Pope Francis defends recent Vatican declaration amid opposition from African bishops and global criticism

In a recent development that highlights divisions within the Catholic Church, bishops in Africa have rejected a Vatican declaration allowing extra-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples. Pope Francis, responding to the widespread criticism, described the opposition from African Catholic bishops as a unique case driven by cultural beliefs.

The Pope made these comments in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa on Monday, addressing the backlash against his authorization of a Vatican document titled ‘Fiducia Supplicans,’ published last month. This document allows for blessings of same-sex couples in specific circumstances, including those in relationships considered “invalid” by the Catholic Church, such as unmarried couples, divorced-and-remarried couples, and homosexual couples.

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), representing Catholic bishops on the continent, denounced the Pope’s decision earlier this month, describing it as “inappropriate” and warning of potential “confusion” in African communities. SECAM president Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo emphasized that the move contradicted the cultural values of African societies.

Additionally, a group of British priests from the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy protested against the extra-liturgical blessings, asserting that the Church’s traditional values were “unchangeable.” Bishops in Central Asia, including Tomash Peta and Athanasius Schneider from Kazakhstan, also called for the reversal of the Pope’s directive, citing a contradiction with the Church’s longstanding practice and doctrine.

In response to the criticism, Pope Francis acknowledged the special case presented by African opposition. He stated, “For them, homosexuality is something ‘bad’ from a cultural point of view, they don’t tolerate it.” However, he expressed trust that over time, everyone would be reassured by the spirit of the ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ declaration, emphasizing its aim to include rather than divide.

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The Pope had previously clarified the December 18 declaration, asserting that the decision to grant blessings to same-sex couples was not an endorsement of a potentially sinful lifestyle but a recognition of individuals seeking to draw closer to God.

It is worth noting that homosexuality remains heavily criminalized in many African countries, with severe legal consequences in places like Uganda, where same-sex activities can lead to punishments ranging from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

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