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Catholic News ServiceMarch 18, 2014

Weeks after a controversial bill against homosexuality became law in their country, there was still no official word from Ugandan Catholic bishops on how they perceived it, said a senior Catholic spokesman.

An informed Ugandan priest, meanwhile, suggested the bishops had opted to keep "safe" and silent over the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act.

"I am not aware that there has been an official statement ... nor that there should be," said Msgr. John Wynand Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda's capital.

He noted that, in response to the law, different Catholic clergy had made "general statements" in line with "the official teachings" of the church regarding homosexuality.

"The official teachings of the church are clear; the church is not against homosexuals or people oriented that way. But God is against sin and sodomy ... and sodomy is a sin," he told Catholic News Service in a phone interview March 18.

The same day, a Catholic priest based in Uganda told CNS that, to his knowledge, the bishops would not officially be commenting on the contentious new law.

"The bishops, to my knowledge, opted to keep safe off the issue, saying that they were not given the original text. But now ... they have said that the law should not be politicized," the priest said on condition of anonymity.

"Some bishops privately have congratulated" Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for the new bill, he said, adding that the country's "Anglican bishops are totally in favor" of it.

"We pray that common sense prevails. Humanity is fragile and the more laws we put, the more problems we create. It is already too much to keep the Ten Commandments, imagine more laws," he said.

The Uganda Episcopal Conference expressed objections to a 2009 version of the anti-gay bill due to the harsh punishments it proposed, including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

The new law does away with the death penalty, but threatens life in jail for "aggravated homosexuality" and a seven-year term for "aiding and abetting homosexuality."

Museveni signed the bill into law during a highly publicized news conference Feb. 24 in Entebbe, near Kampala. He has said the law was necessary to prevent Western powers from promoting homosexuality and imposing "social values" in his country and the rest of Africa.

The law has received wide support inside the East African nation, one of 37 on the continent where homosexuality is widely viewed as taboo and is banned.

Several Western nations and institutions, including the United States and the United Nations, have condemned the law. Several international donors have consequently withheld aid.

Since the signing of the bill, there have been allegations of violence and retaliation against people known or suspected to be gay, a coalition of 50 local rights groups told the Ugandan independent newspaper, Daily Monitor.

"The Act violates the highest law of our country. We are calling for the Constitutional Court to pronounce itself urgently on the legality of this Act and to issue an injunction against enforcement," Andrew Mwenda, coalition member, told the paper.

Reached by email in Uganda, a Ugandan Comboni missionary speculated the law would not be applied in the nation of 36 million people.

"What I know is that in Africa, there are many laws which are written but not practiced. This will be one of them," Father Paulino Mondo told Catholic News Service.

He attached a 13-page "position paper" he said he had sent to members of Uganda's Parliament in light of the controversy. The paper included Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

"Don't injure them. Don't hate them. Don't judge them. Inform them that freedom and forgiveness are found in Jesus," Father Mondo wrote to the legislators toward the end of the paper.

There had been no response, he said.

In early March, Msgr. John Baptist Kauta, secretary-general of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, told CNS that the country's bishops had only just begun studying an official draft of the law and that they would comment soon, in a way that incorporated all their opinions.

Since then, repeated attempts to reach Msgr. Kauta have failed.

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