Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa

Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sao Tome e Principe, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe

No 4    (English)     –   September 2013

“Theological Reflection for Pastoral Action”

THE FAMILY – theme of 10th Plenary Assembly

Pope Benedict XVI in “Africae Munus”:

42. The family is the “sanctuary of life” and a vital cell of society and of the Church. It is here that the “features of a people take shape; it is here that its members acquire basic teachings. They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved, they learn respect for others inasmuch as they received a first revelation of it from a father and a mother full of attention in their regard. Whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence.” (Collaboration of Men and Women).

43. The family is the best setting for learning and applying the culture of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. “In a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace : justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace (World Day of Peace, 2008). By virtue of its central importance and the various threats looming over it – distortion of the very notion of marriage and family, devaluation of maternity and trivialization of abortion, easy divorce and the relativism of a “new ethics” – the family needs to be protected and defended (Proposition 38), so that it may offer society the service expected of it, that of providing men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony.

44. ….“The love between man and woman, openness to life, and the raising of children are privileged spheres in which the Eucharist can reveal its power to transform life and give it its full meaning.” (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis).

51. In the family, MEN have received a particular mission. In their role as husbands and fathers, they exercise the noble responsibility of giving society the values it needs through marriage and the raising of children. ….53. In living ….God’s own fatherhood, you are called to guarantee the personal development of all members of the family….

55. WOMEN in Africa make a great contribution to the family, to society and to the Church by their many talents and unique gifts…57. …The Church has the duty to contribute to the recognition and liberation of women, following the example of Christ’s esteem for them….


Working Paper No 10

The Single-Parent Family

No “closed doors” for single mothers

A single mother comes with her child to the Parish Secretary and says, ‘I want my child to be baptized.’ The Secretary replies, ‘No, you cannot have your child baptized because you are not married’. Pope Francis mentioned this little incident in a homily, adding indignantly, ”This girl had the courage to go through with her pregnancy. So why close the door to her?”

The number of single parents is increasing all the time. Many young women have children, but no husbands, and their children have no fathers.

We must show our young people that it is worth waiting for marriage and not experiment with their sexuality beforehand. A good marriage is not a “boring” thing. It is a wonderful thing which they must work for.

Our society takes it for granted that young people are engaging in sexual relationships indiscriminately. Even Catholic parents throw their hands up in despair, “There is nothing we can do.” Western NGOs assume that teenagers are “sexually active” and do not show them a better way. The ideology which they spread around   speaks about “reproductive rights” which even the young and unmarried can claim, as long as they avoid two things: falling pregnant and getting themselves infected with HIV and AIDS. Church AIDS Programmes offer young people a different vision : through peer education in Youth AIDS Clubs girls and boys are motivated to work towards an “AIDS-free generation” .

In this atmosphere to show young women and men that it is worthwhile, indeed wonderful, to wait for their future “partner for life” in marriage and celebrate their love in sexual intimacy only then, is an uphill battle.

At the same time we all know that the temptation for girls to give in to their boyfriends’ demands is great and the pressure on them hard to resist. Some will fall pregnant and frequently be abandoned by the boyfriends responsible (or rather irresponsible!).

“She has broken the rule, she must be punished,” is often the reaction of fellow Christians. But the Church cannot follow this primitive logic. She must do what Jesus did. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” But he also said to the woman who was a sinner, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8).

God has created something beautiful like love between man and woman and marriage. We must not spoil it. At the same time, we know we are spoilers, we are sinners, and we need mercy, and we are given mercy.

To bring these two things together is not easy, to honour God in his creation and respect its beauty and yet show mercy to those who fail to do so. This is precisely what Christianity is about. The severity of the law alone is not Christian, nor cheap mercy because “anything goes”. But a rule which makes sense and compassion, both together, that is specifically Christian, and that is the tension Christians have to learn to live with. Every Christian community must learn to walk this “balancing act”.

We must intensify our efforts to make the young see our vision of love and marriage through workshops and seminars with a variety of experienced parents and some experts in different fields; and at the same time we need to run emergency services for young women who have fallen pregnant, been abandoned and may think of abortion or even suicide. They need to be reconciled to their families, and their boyfriends need to be contacted and talked to so they see and accept their responsibility.

A place for single mothers in the community

A young woman with a child or children has her chances of a stable marriage drastically reduced. Many girls when they fall pregnant rush for an abortion, legal or illegal. Often the man responsible puts pressure on her to abort. Sometimes the mothers, even church members, take them to some old granny “with a long needle” or some drugs to get rid of the growing child. The community may never know about what happened. Pope Francis quite rightly talks about the courage of those who go through with the pregnancy. But they are the ones who are ostracized by the community – unless such pregnancies have become so common that they are taken for granted.

