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Sex and the Synod: Defenders of Doctrine

How do Catholics in Kenya view the Church’s teachings on sex and the family? Helen Grady reports from Kenya, where many Catholics want their leaders to uphold tradition.

Pope Francis has opened up debate about his Church’s most controversial teachings - on sex and the family. In Europe, he has raised hope among liberals who would like the Roman Catholic Church to change its stance on issues like homosexuality, divorce and birth control. But in Africa, the Catholic Church’s new powerhouse, the flock is more conservative and many Catholics want their leaders to defend doctrine and uphold tradition.

In the second of a three-part series, Helen Grady reports from Kenya, where the country’s most senior cleric, Archbishop of Nairobi Cardinal John Njue, takes an uncompromising approach to his Church’s rules about sex. He believes gay and lesbian Christians need counselling and that neither they nor divorced and remarried parishioners should be allowed to receive Holy Communion, the central rite of the Catholic faith. At Nairobi’s Cathedral, the Holy Family Basilica, Cardinal Njue’s views are echoed by mass-goers. But when Helen talks to Kenyan Catholics in their homes and workplaces a more complicated picture emerges, with not everyone following the Church’s guidelines for family life.

In Kisumu in Western Kenya, Helen meets Celine Wasungu, a committed Catholic who has lived her life according to the Church’s rules but now, having contracted HIV, wants the Vatican to lift its ban on condom use. Esther Ocott, a community health volunteer, is also a practising Catholic, but this does not stop her from handing out condoms in an attempt to halt the spread of HIV in the slum district where she lives. And Esther says local priests are more pragmatic about condoms than they will publicly admit. Helen also meets Beatrice Adhiambo, who is bringing up four daughters on her own after her husband entered a second - polygamous – marriage, which although banned by the Catholic Church is legal in Kenya.

In Nairobi Helen meets young Catholic professionals Delina King’asia and Rodney Afande, better known to his fans as DJ NRuff. When he is not DJing in Nairobi’s nightclubs, Rodney is busy leading prayers in his local parish. And even if he is struggling to abide by his Church’s ban on sex before marriage, he insists the Church should not relax its rules and prays that one day God will help him to be a good Catholic – but not yet! Meanwhile Delina is trying to live by Pope Francis’ now-famous off-the-cuff remark, “who am I to judge?” when it comes to gay and lesbian people, but she admits it is hard for her as an African. And Helen meets Georgina, a lesbian Catholic with two children fathered by a sperm donor. Georgina says her Catholic faith is “essential” to her but she lives a double life, passing as heterosexual at her Church out of fear of rejection or worse.

(Image: Beatrice Adhiambo, a Catholic mother with her children)

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