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Will Vatican lure Africa's Anglican anti-gay bishops to Catholic church?

Despite fierce opposition to homosexuality, African bishops say the Vatican's effort to bring more Anglicans to the Catholic church will falter, largely because of the autonomy that they enjoy.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / October 21, 2009

Johannesburg, South Africa

Since the Vatican launched its bold bid Tuesday to make it easier for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church, the question on everyone's mind has been: How many will convert?

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Will the much ballyhooed Anglican divide over the Church's moves to accept openly gay and female clerics now cause hundreds of thousands of conservative Anglicans – mostly in Africa and parts of the US – to flock to Catholicism?

Early indications from African bishops are that most Anglicans, despite their fierce opposition to homosexuality, will be saying "thanks but no thanks" to Rome's new offer, largely because of the autonomy that they enjoy within the Anglican church.

"I don't think that priests in Uganda are going to leave and join the Roman Catholic church," says Bishop Stanley Ntagali, head of an Anglican diocese in the east African country of Uganda. "Uganda is [already] a separate region from the Church in Canterbury. They are able to do things their way, and we have to do things our way."

Homosexuality: A non-starter in the African church

"Homosexuality is a big issue in Africa," says Bishop Ntagali. "The Bible says that only men of good standing, following the word of Christ can be leaders of the Church. We disagree with our counterparts in England and America, who ordain homosexuals as priests. But we have to interpret the Bible on our own context, and the English must interpret the Bible in their context."

Ntagali says he has had hard feelings toward leaders of his own denomination since 2003, when the Church of England formally ordained the first openly gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson.

The move prompted a number of conservative Anglicans to leave the church and embrace Roman Catholicism, and also led some of North America's more conservative churches to form their own separate region under the church.

Nowhere is this issue more intense than in Africa, where many see homosexuality as an affront to the community as a whole. In South Africa, for instance, it is not uncommon for women thought to be lesbians to be gang-raped in the belief that they will be "cured" of homosexuality. In Uganda, where homosexuality is already illegal, a parliamentarian this week put forward a bill that would make "aggravated" homosexuality – gay sex with disabled people, minors, or when the accused is HIV-positive – punishable by death.