The parents often end up with giving shelter to their daughter(s) and her/their children. But in the parish community they may be controversial and not find a definite place. But they should. They long for recognition. They should have a little club or association where they support each other. But don’t call it the single mothers’ association. This sounds to them derogatory. Besides, there are also single fathers, though less visible. Let them choose a name for themselves, more positive and forward-looking.

Young widows with children also belong to this group. They all somehow fail to find a proper place in normal parish structures. And yet they need support and acceptance even more than the rest, especially if they are HIV positive as inevitably many of them are.

Properly married women in their sodality uniforms often look down on their sisters whose lives have somehow gone awry. They may be even afraid of them as possible rivals if not to say “husband-snatchers”.

Marriage – a discarded option ?

Most single mothers of course long for a husband and a normal family life. For many this remains a dream. Some opt for the second-best and become a mistress to a well-to-do married man who sets them up in a “small house” somewhere of which the “ proper” wife may know nothing (to be distinguished from traditional polygyny).

But there is a growing number of mostly well-educated professional, financially independent young women who have given up on marriage. They may have boyfriends and some children from them, but they cannot imagine fitting into the role of a traditional submissive wife and humble daughter-in-law.

The bad reputation men have as husbands and fathers is by and large well deserved – there are of course remarkable exceptions and we must be thankful for them. For the Church in general and the local Christian community such women are a problem. How to fit them in? Is this a genuine option and an acceptable way of life? Are husbands and fathers really an outmoded model to be phased out ? Are men really dispensable in the family, except biologically?

Men and women are complementary to each other. Marriage between one man and one woman is not just a good idea for those who like it, it is a divine institution, and men and women are created for this. Children have a right to both father and mother (See “Masculinity in crisis”).

The Family and families

There are single women, some of them widows or divorcees with children of their own, who have taken into their homes children not their own, but related to them (grandchildren, nieces, nephews etc), or even genuine foster children they are not related to ( despite traditional taboo against this), and such mothers deserve praise from the civil community and the Church. They try their best to be both mother and father to such children (often deprived of parents by AIDS).

The classical nuclear family can no longer be taken for granted. The Church has to make special efforts and work hard to breathe life into it, while accepting that there are other forms of family which must be welcomed and supported in the Christian community.   oWe

Working Paper No 11


An Analysis

The Southern African Development Community has committed itself to gender equality, in the SADC Gender Protocol which is based on Conventions and Declarations made earlier in Africa and worldwide, and was signed by heads of state and/or government in Maputo, 2008. Member countries are committed to implement it by changing the law and social practices which will have an impact on the FAMILY.

The Bible teaches us that Man and Woman are equal in human dignity on its very first pages, right from the beginning.

If “gender equality” means equal dignity for Man and Woman as persons surely we as Church are glad that the SADC countries have taken this step and are determined to abolish all discrimination against women in their laws and social, economic and political life.

Most states proclaim in the preamble and/or bill of rights of their constitutions that men and women are equal, e.g. in having the active and passive vote in democratic elections.

That women should receive “equal pay for equal work”, that they should have access to the professions and positions of leadership, is undisputed.

That they must be protected against abuse and (sexual) violence, is a basic duty of any state.

That widows should have the custody of their children and have the right to continue living in their matrimonial home, are excellent and very necessary provisions. Customary laws and practices that no longer make sense in our time will indeed have to be changed.

We certainly welcome that the SADC Protocol wants to do away with pornography and anything that degrades and exploits women in media entertainment and advertising, instead demands that women be given a voice in media communication.

There is much in the SADC Gender Protocol that we as Church welcome, accept and support. We can acknowledge this in our contacts with governments and use it as basis for further dialogue.

But we also have to ask QUESTIONS.

The questions often concern language and concepts. There is the key concept of GENDER. What exactly does it mean? According to the definition in Part 1, Article 1 it “means the roles, duties and responsibilities which are culturally or socially ascribed to women, men, girls and boys”.

As so often in this document, what is most significant in it is what is NOT said : women and men are defined by their ‘cultural and social roles’, i.e. by how society has formed and shaped them. What culture and society have done, culture and society undoubtedly can and one day will change. There is no awareness of human nature which is ‘given’ (in our Christian understanding by the Creator). There is no room for feminine and masculine characteristics which women and men are born with. These are considered “gender stereotypes” to be eliminated, hindering men’s and women’s freedom. The nearest the document comes to admitting that there are different characteristics is in mentioning “specific gender needs”. It is true that nature is not static, but develops: human beings through their gift of freedom create culture. As a result, their roles through the ages as women and men change. Nevertheless, we are born as either men or women, and retain our male or female identity. Women are excited in this day and age about discovering in themselves qualities and abilities which they did not think they had, or were not supposed to have in the judgment of society. We rejoice with our sisters about these gifts which are also gifts to the community and society as a whole in which they live. But does this mean that they cease to be women with specific feminine and maternal gifts?

