Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry on Pope Francis's silence about LGBT people in Africa, and how this silence colors his message of good news to the world:
Pope Francis' first apostolic visit to Africa was, in many ways, a profound incarnation of his desired "poor church for the poor." He led the church to the world's margins and from there commenced the Year of Mercy. Francis visited an active conflict zone in Central African Republic at personal risk to preach peace, criticized injustice from slums outside Nairobi, and praised Uganda for accepting refugees (though failed to note the 500+ LGBT people who have fled that nation’s harsh conditions).
Pope Francis' silence on LGBT human rights is notable nonetheless. In a church which mandates a preferential option for those marginalized, allusions that include all people do not suffice. Affirming the dignity of LGBT persons would have strengthened his witness for human rights and social justice while remaining consistent with current articulations of church teaching.
Francis' silence can aid those like Uganda's Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo who prayed the pope would not preach tolerance because "[i]t is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves."
Francis' silence can harm all those LGBT people who face discrimination and violence for living openly as God created them, like Jackson Mukasa. Dragged from his home by a mob alongside his partner, Mukasa was brutally beaten before his assailants turned him into police for the 'crime' of being gay. Mukasa and his partner were jailed for several months under Uganda's anti-gay law before being released. They now live in fear, forced to seek asylum abroad and asking:
"Is it that being gay is a crime to God? That’s why all these things are happening?"
Pope Francis didn’t need to endorse marriage equality to preach merciful words to those like Jackson Mukasa and to save LGBTQI lives too frequently under attack. That he chose not to is troubling indeed.
And so I ask again: when is silence in the face of suffering that can be alleviated by words ever the proclamation of good news to anyone?