Malawi Catholic bishops clash with rights campaigners over homosexuality

Malawi Catholic bishops have condemned homosexuality in a pastoral statement released on Sunday, saying it is sinful practices which shouldn’t be tolerated in a God fearing nation like Malawi.

“The Church maintains that while the homosexual orientation is disordered, it is not sinful in itself. However, once a person with this orientation or indeed a person without this orientation indulges in homosexual acts, such acts must always be judged as objectively evil and totally unacceptable. This teaching is clearly based on Scripture,” reads the pastoral letter in part.

The pastoral letter is signed by all Catholic bishops, including Bishop Joseph Zuza, chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and bishop for Mzuzu Diocese; his vice Thomas Msusa of Zomba Diocese, Tarcisius Ziyaye of Blantyre Archdiocese, Remi Ste-Marie of Lilongwe Archdiocese; Peter Musikuwa of Chikhwawa Diocese, Emmanuel Kanyama of Dedza Diocese; Alessandro Pagani of Mangochi Diocese; Dr. Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese and Montfort Stima, Auxiliary Bishop of Blantyre Archdiocese.

The bishops observe that it is the glorification of individual’s right and freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle and create one’s own values that has produced a situation in which not only acceptance of homosexual persons is called for, but also legalisation of the same on the grounds of non-discrimination.

Gift Trapence: Bishops cannot impose their beliefs on Malawians, people have a choice to sexual orientation
Gift Trapence: Bishops cannot impose their beliefs on Malawians, people have a choice to sexual orientation

“As a loving mother and reflecting the unconditional love of God, the Church understands that for most of the homosexual persons, their condition is a trial. As such “they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” reads part of the statement.

The bishops observe that promotion of homosexuality threatens the existence of marriage as designed by God.

“It must be noted that defending marriage as a unit of man and woman should not be the responsibility of churches alone but also of conscientious civil authorities and any serious member of society,” say the bishops.

Adding: “For marriage, the first cell of society, provides the healthiest environment for raising the next generation of citizens.”


But two Malawian human rights activists who are leading campaigners for gay rights, Gift Trapence and Undule Mwakasungula  argued that Malawians should be left to be debate without anyone imposing their views to influence others.

Trapence, executive director for Centre for the Development of People—an organisation that advocates minority rights including homosexuals—said matters of State and church should be separated and the the Catholic bishops” cannot impose their beliefs on the society.”

He pointed out: “Malawi is a secular State and the Constitution is the supreme law.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi but there has been a healthy debate on whether to outlaw the practice.


Recently, the group called, Umunthu Pressure Group (UPG), asked all gays and lesbians in the country to come in the open or remain quiet forever.

“Should the gays and lesbian couples not come out openly, then the issue should be a closed chapter, as it will vindicate the views of many Malawians that the beneficiaries or the interested parties are foreigners not Malawians,” said UPG national coordinator Kizito Kaunjika.

But Mwakasungula, who is the executive director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (HRCC), querried:“Why should homosexuals come in the open? “

He said such calls are homophobic.

Same weren’t an issue in Malawi until Steve Monjeza and Tionge Chimbalanga held a public engagement late 2009.


The bishops also spoke against abortions and artificial birth control measures.

Catholic bishops are influential in Malawi. The country’s march to democracy was started by the Church in 1992 after its bishops issued a pastoral letter critical of late dictator Kamuzu Banda’s style of leadership.

Taking the cue from the bishops, trade unionist Chakufwa Chihana challenged Banda, who had been in power since independence in 1964, to allow Malawians to have a say in their own governance.

A referendum on whether to continue with the one party state or introduce democracy was held in1993 and the country held its first multi-party elections in 1994.

Since 1992, the Church has remained the conscious of the Malawi society.

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