Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson’s name is consistently mentioned as one of the cardinals who could find himself the next pope, sending waves of joy throughout those groups that desire a pontiff from the global south as well as someone committed to the social justice wing of the Catholic Church.
With the attention comes increased scrutiny of his views, and while it’s not surprising that Turkson, 64, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, shares the thoughts of Pope Benedict on homosexuality, some of his comments raise an eyebrow.
He resisted the United Nations’ efforts to protect LGBT people from discrimination, suggesting that freedom from
harassment on these issues is not a human right, and many accuse him of supporting Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill that would criminalize homosexuality, punishable in some cases by the death penalty.
Further, he told CNN that Africa has been “insulated” from the epidemic of clergy sexual abuse because of the continent’s “taboo” on homosexuality:
“African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency,” he said. “Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind are not countenanced in our society.”
CNN correctly notes that the American Psychological Association teaches that homosexuality and pedophilia are not linked in any way.
Should Turkson prevail, his comments on the lack of allegations in Africa will come back to haunt him and the church. Many experts believe that the scourge of sexual abuse will be revealed in Latin America and Africa, perhaps even eclipsing the horror in the US and Europe. The “taboo” there isn’t only against homosexuality, they say, but also against victims speaking up and challenging power structures.
While progressive Catholics who believe in rights for gay and lesbian people and a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, don’t have many friendly faces to cheer in the current College of Cardinals, they might resist the urge to offer Turkson a free pass simply because he favors Christian themes like peace and justice.
Though, of course, highlighting these particular views of Turkson’s probably only increases his chances of election given the current climate in the church.