“Multiple roles of women…in the reproductive, productive and management of community spheres”. Obviously this refers to the double role of women as mothers and as working women. Why does it not speak about “mothers”? Why does it mention community, but not “family”?

“Sex means the biological differences between females and males”. Are the differences between women and men merely biological? Are there not innate psychological and emotional differences in the relational and inter-personal sphere?

The protocol speaks of the “right to sexual and reproductive health care”. What exactly does that mean? The use of contraceptives? Even the “right” to have an abortion? It does not say. “Reproductive health care” in our understanding involves two, the mother and the expected child. The text hides behind very abstract language.

“Human trafficking” is said to be a crime undertaken for “financial and sexual exploitation”, in other words it is closely linked to prostitution into which the victims are forced. But the legitimacy of prostitution which undoubtedly is incompatible with woman’s dignity and ‘gender equality’, and is a form of exploitation even if it is called “sex work”, is never questioned.

Repeatedly the Protocol speaks of the need to adjust “customary practices” and to “discourage traditional norms” so as to conform with ‘gender equality and equity’. But would that not mean doing away with polygamy and polygyny? This thorny issue is never mentioned. IMBISA discussed it in 1995. “Can one man genuinely love all his wives equally, and what is the meaning of love in a polygynous context?” ( Dr T T Ginindza, Polygamy/Polygyny, in : IMBISA Occasioal Paper No 3, Church and Family in Southern Africa, p. 38) – “Men and women in a monogamous marriage are partners. Man and woman are both children of God….There is no superior or inferior in married life. Both husband and wife are equal. ….Christianity recognizes women’s theological equality with men.”(Dr Pascalis Mokhethi, Christian Family in a Polygamous Society: Incompatibility, in: IMBISA Occ Paper No 3, p 39). This poses the question: is monogamous marriage not a better safeguard for “gender equality” than polygamy which the Protocol, by its silence, seems to tolerate?

Dr T T Ginindza spoke about “love in a polygynous context”. The word “love” is never used in the Protocol, just as “mother” and “father” are never mentioned, only “parents” who have “a duty of care towards their children”. Those on “maternity or paternity leave” must not be denied benefits: the authors of this text go to extremes in stressing “gender equality” (or even sameness?).

It is also remarkable that “rights” are mentioned frequently and demanded authoritatively to be granted, but not “duties”. Which leaves us with the question: on what moral grounds are the various “rights” (e.g. “sexual and reproductive rights”) based?

“Gender equality” seems to mean that Man and Woman are the same. Differences are, if not denied, then at least ignored.

“Gender mainstreaming” is a concept used a great deal in ‘gender-speak’ so also in this Protocol. It seems to mean eliminating all “gender gaps”, i.e. anything that still upholds differences between female and male. This expression especially highlights the danger that people use this language without understanding the ideology implied by it.

There is no mention of traditional culture; it certainly is not understood as a culture of the family. Is the Protocol going along with western ( radical feminist?) ideologies that regard family and motherhood as enslaving women and fatherhood the equivalent of patriarchy (male oppression of women and children)? Were the signatories of the SADC Gender Protocol aware of these implications when they signed the document? Do they go along with this intolerant “political correctness”?

Catholic women reading this Protocol, or similar documents using this type of language, may be delighted by the liberation it promises from discrimination and oppression. They may swallow uncritically or unconsciously the implied ideology which disregards genuine femininity, marriage based on mutual love and respect, motherhood, maternal responsibility for the family etc, as part of woman’s nature given by the Creator.

Christian women who are part of the movement towards women’s liberation must approach this kind of material with discernment. Truth and falsehood are mixed together. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1. John 4: 1). They need not feel inferior and be on the defensive. “Religious practices continue to militate against the attainment of full equality”, says the preamble of the protocol. But then Woman is created as much in the “image of God” as Man. She is loved by God, and her faith liberates her from any timidity or inferiority complex.

At least well-educated young couples preparing for marriage might benefit from discussing this current philosophy of ‘gender’. Men should not be left out, but become part of the debate. More is involved than the liberation from obsolete social structures. Both women and men need to be liberated. The oppressor needs to be liberated as much as the one who is being oppressed. Who in fact is oppressing whom? And what, in the final analysis, do we, women and men alike, want to be liberated from? – oWe

Working Paper No 12

Opening Closed Doors

Facilitating the Celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony

Think about the attitude of many Christians: “Think of a Christian with good will, e.g. the Parish Secretary. A boyfriend and a girlfriend come into the parish office, ‘Good evening, we want to get married.’ And instead of saying, ‘That is great!’, the Secretary says, ‘ Oh, well have a seat. If you want Mass, that costs a lot…..’. Instead of receiving a warm welcome, ‘It is a good thing to get married in church’, they get this response, ‘Do you have a certificate of baptism…..’ So those two young people find a closed door. We have the power to open a door, thanking God for this new marriage, but we don’t do it. We are many times faith inspectors, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people.” (Pope Francis in a recent homily).

