African Catholic bishops said on Thursday the Vatican’s recent approval of blessings for same-sex couples was not appropriate on the continent because it contradicted “the cultural ethos of African communities”.
Homosexuality is still illegal in many religiously conservative African countries and many have a history of stigma and repression, sometimes encouraged by conservative Muslims and Christians.
Last month, the Catholic Church said priests could bless “irregular” and same-sex couples under certain circumstances, in a decision seen by conservatives as backtracking on gay marriage and homosexuality, which the Church opposes.
“The Church’s doctrine on Christian marriage and sexuality remains unchanged,” the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) said in a statement from Ghana’s capital Accra.
“For this reason, we, the African Bishops, do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples.”
SECAM represents Catholic bishops across the continent.
The statement said that giving the blessings would cause “confusion and would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities”.
The Vatican last week had sought to clarify the document in December, denying it strayed from doctrine while urging “prudence” in certain countries.
The clarification by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith came after an outcry by certain bishops, particularly in Africa.
The original document had cautioned that priests could only perform blessings for same-sex couples, divorcees, or unmarried couples in “non-ritualised” contexts, and never in relation to weddings or civil unions.
Opposition to the Vatican’s recent move has been particularly strong in Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Since his election in 2013, 87-year-old Pope Francis has sought to open the doors of the Church to all its faithful, including the LGBTQ community.
But his efforts have met with strong resistance among its traditional and conservative fringe.