The Hardtalk Interview:
Dear Readers, it has been brought to my attention that the response I gave to a question on homosexuality during a BBC Hardtalk Interview has upset very many in Ghana and probably elsewhere too. I am sorry about that! I did not intend to ruffle any feathers anywhere. I only wanted to state a truth of the teaching of the Catholic Church and a truth of Justice, namely that: people may not be criminalised or victimised for who they are.
Rather, people may be criminalised and punished for what they do: their actions! At the said BBC Hardtalk interview, I responded to a question about the criminalisation of Homosexuality, referring to an answer I gave once to the media in Slovenia in response to a similar question. My response was, and this is what I repeated at the BBC Hardtalk, that “LGBT and Gay people may not be criminalised; but neither should that lifestyle and its practice be imposed on cultures which are not yet ready for it.”
When the interviewer went on, quoting a bill before the Parliament of Ghana, the attitudes of some countries in Africa towards homosexual people and what the Ghana Bishops’ Conference had written, denouncing a Western imposition of a foreign lifestyle and calling it a despicable act, I thought that something that was implicit in the position of the Bishops should be made explicit, namely, the distinction between a tendency and an act. It is the latter that was called “despicable”.
I thought, therefore, that there was the need for some education, first to properly understand the phenomenon and its diverse manifestations in people; and secondly, to distinguish between the phenomenon/tendency and its manifestation in homosexual acts. While the latter can be legislated and thus, condemned or criminalised by a community or a State, the former, the phenomenon/tendency, may not be criminalised: there are no acts/deeds to criminalise!
So, my answer at the BBC interview made two points: first, that homosexuality, as a tendency/condition may not be criminalised, and, secondly, that homosexuality may not be imposed. This second point, from what I gather, is acceptable to people in Ghana and elsewhere, because not to impose something means allowing and recognizing the freedom of people to deal with their affairs. It is the first point that some find irksome, but in that I was repeating what the Catholic Church teaches!
Homosexual Non-Criminalisation and Catholic Church Teaching:
I am aware that Bishop Matthew Gyamfi, the President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Bishop Joseph Osei Bonsu of the Diocese of Konongo-Mampong have made an effort to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching on the non-criminalisation of homosexuals, referring to Scriptures and Church documents; and I am grateful to them both.
In what follows, I shall briefly revisit those Church Teachings to show:
- a) how the Church makes a distinction between the homosexual tendency or phenomenon and homosexual actions or behaviour, and
- b) while the Church does not criminalise the existence of the homosexual tendency in people, the Church considers homosexual deeds and actions as morally reprehensible.
In the 1975 Document of the Church’s Office for the Teaching of the true Faith, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Bishop Osei-Bonsu also quotes, the Church took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions.
The Church considered the latter (actions) to be intrinsically disordered; and while she stressed “the duty of trying to understand the homosexual condition,” she advised that “culpability for homosexual acts should only be judged with prudence.”
In a follow-up document of the same Office in 1986, the Church recognized the existence of “pressure from civil legislation and pro-homosexual movements with deceitful propaganda about the harmlessness of homosexual behaviour.”
These pressure groups notwithstanding, the Church revisited the distinction between homosexual tendency and homosexual action. While the Church made it clear that the homosexual condition and the inclination thereof is not sin, she advised pastors to pay attention to those who have this condition, “lest they believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”
For, as the Document goes on to teach, “when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.”
So, clearly, the Church does not condone homosexual activity. But she is also not callous about homosexual persons “who have been and are the object of violent malice in speech and action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors… It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endanger the most fundamental principles of a healthy society.
The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.”
Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church which refers to homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”, goes on to say: “They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
Finally, while Pope Francis finds it unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex,” he reaffirms “that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, ……. every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”
Rather, he continues, “Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
As a Catholic Bishop, I cannot but uphold the teaching of my faith community, the Catholic Church; and it is: while homosexuality may not be imposed, as a condition for foreign aid, homosexuals themselves may not be criminalised for their condition!
I wish you all a Blessed Season of Advent!
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson (07/12/2023)