“One of the more pressing pastoral problems facing the Church in Africa is the fact that many Catholics enter into traditional customary marriages without making use of the canonical form. Under the Church’s present legislation such people are prohibited from receiving the sacraments,” said Mgr Marc de Muelenaere, Pretoria, at the 4th Plenary Assembly of IMBISA 1995, in Windhoek, Namibia (see IMBISA Occasional Papers No 3, chapter 3: The Canonical Recognition of African Customary Marriages).

The well-known canon lawyer from Pretoria puts it mildly. We have got used to the situation and consider it as normal. But it is highly abnormal, irregular, and a scandal in the original sense of the word, that is a stumbling block for the faith of young couples and parents. And we are still in the Year of Faith!

Just when young men and women, often former active members of our parish youth groups, need the support of the Church most and the grace and spiritual strength coming from the Sacraments, they are barred from this source of life, and drift to the periphery of the Church. Just when they start building their home and family, the ‘domestic church’, are they excluded from the Church as their spiritual Family.

And this is accepted with a shrug of the shoulders, no one is scandalized by it. Yet it is a pastoral disaster!

It was recognized as such by the Fourth Plenary Assembly in 1995, and the pastors of the region were shown a canonically viable way to help young (and not so young!) couples out of this trap. The Tenth Plenary will now have to ask: to what extent have we made use of this possible solution to a notorious problem? What progress have we made?

The canon lawyer proposed that use be made primarily of SIMPLE VALIDATION (cc 1156 – 1160) which includes an exchange of marriage vows before a priest and is valid from the day of the ceremony, while recommending   RETROACTIVE VALIDATION (cc 1161 – 1165) in exceptional circumstances. In this case a letter by the Bishop is to explain to the couple concerned that their marriage has been recognized and will be entered into the marriage register so that they can receive once more the sacraments.

The final paragraph of that letter reads, “Please remember that this letter of recognition is issued by the Catholic Church only and does not have any effect on your marital status as far as the civil authorities are concerned.” This implies that the Bishops recognizes even merely customary unions which have not yet been civilly registered.

This is crucial if this measure is to have any wide impact. In some jurisdictions this is not done. There Retroactive Validations are only permitted in cases of couples who have married already civilly, i.e. have a civil marriage certificate.

But the vast majority of couples barred from the Sacraments live together without any certification, and are married only according to traditional customs. This is certainly highly inadequate, and it is very desirable that all marriages are civilly registered. However, if you want to bring married couples in greater numbers back to the sacraments, you have to include couples married merely in the traditional customary form without any certification. This was certainly implied in Mgr de Muelenaere’s carefully worked-out canonical solution which he was offering also as a pastoral solution to an intricate problem.

We need to consider that it is an extremely serious matter to exclude a baptized (and confirmed) Christian from the other Sacraments. It should be done only on very rare occasions, after careful consideration of the personal circumstances, if no other measure will do. But in the case of this irregularity, thousands suffer this severe sanction without any attention to the personal circumstances: especially women often suffer, without being personally guilty, mainly because of their husbands’ intransigence, and without understanding why they are barred from the Sacraments. That so many are barred from the Sacraments for reasons beyond their control, gives the impression that the Sacraments are not all that important after all, thus devalues and denigrates the sacramental life of the Church.

It may be objected that many of them do not seem to miss the Sacraments and only ask for the ban to be lifted when they wish to be received into a sodality or guild. This may be so. But then this is an indication that the catechesis has been very inadequate and the sacramental nature of the Church has never been fully understood.

If the idea for this ban was that it would put pressure on people and make them marry in church quite speedily, then this policy has been a complete failure. It has “closed a door”, in the words of Pope Francis, where it should have opened one.

Sociologists of religion have argued that the reluctance of African Christians to have their marital unions blessed in church and celebrated as a Sacrament can be explained by the refusal of the Church to recognize customary marriage as canonically valid.

I would propose that there is a more profound reason. Christian marriage is unique and goes in its demands far beyond traditional, potentially polygamous marriage. As a Sacrament it reflects the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and his Church. It recognizes the unique personhood of the wife and sees in her more than a childbearer and worker. It is a partnership of lovers who say to each other, “This one and no one else”. Monogamy makes only sense if the profound nature of Christian Marriage is recognized, and it is more than a pragmatic arrangement between families for the continuation of the line. Most men are not yet ready for this kind of commitment and self-giving. That is why they show so little enthusiasm for Christian marriage.

