference (uh-huh), gave the pope a portrait of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, a place where followers of the Catholic faith were murdered in cold blood. The grisly irony was lost on her.
The world’s mainstream media has said barely a peep about this. The Media Matters blog on Dec 14 criticized American cable networks for their lack of coverage, sharing a poll that found that since October — when Kadaga promised to bring the bill to vote — major American networks had spent just 15 minutes reporting on the bill. The situation in Canada has not been any better. Yet media reported widely about the pope’s new Twitter account, painting Benedict as an endearing older gentleman learning how to use an iPad.
This is unacceptable. What the pope did in blessing Kadaga was so outrageous and so unambiguous that only one question needs now to be asked: how can anyone continue to follow the Catholic Church, knowing its leader openly supports those who would murder gay people?
This requires immediate action. Catholics who consider themselves queer allies need to speak up, express outrage or even walk away from the church entirely. Otherwise, they are complicit.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s definition of hate groups includes those organizations “having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Does the Catholic Church fit this description?
Two days after giving the blessing to Kadaga — and on the same day that a gunman massacred 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut — the pope announced that gay marriage is a threat to justice and peace. With all the legitimate evils in the world — murder, rape, poverty, sickness, war — he chose to highlight gay marriage.
Such insidious and cruel statements from the head of an organization that is supposed to stand for love, generosity and peace constitute hate speech. They directly inspire rabidly anti-gay sentiment, as we have seen in Uganda. Religious parents, teachers, pastors and priests follow the pope’s lead by telling gay youth they are worthless, making them feel guilt and shame, and trying to force them to change who they are. It is no wonder that many queer youth opt for suicide.
How much longer can Catholics allow their lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans brothers and sisters to endure this bullying and abuse? The real threats to “humanity itself” are hatred, bigotry and indifference to other human beings — as well as those who use their religious beliefs to justify such contempt.
For progressive Catholics embarrassed and saddened by their church’s position on homosexuality, it is time to speak up. It is time to voice your disgust and be counted as an ally — or to walk away from the church altogether.
Your silence is killing us.