Catholic bishops in Malawi have prepared a pastoral statement—expected to be read on Sunday—in which they have spoken against homosexuality, abortion and artificial birth control measures.
The bishops’ voice on the contentious issues follows an ongoing debate on the same with the latest passing of a Gender Bill in Parliament this week legalising women to decide when and whether they should have children.
The pastoral letter, dated March 2 2013 and which we have seen, is signed by all Catholic bishops, including Bishop Joseph Zuza, chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and bishop for Mzuzu Diocese; his vice Thomas Msusa of Zomba Diocese, Tarcisius Ziyaye of Blantyre Archdiocese, Remi Ste-Marie of Lilongwe Archdiocese; Peter Musikuwa of Chikhwawa Diocese, Emmanuel Kanyama of Dedza Diocese; Alessandro Pagani of Mangochi Diocese; Dr. Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese and Montfort Stima, Auxiliary Bishop of Blantyre Archdiocese.
“The Church maintains that while the homosexual orientation is disordered, it is not sinful in itself. However, once a person with this orientation or indeed a person without this orientation indulges in homosexual acts, such acts must always be judged as objectively evil and totally unacceptable. This teaching is clearly based on Scripture,” reads the pastoral letter in part.
The bishops observe that it is the glorification of individual’s right and freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle and create one’s own values that has produced a situation in which not only acceptance of homosexual persons is called for, but also legalisation of the same on the grounds of non-discrimination.
“As a loving mother and reflecting the unconditional love of God, the Church understands that for most of the homosexual persons, their condition is a trial. As such “they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” reads part of the statement.
The bishops observe that promotion of homosexuality threatens the existence of marriage as designed by God.
“It must be noted that defending marriage as a unit of man and woman should not be the responsibility of churches alone but also of conscientious civil authorities and any serious member of society,” say the bishops.
The bishops also speak against abortions, especially direct ones.
“The Catholic Church condemns all direct abortions as gravely sinful. Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,” reads the statement quoting Pope Paul VI who declared that this teaching of the Church “has not changed and is unchangeable.”
The bishops also challenge medical personnel to choose the law of God and refuse cooperating in abortions.
“It is, for instance, inadmissible that doctors or nurses should find themselves obliged to cooperate closely in abortions and have to choose between the law of God and their professional situation,” the statement reads.
The bishops observe that most abortions are procured not to save the life of the mother, but to obtain some other human value that is opposed in some way to pregnancy.
They further observe that most abortions involve healthy women and foetus.
“The foetus is looked at as a burden because the woman is unmarried, or poor, or at the beginning of her career, or at school, or that she has enough children already [birth control]. At stake is an effort to break the traditional link between sexual intercourse and procreation,” says the statement.
Against the argument that the woman has a right to her own body and, therefore, she can decide what to do with the foetus, the bishops say it must be asserted that the right of the unborn to life takes precedence over the right of a woman to control her body.
However, the bishops observe that cases of indirect abortions when another proportionately more important value is at stake constitute exceptions.
On population and birth control the bishops say: “Any action, which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means—is morally inadmissible.”
“This then leaves complete sexual abstinence and the rhythm method [that is, the restriction of sexual relations to the infertile periods in the woman’s menstrual cycle] as the only morally permissible methods of family planning. These are judged admissible because they do not interfere with the natural laws of the generative process,” the statement reads.
In an interview on Friday, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi Fr. George Buleya said he did not have information on the pastoral letter.
Told that Weekend Nation has seen a copy of the letter and that it is expected to be read on Sunday, he said: “If it is for Sunday, it should be for Sunday and not tomorrow [Saturday] if it is there. If anything, ask me after Sunday. If it is there, it may have leaked from other offices and not my office,” said Buleya.
But reacting to the statement on Friday, Gift Trapence, executive director for Centre for the Development of People—an organisation that advocates minority rights including homosexuals—said matters of State and church should be separated.
He said: “They [bishops] cannot impose their beliefs on the society. Malawi is a secular State and the Constitution is the supreme law.”
Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu said government has no stand on the issues. He said government has allowed debate among the people through Parliament.
“Government may give official comment after the pastoral letter is out,” he said.