BALTIMORE — Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski compared the situation of LGBT people in places like Uganda and Nigeria to that of undocumented immigrants in the United States during a press conference on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
"We have to help people to realize that they should not demonize the undocumented; Nobody should be demonized because of their sexual orientation, etc," said Wenski, who is part of the USCCB's Committee on Migration. Immigration reform is one of the American church's top policy priorities.
Wenski was responding to a question from BuzzFeed News about whether the global church had been clear in transmitting the message of "love the sinner/hate the sin" in its teachings on homosexuality. Wenski, a member of the Bishops' Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Persons, said that a public opinion study commissioned by the church found many American church members simply interpreted "love the sinner but hate the sin" as "hate the sinner."
"Sometimes people don't hear what we're trying to say, and that requires us to look at how we frame the question and what vocabulary that we're using," Wenski said. "We have that same struggle — this gives me the opportunity to put something in the press conference — the same struggle in communicating to people about the need for immigration reform. We have people that see, somehow, the undocumented immigrant as somehow being bad, because of a bad or broken immigration system."
Wenski also suggested support for anti-gay rhetoric "was not universal" among Nigerian and Ugandan church leaders, pointing to remarks made by the president of the Nigerian bishop's conference during last month's Synod on the Family. In those statements, the Nigerian church leaders distanced themselves from the country's law that brings a prison sentence of up to 14 years imposed for offenses ranging from harboring LGBT people to public displays of affection between two people of the same sex.
The Nigerian Bishops' Conference had written a letter in January to President Goodluck Jonathan praising him for enacting the law, but Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama told reporters in October that they only supported the part of the law that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
When it was pointed out that the Ugandan Catholic Church is part of a key religious coalition pushing for the revival of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act — the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda — and that the head of the Ugandan church participated in a 5-hour ceremony in March of "thanksgiving" for its passage, Wenski said, "Then they had the opportunity to clarify what they really meant or stood for."
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C. who now chairs the USCCB's Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, said, "The church goes through, as humanity goes through, certain different characteristics of its kind. We are still suffering from the wild 60s where all authority was jeopardized.... What we are striving for is not simple, but is the ability to continue to preach [church teaching] ... but to do it in a way that will reflect the way he taught it: with love, with compassion, with pardon."