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Monday, December 14, 2009

A tiny crumb, a wee peep, but I'll take "shocking severity" from an unflappable ABC

Archbishop discusses Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality law in newspaper interview

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, December 14, 2009
[Episcopal News Service] In a Dec. 12 interview with a London newspaper, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said legislation pending in the Ugandan Parliament that would introduce the death penalty for people who violate portions of that country's anti-homosexuality laws "is of shocking severity."

These were the first public comments Williams has made about the proposed changes to Uganda's existing laws against homosexuality. The bill being advanced by a member of parliament has drawn opposition from leaders and advocates in the Episcopal Church and elsewhere.

"Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the communion has said in recent decades," Williams told a reporter for The Telegraph.

Williams has reportedly worked behind the scenes to influence the situation; however his lack of a public statement has drawn criticism from some quarters. That criticism increased when he released a statement within 12 hours of the Diocese of Los Angeles electing the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, an openly lesbian and partnered woman, to be one of two new bishops suffragan.

Homosexuality in the African nation currently carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment. If passed, the proposed bill would introduce the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes assault against people under the age of 18 and those with disabilities, although recent reports are saying that politicians might be bowing to public pressure and reconsidering the severity of punishments proposed in the legislation.

Opponents fear that people, including family members and clergy, who support and advise homosexual people could be prosecuted and punished under the proposed law. The law would give Ugandan courts jurisdiction over its citizens who violate the law "partly outside or partly in Uganda."

Williams added in his comments to The Telegraph that "Apart from invoking the death penalty, [the proposed bill] makes pastoral care impossible -- it seeks to turn pastors into informers." He also noted that while the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty its archbishop, Henry Orombi, has not taken a position on the proposed changes to the law.

The Anglican Church of Uganda has said that it is studying the bill and does not yet have an official position on the proposed legislation. However, it reiterated the Ugandan church's position that "homosexual behavior is immoral and should not be promoted, supported, or condoned in any way as an 'alternative lifestyle.'" reported Oct. 29 that the church's provincial secretary told the Monitor newspaper in Kampala, Uganda, that jailing homosexuals was preferable to executing them. "If you kill the people, to whom will the message go?" asked the Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, according to the website.

However, British newspaper The Guardian reported Dec. 4 that the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a member of the Ugandan church internationally honored for his HIV/AIDS prevention work, has said that the bill would be "state-legislated genocide against a specific community of Ugandans."

Williams' remarks on the proposed legislation came in the midst of a wide-ranging interview that also touched on life in Canterbury, Pope Benedict XVI's recent offer of refuge for disaffected or former Anglicans and how the announcement of the offer was handled, the debate over allowing female priests to become bishops in the Church of England, the religious motivations of Britain's political leaders and whether the bishops in the House of Lords ought to push for a "supermarket ombudsman."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson have each de-cried the Ugandan bill's implications, as have advocacy groups within the church. Jefferts Schori's statement is here and Anderson's is here.

The church's Executive Council, an elected group of 40 clergy, laity and bishops that carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, was to have met by teleconference Dec. 7 to consider a possible statement on the legislation. A majority of the 16 members who asked for the meeting withdrew their request after Jefferts Schori released her statement on Dec. 4. The issue could still come up at the council's previously planned Feb. 19-22 meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.


Bill said...

Working behind the scenes is for mid-level managers, not for the person at the top. The man or woman at the top represents and speaks for the entire organization. Williams speaks for the entire Anglican Communion. This is no different then what happened during World War II. During that conflict, “Pope Pius XII's (1876-1958) actions during the Holocaust remain controversial. For much of the war, he maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed. He refused pleas for help on the grounds of neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general.”
Isn’t this exactly what Williams is doing right now, mouthing vague injustices.

David |Dah • veed| said...

It is not a public statement. It took an interview to draw this little bit out of him, and had the reporter glossed it over, we would not have had even this! And it is couched in such bizarre phrases. Pardon me for my poor grasp of English, especially when it is from the lips of someone from the UK or Down Under, but even I can tell something is weird here. I am glad that he did not choke on his tea and biscuits while stifling any enthusiasm in his condemnation.

His predecessor was a horses ass on just about everything, but I am sure Carey would have spoken out loud and strong against this without reservation or British ambiguity!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill and Dahveed - You are both so right it makes me weep.