So apart from offering a canonical solution to this problem the Church in Africa needs to proclaim the Good News of Christian Marriage, or rather the Christian Faith as it is lived in Marriage and Family and the novelty of Christian Marriage in comparison with traditional customary marriage. If the culture of Africa is a culture of the Family then Christianity has only “arrived” when the African family is transformed by the Spirit of Christ’s love.

The fact that just when young people start a family they effectively drop out of the Church is a most alarming signal.

If the Church in Africa is a Family, then the Sacrament of the Family, namely Matrimony, must be at the centre of the Church’s sacramental life and her pastoral efforts. – oWe


Man created for Woman, and Woman for Man (Homosexuality a Disorder)

Male and Female He Created Them

Pastoral Letter, ZCBC, January 1996

Human rights based on the created order

(For this paragraph see the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II “Splendour of the truth”. No. 50)

The church fully supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. But when people claim as a “human right” what is clearly immoral and harmful to society and its basic unit, the family, we need to remind ourselves that we do not make “human rights” ourselves. They are given to us by God. Every person, man or woman, is infinitely precious in the eyes of the Creator who made them. The life of every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, must be respected as something sacred that belongs to God. And God wills that we live our lives according to the nature he has given us: our nature, i.e. the way we were made as men and women, imposes certain laws on us which we have to respect.

What is not in accordance in with God’s will as expressed in our nature cannot be claimed as a “human right”.

Let us apply this principle to two moral issues on which we wish to give you clear guidance:

1)    Homosexuality and the “right to choose”

Man was created for woman and woman was created for man, and both were created for God. Man and woman are to complement each other. They are of equal dignity and value in the eyes of God, and yet different. Their mutual love in marriage is to be fruitful. Marriage is to be fulfilled in children and a family.

This is the order given to humankind by God the Creator. There is no “option” or “choice”. There is no “human right” to a “homosexual lifestyle”.

Homosexuality is a disorder. “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law “ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357).Christians must not practice a “homosexual lifestyle”. African culture abhors homosexuality and considers it abnormal.

While we want to eliminate a disease, wherever it exists, we do not eliminate those who suffer from it. “Men and women with deep-seated homosexual tendencies do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358)

Some homosexual persons may have been born like that: they have to learn how to live with their condition, helped by the Christian community. Others have suffered a deep wound in their psyche when young, and healing may be possible. Others again act under the pressure of a given social environment and need to be freed from such pressure.

It is therefore not right for anyone, including government, to harass, persecute or torture people simply because they are known to have this inclination. At the same time homosexual persons have no right to propagate what some of them call their “lifestyle”. Laws protecting the young from sexual abuse, whether by a homosexual or heterosexual person, are legitimate.

At the same time, society must not create breeding grounds for homosexuality through overcrowding in prisons, forced separation of married men from their families, and forming an underclass of homeless people who have no hope ever to marry and have a family.


7 December 2005

The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference reiterates the Church’s teaching as laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2357):

‘Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.

It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of great depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

To summarize, all homosexual acts are declared to be intrinsically disordered. Therefore they cannot under any circumstances be approved. The reason why they are said to be intrinsically disordered are:

–         They are contrary to the natural law.

–         They close the sexual act to the gift of life and

–         They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.

Scripture passages that the Church uses for its teaching include this passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Rom. 1: 26).

Relevant Questions:

Among the questions being asked about the Church’s reaction to the Consstitutional Court’s ruling are the following:

1)    Can the Church impose its values on society?

The answer depends on a number of considerations:

  1. If human beings do not have a Creator, in other words, if human beings have total knowledge, wisdom ad power to create themselves, then the answer is No. The Church cannot impose its values on anyone, because the Church takes its authority from the infinite God.
  2. If the Church and Society believe and accept as a given that there is an all holy, all knowing and all powerful God who created everything including human beings, and created them to exist and live according to his Will and Laws, then the Church not only can but also must proclaim and work for the acceptance and submission to the values that God has revealed to us.

2)    The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, so how can the Catholic Church take issue with it?

It is true that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, but in order to be binding on the consciences of its citizens it must conform to the Law of God. And in this case it clearly does not.

Indeed if the S.A. Constitution is being made to supersede the revealed will of God then South Africa is morally doomed. For no one can go against God’s Will and come away unscathed.

That fact that same sex marriages are approved by the Constitutional Court, that does not make them morally right.

The Church has the prophetic duty to point out where the Constitution runs counter to the Commandments of God, our Maker’s Instructions which determine how human beings are to live good and moral lives.

3)    What is the Church going to do about this situation?

