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(Gen.  1:27)

Human Rights Based on God’s Law

Pastoral Statement Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

During the last year a heated public debate took place in our country about homosexuality. Men and women with a tendency to be attracted to persons of their own sex demanded the freedom to live according to their “sexual orientation” and “lifestyle” as a human right, even in contradiction of the inherited culture, morality and laws of the state

Another equally important development has come to our notice, though it caused little public debate: family planning agents are more and more urging people to use the ultimate and irreversible means of birth control, sterilization.

This raises some fundamental questions: do we enjoy total freedom as to how we may use our sexuality? Are there no limits imposed by human nature as created by God? Does modern biotechnology allow us to manipulate our bodies any way we want? Can we claim such wanton transgression of all limits as a human right? Which then begs the question: what are human rights? What are they based on?

These questions touch on something very close to our hearts, the family. Our culture is based on the family. And yet the family is under threat.

In 1994 we had occasion twice to write to you letters on this vital issue of the family: “The Family is the Basic Unity of Society” (August 1994), and “God’s Love in Marriage and Family” (October 1994).

Since then the Bishops of Southern Africa met for their Fourth Plenary Session in Namibia in April last year and made pastoral plans to foster Christian marriage and family life in our region.

More recently Pope John Paul II promulgated the final results of the Africa Synod on his recent journey through Cameroon, South Africa and Kenya, defining the church in Africa as the Family of God and the actual family as ‘domestic church’. (See final document on the Africa Synod, THE CHURCH IN AFRICA, no. 63).

This encourages us to write to you once more on questions related to marriage and family and to clarify those issues just mentioned.

Our culture alone has no answer to these threats. We have to ask the creator himself what he created man and woman for.

Who would have thought that something as basic as the mutual complementarity of man and woman in marriage could be questioned? And yet now we are being told that anyone has a right to choose a person even of his/her own sex as a life partner, instead of someone of the opposite sex.

Being fertile and giving life was regarded as a positive value. Now we are told that it is a threat to human survival and must be suppressed in any way possible. But is everything possible also permissible?

This poses the further question: do we have the right to limitless freedom? Can we claim just about everything as a human right?

Human rights based on the created order

(For this paragraph see the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II “Splendour of the truth”. No. 50)

The church fully supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. But when people claim as a “human right” what is clearly immoral and harmful to society and its basic unit, the family, we need to remind ourselves that we do not make “human rights” ourselves. They are given to us by God. Every person, man or woman, is infinitely precious in the eyes of the Creator who made them. The life of every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, must be respected as something sacred that belongs to God. And God wills that we live our lives according to the nature he has given us: our nature, i.e. the way we were made as men and women, imposes certain laws on us which we have to respect.

What is not in accordance in with God’s will as expressed in our nature cannot be claimed as a “human right”.

Let us apply this principle to two moral issues on which we wish to give you clear guidance:

1) Homosexuality and the “right to choose”

Man was created for woman and woman was created for man, and both were created for God. Man and woman are to complement each other. They are of equal dignity and value in the eyes of God, and yet different. Their mutual love in marriage is to be fruitful. Marriage is to be fulfilled in children and a family.

This is the order given to humankind by God the Creator. There is no “option” or “choice”. There is no “human right” to a “homosexual lifestyle”.

Homosexuality is a disorder. “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law “ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357).Christians must not practice a “homosexual lifestyle”. African culture abhors homosexuality and considers it abnormal.

While we want to eliminate a disease, wherever it exists, we do not eliminate those who suffer from it. “Men and women with deep-seated homosexual tendencies do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358)

Some homosexual persons may have been born like that: they have to learn how to live with their condition, helped by the Christian community. Others have suffered a deep wound in their psyche when young, and healing may be possible. Others again act under the pressure of a given social environment and need to be freed from such pressure.

It is therefore not right for anyone, including government, to harass, persecute or torture people simply because they are known to have this inclination. At the same time homosexual persons have no right to propagate what some of them call their “lifestyle”. Laws protecting the young from sexual abuse, whether by a homosexual or heterosexual persons, are legitimate.

