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Archbishop Speaks Out Regarding Proposed Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Laws

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Thursday 24th December 2009

The Archbishop today appeared on the Radio 4 Today Programme to discuss the proposed anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda.

 James Naughtie (JN): The Ugandan Parliament is about to be asked to pass a Bill that would impose 7 year sentences for homosexual acts and in some cases would impose the death penalty.

The legislation has caused a great deal of international protest. We are joined now by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is Ugandan, left the country in the days of Idi Amin way back in the 70’s.


JN: Archbishop, good morning.

Archbishop of York (ABY): Good morning Jim.


JN: What are your feelings about this?

ABY: I think that the context in which this whole Bill has come in - which is a Private Member’s Bill not a Government Bill - it is now going through the Committee Stage and they have invited everybody who has got interests to make some kind of comment, which will be returned probably back to Parliament in February next year.


My feeling is that in order to understand what is all behind all of this, is that unfortunately or whatever one wants to say, the penal code, chapter 20, section 145 which dates back to the time when England had similar legislation, there is still what they call unnatural offences and anybody who commits them at the moment is liable to imprisonment for life.  But also, that penal code in cases of rape (as what they call aggravated sexuality) you also face the death penalty.  If you have sex with a girl under the age of 18, you are liable again to suffer death.


So this particular high, extreme, sentencing already exists. Now what they have done in cases of homosexuality in this particular Bill, they are talking about aggravated, in terms of again a girl of 18, in someone living with HIV, a guardian or parent, and the trouble is it tends to confuse all homosexual relationships with what you call aggravated stuff and that is the problem.


JN: What’s your general moral reaction to this kind of approach?

ABY: I want to go back to the Dromantine Communiqué in 2004 by the Primate Anglican Communion where we said that we wish to make it clear that our discussion and assessment of moral appropriateness of specific behaviours would continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is an anathema to us.  We are sure that homosexual people are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give - pastoral care and friendship. That is where the Communion stands.


JN: So it is an anathema to you?


ABY: I think when you begin - I mean I am opposed totally to the death sentence.  I am also quite not happy when you describe people with a kind of language you find in this Private Member’s Bill, which seems also not only victimising but diminishment of individuals concerned.


JN: So, well they are being demonised in effect.

ABY: Yes, I think that is not a very helpful way, but having said that, already the law in Uganda is where we were before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.


JN: Well, absolutely. There is a question about what those people who are affiliated to the Anglican Communion in Uganda feel about this and what they can do about it.  There has been a great deal of publicity in recent years about the difference between the views generally speaking of the Church of England and the views of may people in the African Churches in the Anglican Communion. How concerned are you about that huge gulf which seems to exist?


ABY: Well, I am absolutely convinced that Dr Zac Niringiye, the Assistant Bishop of Kampala, assistant to the Archbishop of Uganda, is now carrying out an assessment and they will be making their response to the particular Bill.


The gulf can actually grow when it seems as though we are having a dialogue of the deaf and the reason why Canterbury and I haven’t actually come out publicly to say anything is because, not because we don’t want to say anything, because the position is very clear, but rather we are….


JN: Because you are trying to help.


ABY: …trying to help and we are trying actually to listen and sometimes people have not understood that actually the law in Uganda at the moment without this Bill does exactly the same thing and what this Bill has done…


JN: In other words, in your view it is bad enough already even without this.


ABY: Already, yes, without this and therefore it seems to me that what we need is greater understanding of the context and I am absolutely committed that the Church of Uganda - I can only speak about the Church of Uganda - is committed to the pastoral care, which is in the Dromantine Communiqué.  Is also committed to the listening process to the experiences of homosexual people and people may have very clear, what I call, traditional views about sexuality but we as a Communion are actually committed to listening to the experiences of homosexual people.  You can’t do that on one hand and then have language which in many ways seems to suggest that all these people are not children of God.  They are valued by God, they deserve the best we can give in pastoral care and friendship, and I am quite sure that the response the Church of Uganda will make in due course will have to take account of all these realities.


JN: John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, thank you very much.


ABY: Thanks to you, Jim.

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