  1. Taking our lead from the Scriptures our first action is Prayer, prayer for a change of heart on the part of all who are responsible for flaunting God’s Law.
  2. Second we will continue teaching and preaching the truth revealed by God’s Word about human sexuality and its proper use in marriage.
  3. Thirdly we will mobilize the Faithful and all people of goodwill to work together to save our nation and country from the disasters that befall any people that turns its back on its God.

The legalizing of same sex marriages is doomed to have a morally deleterious effect on the institution of the family, traditionally defined as the permanent union between husband and wife.


For most priests and pastoral workers in Africa homosexuality is not a major problem. The Church admits, “Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained”. But even in Africa it does exist, traditionally in certain ethnic groups, or through recent cultural influences and imports. So when dealing with individuals we must be cautious, especially when making moral judgments. We must distinguish between people who find they are sexually attracted to members of their own sex, and others who have actually chosen to live in homosexual or lesbian relationships, i.e. practicing homosexuals.

Africa is horrified by homosexuality and condemns anyone afflicted by this disorder. People suspected of being homosexually inclined or openly displaying their “lifestyle” are publicly despised, insulted, abused and attacked, and the law regards them as criminals and punishes them. The former live in a state of disorder for which they are not responsible; since they are not practicing homosexuals they are not immoral persons. Only practiced homosexuality becomes a moral problem.

The wider issue is homosexuality in the context of the created order or nature. It seems a purely secular culture does not recognize any limits set by the Creator and does not respect nature as a God-given order. In purely secular thinking, i.e. in a secularized world which behaves “as if God did not exist” humans are not creatures, do not see themselves as created by God and do not accept any limitations as created beings.

They lay claim to a freedom without limitations of any kind. For them nothing is “given” and to be accepted as such, not even their sexual identity, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The gender ideology considers “gender”, i.e. being male or female, as a mere cultural influence which can be changed. Humans are virtually re-designing and re-creating themselves all the time without being in any way tied to a design not their own.

Indeed, human freedom does give us powers to give nature its own peculiar shape. We are not animals restricted to the narrow limits of their merely instinctual behavior. In fact it is the greatness of the Creator that he has given us freedom and creativity, a limited share in his divine powers. The temptation is of course that we mistake our human limited freedom with the unlimited divine freedom, that we claim divine powers for ourselves and make ourselves gods.

The question is : where are these boundary lines beyond which we must not move?

POPE FRANCIS (in an interview aboard the plane returning from WYD in Brazil):

“But if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”

(Moral theology distinguishes between a person finding him/herself homosexually inclined and another choosing and practicing it.)

FAMILY PRESERVATION : Social Welfare Organisations and Churches Try to come to the Aid damaged families – extract from workshop reports provided by MARFAM:

Unemployment, poverty and teenage pregnancy are seen to have the greatest impact on the well-being of families.   Terminal illness included Aids as well as child abuses are also prevailing challenges. It is important to note that when collating data from the questionnaires, child sexual abuse and HIV/Aids were seen as the greatest challenges for the Etwatwa.

Additional challenges identified through the interviews included lack of respect for parents and generally across the community, rape, disability, orphaned children, parenting skills, uncontrollable children and suicide.

As with internal challenges identified unemployment remained one of the major contributing factors difficulties being faced by families. Crime however was of greatest concern with 25% of all respondents identifying this as impacting on the overall well-being of families. High criminal activity was further linked with high unemployment, abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as the emergencey of local gangs.   Lack of resources to assist families in addressing challenges was identified. Resources were believed to be lacking across all sectors including welfare, education and health.   It was clear from respondents that communities were not empowered and often lacked information or knowledge to effectively address challenges.

During interviews respondents drew links between the aforementioned internal and external challenges that reflect the impact of these on the overall wellbeing of families. Some of the trends identified are as follows:

–          Unemployment and poverty is seen as the foundation to increased criminal behaviours.

–          Poverty increases prostitution which in turn impacts on teenage pregnancy.

–          Increase in HIV prevalence and Aids related deaths increase a child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse and exploitation.

–          Lack of community resources such as afterschool care programmes, ECD centres as well as transport challenges for children to access schooling increases their risk to child abuse as they are left unattended while caregivers are at work.

–          Unemployment and poverty increases feelings of low self-worth which leads to abuse of alcohol and drugs which in turn leads to an increase in crime as well as sexual assault and child abuse.

–          Adults believe that children lose respect for their parents when they are unemployed and living in poverty. This increases uncontrollable behaviours which result in children become more vulnerable to substance abuse as well as sexual exploitation.

The above draws some common threads between challenges facing families and their outcome. Of particular concern to family preservation is increased family discord due to a breakdown in relationships of trust and respect. The aforementioned challenges also result in feelings of hopelessness and a sense of disempowerment. A cycle of abuse and/or discontent and dysfunction continues to grow.



By Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

WOMEN, SEX AND THE CHURCH – A Case for Catholic Teaching, Edited by Erika Bachiochi, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, USA, 2010, pp. 251.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on Sexuality before, in or outside Marriage has a terrible public image. A Catholic theologian is quoted as saying, “Humanae Vitae [encyclical affirming the Church’s teaching on contraception] was one of the worst things that happened to the Catholic Church in the twentieth century” (97).

Women, so claim even Catholic feminists and their sympathizers, have no recognition, no honour, no respect in the Catholic Church. They need to join the ranks of secular feminists to fight for their dignity and rights within the Church. Thus Mary Daly thinks that the Church is still “preaching to [women] the passive virtues of obedience, submission and meekness, while seeming to refuse or ignore the profound aspirations of half the human race to liberty and full personhood” (61).

The women writers, all of them Catholics, academics and married with children, question that secular feminism offers women greater liberty than their own Catholic feminism (Only one writer, a professor of theology, is a religious woman; the only male contributor a medical doctor). Some of them have themselves held the positions which they now analyze critically.

Against the current trend to minimize the difference between male and female Laura L. Garcia argues for a healthy recognition of the gender divide. Ignoring these deep-seated “differences is more damaging for women than it is for men, because the goal of a gender-blind society tends to transform itself into the goal of making women more like men” (S Rhoads quoted, 23). The principle must be, ‘Men and women are equal but different’. Which should be obvious. But not for radical ideologues. For them ‘equal’ means ‘the same’ which of course it is not. “Recognizing the equal dignity of women and men, grounded in their shared nature as human beings, does not require that women and men be treated as interchangeable in all of their social roles” (20). A truly feminist approach recognizes femininity as something distinct and gives Woman the freedom to be herself. Radical secular feminism stands for the’ masculinization’ of Woman, forcing her to please men while neglecting her own gifts.

Radical secular feminism regards rivalry, even a “gender war” between women and men, as inevitable, just as class war. “Some feminists claim that fathers are irrelevant to the family” (24). Christian feminists believe in complementarity between the sexes and the need for mutually respectful cooperation in the family, the work place and public life.

The last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have stressed the need for women to bring their femininity to bear on matters of public concern. “The church never fails to insist on the paramount importance of the work of mothers…caring for their families….the Church also challenges the world to make it possible for women with children to work in the public sphere… The Church agrees that women’s voices add something different to the conversation about how the world should be structured.” (168) “Women have a greater sensitivity to persons and to the value of each human life, and that this gives them a moral obligation to preserve and promote those values in both private and public life” (John Paul II, 31). Even the presence of businesswomen in the economy helps overcome the ‘occurring temptation of dull efficiency marked only by laws of profit’. Women have a right to make use of their gifts in public life. Those who opt for having a family should have the freedom to have children early when their physical constitution is most suited to the bearing of children.

The authors of this volume argue against secular feminists that contraception and abortion do not liberate women, but force them into acting for the convenience of men. Even some leading feminists have recognized that abortion does not really benefit women, but mostly men. “Sexual liberation….does not liberate women; it frees male sexual aggression. The availability of abortion removes the one remaining legitimized reason that women have for refusing sex” (49). Similarly the availability of contraception puts pressure on the woman to make herself available to the demands of the male. Since she no longer has to fear an “unwanted pregnancy” the male does not concern himself with the matter. It is now up to the woman to protect herself from falling pregnant. If she fails to do so, it is her fault, and he refuses to be held responsible. After all, there is always abortion in case contraception has not worked and a pregnancy has occurred anyhow. Who is “liberated” in his scenario, the man or the woman? It looks that there is less and less male responsibility . The woman is left “holding the baby” – or to abort it.

The authors give mostly the example of sexual relations of unmarried women. Catholic authors who are in favour of artificial contraception (hormonal pill) mostly argue with the needs of married couples. In both cases it would seem that the interests of the male partner are considered paramount.

Responsible parenthood is now a more realistic option because Natural Family Planning has been much refined. Its great moral advantage is that it involves man and woman, husband and wife equally. “NFP demands something profoundly countercultural: that men learn to measure their sexual desires by the rhythm of the female body” (Angela Franks, 118).

The authors are all sophisticated women of great intellectual ability and highly motivated wives in their use of Natural Family Planning. Undoubtedly NFP marks great progress in the lives of “responsible parents” (the concept indicates that the Church does not favour uncontrolled family growth, but respects the conscience of parents). However, for many married women NFP is not achievable for lack of cooperation by the husbands. This problem would have needed extra treatment and debate.

