Archbishop discusses Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality law in newspaper interviewBy 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.'"
AllAfrica.com 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.