At the same time, society must not create breeding grounds for homosexuality through overcrowding in prisons, forced separation of married men from their families, and forming an underclass of homeless people who have no hope ever to marry and have a family.

2) The integrity of the human person

Fertility is a beautiful gift to be used if and when the parents responsibly can do so, but,       since sex is often used irresponsibly, it is now seen as a threat that has to be destroyed by sterilization.

This threatens the integrity and wholeness of the human person. So often in our day the sexual encounter between man and woman is no longer an expression of commitment, but has been reduced to a consumer good for monetary pleasure. Love is no longer seen as open to fruitfulness. The bodily union no longer signifies mutual personal responsibility for one another and for possible offspring. A basic truth of the created order is denied.

Many a man no longer says, “I love you so much that I will love as father even the child that may be the fruit of our love”. Instead he wants to be a lover without the responsibility of a father. The woman can no longer rely on the respect and consideration of her spouse, but feels she has to protect herself against an aggressor.

As sterilization is more and more advertised as a means of family planning, it is our duty to state unequivocally: sterilization is morally unacceptable as a means of family planning. It contradicts human dignity. It disfigures God’s creation. The spouses no longer express unconditional mutual self-giving to one another. Their sexual union, like a promise that is not kept, becomes a lie.

Parents together have the responsibility to decide on the size of their family. They cannot bypass their personal responsibility by some physical intervention. Fertility is an integral part of the human person, and is to be regulated through responsible action, not through mutilation of the body.

Forced sterilization, e.g. by tying the tubes of a woman during surgery when she is not aware of what is done to her, is a violation of her human dignity and a denial of her right to personal integrity. There cannot be any moral justification for causing such grievous bodily harm.

The integrity and wholeness of the human person is at stake. The dignity of marriage as a union and communion of persons is at stake.


What we have said was in defense of God’s grand design for the loving and faithful union between man and woman called marriage, which, with God’s blessing, is to be fruitful and become a family. These are the points we would like to stress:

Social fragmentation, the destruction of family life and the isolation of the individual may well be contributing factors to the spread of homosexuality in western countries. Insofar as similar trends appear in Africa, the Church must become the extended family and supportive community that people need. The image of the “Church as God’s Family” emphasizes “care for others, solidarity, warmth in human relationships, acceptance, dialogue and trust” (Church in Africa, 65)

We need to teach fertility awareness to our young men and women even long before they are married. Where are the mature relatives (vatete, sekuru in Shona, obabakazi, okhulu in Ndebele) to do this teaching? We need to intensify marriage preparation.

“Natural Family Planning which stresses co-operation and responsibility between partners should be promoted.

Men should be challenged to assume their responsibility in the home and not abandon it. The dignity of fatherhood and motherhood should be taught and recognized” said the Bishops of Southern Africa at their assembly in Namibia (IMBISA Final Report 1995).

The wholeness and integrity of the person as explained in this message can only be preserved within the context of Christian monogamous marriage. The Bishops found that polygamy is still a great obstacle. In their discussions which involved also competent lay representatives “the need was expressed for suppression of the polygamous mentality of many men and a growing realization of the position of women as persons in their own right. This should lead to a different concept of love, relationship and equality in marriage” (Final Report – group discussions).

May the Lord bless your parish communities and families. May he give you his spirit and enable you to build the Church in Africa as God’s Family.

Archbishop Patrick F Chakaipa of Harare

Archbishop Henry Karlen CMM of Bulawayo (Vice-President ZCBC)

Bishop Francis Mugadzi of Gweru (President ZCBC)

Bishop Alexio C Muchabaiwa of Mutare

Bishop Ignatius Prieto SMI of Hwange

Bishop Helmut Reckter SJ of Chinhoyi

Bishop Michael Bhasera of Gokwe

Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Mutume, Mutare

Published by the Social Communications Department of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Africa Synod House, 29-31 Selous Avenue, P.O. Box CY2220, Causeway, Harare