Council of churches to engage Namibia’s Catholic Church on same-sex marriage blessings

Pope Francis

The Council of Churches of Namibia is expected to engage in a meeting with the head of the Catholic Church in Namibia, archbishop Liborius Nashenda, following a statement by African bishops expressing opposition to the blessing of same-sex unions on the continent.

This development comes in the aftermath of Pope Francis’ announcement in December, permitting priests to bless “irregular” and same-sex couples in specific circumstances.

“I am planning to meet the Catholic bishop of Namibia this week to hear their stand,” said Council of Churches spokesperson Ludwig Beukes.

Nashenda couldn’t be reached via phone yesterday.

There are currently more than 480 000 Roman Catholics in the country, according to statistics from 2020.

A recent statement signed by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (Secam) asserts the Catholic Church’s commitment to maintaining its traditional stance on Christian marriage and sexuality.

The statement was signed by Congolese cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, president of the Secam, and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals.

“We, the African bishops, do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples because, in our context, this would cause confusion and would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities,” Ambongo wrote.

Emphasising their communion with Pope Francis, Ambongo cited biblical teaching condemning homosexuality as an abomination in the African cultural context, where he asserted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and other (LGBTQI+) unions “are seen as contradictory to cultural norms and intrinsically corrupt.”

“Furthermore, it remains very difficult to be convincing that people of the same sex who live in a stable union do not claim legitimacy of their own status. We, African bishops, insist on the call for the conversion of all,” Ambongo said.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office has approved a landmark ruling allowing Roman Catholic priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples, as long as these blessings do not form part of regular church rituals or liturgies.

This ruling, endorsed by Pope Francis, aims to signal that God embraces everyone, although it doesn’t legitimise what the church considers “irregular situations”.

Priests are encouraged to decide on a case-by-case basis, ensuring the church remains open to people seeking God’s help through simple blessings, despite these individual circumstances.

This move follows the pope’s previous hints at change and represents an effort to welcome LGBTQI+ individuals without altering the church’s stance on same-sex acts, which it still considers as contrary to its moral doctrine.

The African Church’s refusal of extra-liturgical blessings creates tension with the Vatican.

Ambongo said that these blessings have caused “misconceptions and unrest” among lay faithful, consecrated individuals and pastors, eliciting strong reactions.

OutRight Namibia director Agapitus Hausiku anticipates the rejection of blessings for same-sex marriages by African bishops.

“It is expected, but they can’t override the Pope’s declaration. He’s aware of this, hence calling for dialogue in the church,” Hausiku said.

Hausiku welcomed the ongoing discussion around same-sex marriages and the Christian faith.

“The whole process is a good start, but one needs to see how it will work out,” Hausiku said.

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