It also indicates that the liberation of women will not be possible without the liberation of men from selfishness and lack of self-control . Women agree to carry the burden of contraception and its side-effects, even sterilization, because they accept the “right” of men to sexual freedom and their own “duty” to provide access to it, whatever the costs for them as women. Women think in terms of self-defence when they claim access to contraception, sterilization, even abortion because they do not trust men to be able to go beyond their self-interest and take the interest of women into account. Secular feminism has given up on men. The feminism represented by the authors insists on their involvement.

The authors do not argue with the language and concepts of “Humanae Vitae”. Since 1968, the year that encyclical was published and caused such an uproar in and outside the Church, contraception has had an enormous impact on procreation (‘reproduction’ is the current term in secular language) , on the family, on population, on the position of women in society and on the relationship between men and women in general. Natural law is mentioned only once (Jennifer Roback Morse, 92). The writers argue with the actual effects the “pill” and “sexual liberation” has had on society in general and women in particular. They do stress however that women must not be manipulated endlessly to suit (male-dominated) society and reshaped according to largely male interests. Instead they emphasize that women were created for a purpose, have a feminine identity and possess special qualities. Their life-giving potential, whether they are married or not, are mothers or not, cannot be replaced by other characteristics society wishes to impose on them.

Jennifer Roback Morse and others are very much aware that marriage is largely called into question, if not actually rejected by society, allegedly in the interest of women. This volume offers a new vision of marriage, based on the spiritual treasures of the Church which, it must be admitted, remained hidden because the Church was not able to present them positively and attractively.

The human person “becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion” ( John Paul II). And “God had something specific in mind when he created us as gendered beings. Male and female are two different ways of being human” ( More, 93). Their “physical intimacy as spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion” (Cat Cath Church, 93). Vatican Council II has stressed that love and mutual assistance is essential to sacramental matrimony, not just procreation. In the meantime it has been forgotten that love must be fruitful. The love of husband and wife should become visible and tangible in children. The authors, mostly parents, give witness to this forgotten or ignored basic demand of marriage.

Christians cannot write off marriage as a failed form of life. Christ came to heal also the broken relationship between Man and Woman. His love of the Church his Bride will forever be visible in Marriage.

Sarah Butler, a religious woman who teaches theology, deals with a rather different ‘bone of contention’ between Church and women : “Embodied Ecclesiology: Church Teaching on the Priesthood” (chapter 7). For a long time Sr Sarah supported women’s ordination to the priesthood. She changed her mind. In this volume she gives us the ordinary teaching of the Church derived from Scripture and tradition. She also offers some reflections of her own. “The sacramental significance of the priest’s male sex thus comes to light when he acts in the person of Christ the Bridegroom with respect to the Church his Bride…..Christ’s male sex, and therefore the priest’s, contribute to the sacramental symbolism. [To deny this ] represents a failure to appreciate that sexuality is a constitutive dimension of the person “ (Butler, 158). The reader may miss a reference to women and their special relationship to the Church as Bride of Christ, also made visible in Mary Mother of the Church.

Erika Bachiochi reflects in the concluding pages on the “Kinship Between Catholic Sexual and Social Teaching”. This is a very valuable and necessary contribution towards a reconciliation between these two aspects of the Church’s teaching, and the factions in the Church stressing one or the other of these aspects, without being able to see that they belong together. ‘Liberal-progressives’ are concerned about social justice for the poor and marginalized, while traditionalists tend to be very zealous about the “Gospel of Life” (abortion, euthanasia etc). The two questions intersect. “The biggest losers in the sexual revolution have been poor women and children” (180). “The ‘feminization of poverty’ has taken shape in the sharp rise of single motherhood” (181).

Both teachings defend and protect Human Dignity. The right sexual behaviour enhances respect for women, strengthens the family and builds up society. Strong families guard against poverty and give the life skills for being able to support oneself and dependants. The struggle against poverty is a struggle for strong families. The struggle for protecting and defending unborn life is a defence of the most defenceless , love of the poor and disadvantaged includes single mothers and fatherless children.

Liberals and conservatives, social apostles and champions of endangered life work for the same distressed people and should be driven by the same love.

This book is not about cheap apologetics. It offers very well reasoned arguments, backed up by a rich selection of scientific studies in the fields of sociology, biology, medicine, psychology, spiritual and theological literature. There is a 14 – page Index, and 37 pages of Notes (bibliography, sources).

It is highly recommended to married couples engaged in training marriage instructors, bishops, theologians, pastoral priests and pastoral workers, students of pastoral and moral theology and students of gender studies.

IMBISA Centre – Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, Pastoral Department – Social Department, 88 Broadlands Avenue, Avondale , Harare, Box EH 99 Emerald Hill, Harare, Zimbabwe. Tel. 336 775 / 336 908. E-mail:, (pastoral), (social). (director).

IMBISA assists only in matters that individual dioceses or national bishops’ conferences cannot do by themselves (Principle of Subsidiarity).






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