Bishop Anyolo defies Pope on directive to bless same-sex couples

Catholic Bishop Philip Anyolo blessed the faithful at the Holy Family Basilica church in Nairobi on Sunday, Dec 24, 2023. [John Muchucha, Standard]

Catholic Church clergy in Nairobi have been prohibited from blessing same-sex couples, a major pushback against Pope Francis’ declaration.

In a statement dated December 18, Nairobi Archbishop Philip Anyolo said blessing irregular relationships, unions and gay couples would imply that the Church permits such acts, which he said go against God’s word, the teachings of the Church and the African cultural traditions.

Insisting blessing same sex couples would be scandalous to the faith, Archbishop Anyolo explained the concept of ‘blessing’ means approval, permission, or even a commission for a certain type of action and mission.

“Just as from a liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, so too, even blessing outside of the liturgical rite requires whatever is blessed confirms to God’s will,” said Anyolo in the statement.

In a document titled Fiducia Supplicans, Pope Francis sparked controversy last week with the declaration that okayed the stated blessings provided they were not confused with the traditional doctrine of marriage, an insoluble union between man and woman.

The most resistance has been witnessed in Africa, where some 265 million Catholics, out of the total 1.3 billion Catholic population, reside. Bishops from South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia and Malawi have already rejected the directive. Poland, too, has opposed it.

The head of the Catholic Church is deemed to support reforms that would accommodate the LGBTQ community and has invited backlash from the more conservative section of the Church.

Culture and religion

Anyolo termed homosexuality as going against reason and nature, and that it offended African traditions as the practice opposed the transmission of life.

“The pastoral practices of the Church regarding marriage and family are always based on the Gospel of Christ which leads to eternal life (John 6:68), and the enduring practices of the Church rooted in the Apostolic Tradition.

“It is for this reason that the Church excludes those living in irregular situations of marriage from full sacramental participation in the life of the Church, as they are invited to remedy their objectively sinful situation and are accompanied with (by) pastoral care,” said the prelate.

The Nairobi Archbishop had begun by clarifying that the head of the Catholic church had not endorsed gay marriages, a position held by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).

The Conference Chairperson Archbishop Martin Kivuva, who is in charge of the Mombasa Archdiocese, did not expressly bar priests from blessing gay couples.

“We know that often, even in our own African culture, a father or mother can give a blessing to their children. This also applies to Christian parents who can give a blessing to their children without any reference of (to) their conditions and circumstances. This is understood as an invocation to God to look upon them and their needs,” said Kivuva, who added that blessing did not mean approval. 

He said the Church’s work was to gather the scattered, recover the lost and redirect sinners back to the fount salvation and of eternal life. He, too, emphasised that marriage was a union of a man and a woman.

Like much of Africa, homosexuality remains a polarising subject in Kenya. Male gay sex is punishable by a jail term of up to seven years. The High Court in 2019 upheld the criminalisation of homosexuality.

But in a win for the LGBTQ community, the Supreme Court in February determined that gay persons had a right to associate even as it maintained that the act remains outlawed. The court’s decision prompted backlash from the clergy and politicians, some of whom have sponsored stricter Bills against homosexuality.