POPE Francis’ Easter message would be the “prefect time” to denounce homophobic laws in Africa and reign in the bishops who have openly supported them, says a leading gay Catholic.

The co-founder of Australian gay Catholic movement Rainbow Sash, Michael Kelly, told the Star Observer: “The whole experience of Easter is about moving from slavery to freedom for persecuted people.

“It would be the perfect time for Pope Francis to make a statement that could be heard around the world about justice for people being persecuted right now in Africa.”

While same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa, elsewhere on the continent new laws that persecute LGBTI people have been introduced.

In January, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed in a law mandating 14 year prison sentences for same-sex couples.

While homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni went one step further, forcing Ugandans to report to police people they merely suspect of being gay.

Far from condemning the law, religious leaders have been busy lining up to congratulate the Ugandan and Nigerian presidents.

According to the Uganda Daily Monitor, Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala joined his counterparts from the Pentecostal and Anglican churches and the Muslim faith last month in presenting President Museveni with an engraved plaque to mark the new law’s introduction.

Archbishop Lwanga’s actions are in stark contrast to those of the Archbishop of Mumbai, Oswald Gracias, who said the Catholic Church “has never considered gay people criminals” after India effectively recriminalised homosexuality in January.

“We’re in an extraordinary situation when the head of the church [in India] specifically says the recriminalisation of homosexuality must stop and in Africa the highest member of the Catholic hierarchy has come out against church teaching,” he said.

Kelly said the Pope needed to back up his more conciliatory tone towards gay people into action and call the Ugandan and Nigerian bishops to Rome to work on a strategy opposing their country’s laws.

“You can see the seeds of what could be genocide so people abroad have to stand up,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the US, openly-gay Episcopalian Archbishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson led the payer at the White House’s Easter Breakfast on Wednesday.

Following the event, Robinson tweeted about his surprise at the invitation: “The President asked me to close the gathering with prayer — totally off the cuff! OMG!”

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