Sunday, 21 July

Ghana Cardinal Peter Turkson: It’s time to understand homosexuality

Cardinal Turkson from Ghana

Homosexuality should not be a criminal offence and people should be helped to understand the issue better, a top cardinal from Ghana has told the BBC.

Cardinal Peter Turkson's comments come as parliament discusses a bill imposing harsh penalties on LGBT people.

His views are at odds with Roman Catholic bishops in Ghana, who say homosexuality is "despicable".

Last month, Pope Francis suggested he would be open to having the Catholic Church bless same-sex couples.

He added, however, that the Church still considered same-sex relationships "objectively sinful" and would not recognise same-sex marriage.

In July, Ghanaian MPs backed measures in a proposed bill, which has still not completed its passage through parliament, that would make identifying as LGBT punishable with a three-year prison sentence. People who campaign for LGBT rights could also face up to 10 years in jail.

Gay sex is already against the law and carries a three-year prison sentence.

In their statement in August, issued along with other leading Christian groups in the country, the Ghanaian bishops also said that Western countries should "stop the incessant attempts to impose unacceptable foreign cultural values on us", the Catholic Herald newspaper reported.

Cardinal Turkson, who has at times been regarded as a future candidate to become pope, told the BBC's HARDtalk programme that "LGBT people may not be criminalised because they've committed no crime".

"It's time to begin education, to help people understand what this reality, this phenomenon is. We need a lot of education to get people to... make a distinction between what is crime and what is not crime," he went on to say.

The cardinal referred to the fact that in one of Ghana's languages, Akan, there is an expression "men who act like women and women who act like men". He argued that this was an indication that homosexuality was not an imposition from outside.

"If culturally we had expressions... it just means that it's not completely alien to the Ghanaian society."

Nevertheless, Cardinal Turkson said he thought that what had led to the current efforts to pass strict anti-gay measures in several African countries were "attempts to link some foreign donations and grants to certain positions... in the name of freedom, in the name of respect for rights".

In May, Uganda's parliament approved a law that proposes life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality, and the death penalty for so-called aggravated cases, which include having gay sex with someone below the age of 18 or where someone becomes infected with a life-long illness such as HIV.

In August, the World Bank halted new loans to Uganda because of the measure and in October President Joe Biden said the US would be removing the country from a preferential trading arrangement because of "gross violations of internationally recognised human rights".

Cardinal Turkson became the first-ever Ghanaian cardinal in 2003 when he was appointed by Pope John Paul II. He is now chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences.