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 Pope Francis – change agent in the Catholic Church, this time on homosexuality

By Sir Ronald Sanders

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America and the Organization of American States.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto)


“Being homosexual is not a crime. We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity.”   Those words were spoken by Pope Francis, easily the most radical pontiff that the Roman Catholic Church has ever had.

The Pope was speaking in an interview with the Associated Press that was published on January 25, ahead of a planned tour of two African countries, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The African continent ranks among the most homophobic regions of the world. Apart from South Africa, Mozambique and Angola, which are countries whose governments and peoples are most tolerant of homosexual rights, the majority of African nations rate equally with the intolerant governments of Russia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has advocated a less doctrinal policy approach for modern Catholicism.  Francis is a man of his time, determined not to harden the Church’s anachronistic positions in times, which have changed, with a greater emphasis on human rights, including gay rights.  In the interview with the Associated Press, he emphasised the Holy See’s position that laws that criminalize homosexuality outright are “unjust” and that the Church must work to put an end to them.

He did not spare Bishops of the Church who support laws that criminalize homosexuality. He said that they need to “have a process of conversion” and should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”  Whether he has opened the eyes, ears and hearts of the controlling hierarchy of the Church is left to be seen.  

What is certain is that Francis has succeeded in humanising the face of the Church which, for centuries, imposed repressive rules on its followers that, politically, supported colonialism, imperialism and racism.  In a socio-economic context, its rules on abortion, caused suffering and hardship for poor communities around the world, particularly in Ireland and Latin America where Catholicism dominated.

The impact that his approach has achieved is evident in the leadership of Ireland and in parts of Africa. The current Taoiseach, or the head of government, of Ireland is Leo Eric Varadka who is the child of an Indian father and an Irish mother, and is a declared homosexual.  Many prejudices – both racial and religious – were overcome with his election, in a remarkable tribute to the openness of the Irish people to change.  But, the influence of Pope Francis, now completing a decade as a change-agent of the Church, contributed immensely to the freedom of thinking and attitudes in Ireland.

Similarly, his papacy has had a beneficial effect in Africa where recent statistics show 2.1 per cent growth in Catholic followers between 2019 and 2020. Out of a global population of 1.36 billion Catholics, 236 million are African or 20% of the total.  Reports indicate that Catholicism is witnessing a “youth bulge” in Africa. This follows the effective transmission of Pope Francis’ message that churches, religious groups and governments show solidarity with young people. He calls them “the church of now.” 

In November 2022, during a synodal consultation with African youth, he denounced the exploitation of Africa by external forces and its destruction by wars, ideologies of violence and policies that rob young people of their future.  That message by the Head of a Church, which conspired with many authoritarian regimes in Latin America, Europe and in parts of Africa and Asia, to exploit and repress their people, has a powerful appeal.

Nonetheless, his visit to South Sudan and the DRC will not be without its problems.  In the interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis acknowledged that in Africa and other parts of the world, there needs to be change in relation to anti-homosexual laws.   Responding to the question, “Can the Church contribute to repealing these laws?”, he was unequivocal, saying: “They have to do it. What happens is that they are cultures in a state and the bishops of that place, although they are good bishops, [they] are part of the culture and some still have their minds in that culture. The bishops also have [to undergo] a process of conversion.” 

Some of these reluctant Bishops exist in South Sudan and DRC as they do in other parts of Africa and the Caribbean.  Having been nurtured in a culture of intolerance, they find adjustment to a new dispensation difficult.  Although, as Pope Francis pointed out, “In the catechism of the Catholic Church it says that people of homosexual tendency have to be welcomed, they do not have to be marginalized”.  He makes it clear that “Every man and woman has to have a window into his life where he can pour his hope and where he can see the dignity of God. And being gay is not a crime. It's a human condition.”

Throughout most of the world, societies and governments have accepted that “being gay is a human condition.”  The result is that members of the LGBTQIA community have attained high positions in all sectors of society.  While there may be little hope in authoritarian countries, such as Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, it is past time for more progressive societies to heed the counsel and wisdom of Pope Francis, who has emerged as an enlightened, caring example of the best of humanity.

I had the great privilege of working with a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby, when we were members of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which was commissioned by Heads of Government to propose ways of reforming the Commonwealth.  Justice Kirby urged all members of the Group to recommend abolition of the homosexual laws, which were imposed on its colonies by the colonial British government – laws which Britain itself repealed but are retained to this day by some Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Caribbean.

He made this telling point to the group – if governments and civil societies had not taken a strong and determined stand against Apartheid in South Africa, and before that in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), institutional racism would still exist in Africa, robbing the majority black populations of their right to equality, fairness and justice.

Kirby’s irresistible argument resonates in the words of Pope Francis.   

Responses and previous commentaries:

Latest Video

The State of the Commonwealth

Although the main focus of a conference. held by the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) on 30 June 2022, was to discuss the challenges facing journalism, a day-long series of discussions taking place between the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Commonwealth Games was bound to assess the state of today’s Commonwealth.

However, the panel discussion on ‘The Commonwealth, between the Kigali summit and the Birmingham Games’ focused on what session chair, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Director Sue Onslow described as “politics and politics”.   The discussion featured:
he Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders, and the Director of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Hugh Segal.   Below is the recording of the discussion,  It is also listed in the "Videos" sectio  of this website.

Latest News in Pictures


At the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on 10 June 2022:  Sir Ronald, OAS Secretray-General Luis Almagro and Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.

Sir Ronald with The Honourable Nancy Pelosi, the formidable Speaker of the US House of Representatives on Thursday 9 June 2022 during the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles

Senator Chris Dodd, Adviser to President Biden on the Ninth Summit of the Americas and the man largely responsible for convinng  many Caribbean and Latin American leaders to attend, with Sir Ronald.


Meeting in Barbados between Representatives of the US State Department anf Senior Representatives of Easrern Caribbean Governments.  Front row left to right: Senator (St Vincent and the Grenadines), US Ambassaor to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean States;. Brian Nichols Assistant Secretary, US State Department, Earl Huntley Senior Adviser to St Lucia Foreign Minister, Sir Ronald Sanders representing government of Antigua and Barbuda.  Back row left to right: St Kitts-Nevis Ambassador to the US Thelma Phillips-Browne; Permanent Secretary Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Nan Fide, Director Caribbean, US State Departmenent; Foreign Minister of Dominica; Minister of Health Grenada, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Barbados.

On 18th May 2022, at State House in Guyana with Guyana President Irfaan Ali and Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottely prior to "Agri-Invest Expo and Forum" which set the stage for an actionable, time bound plan for food sercuity, energy security, removal of trade barriers and regional trsnsportation. 

Speaking at a meeting between Caribbean leaders and a US Congressional team, led by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, in Barbados on Wednesday 20 April 2022 . I was pleased to initiate this process of consultation, as Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador, with Congresswoman Waters in July 2019 (.(see photo in date order below with the Congresswoman in July 2019). Subsequently, in November 2019 we had the first Roundtable in Washington.
In an interview with British Channel 4 News, Sir Ronald explains that Britain must make MLAT request for assistance regarding two Yachts in Antigau waters allegedly owned by sanctioned Russian Oligarch, Roman Abramovich:  

See: What has happened to yachts linked to Roman Abramovich? – Channel 4 News


With the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Mario Adolfo Bucaro Flores, to discuss CARICOM-Central America cooperation and deepening relations at the OAS.  At the right of the photograph is Rita Calverie di Scioli, the Guatemalan Ambassador to the OAS, 31 March 2022


Members of the Committee appointed by the Vice Chancellor of the University of London to Inquire into the Future of Commonwealth Studies at the University. The report was submitted at the end of July 2021 and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies was given a renewed and expanded mandate.
Left to Right: Sir Ronald Sanders, Nabeel Goheer, Dr Conor Wyer, Professor Wendy Thomson - Vice Chancellor - Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Chairman) Lord (Paul) Boateng, Jo Fox - Dean of the School of Advanced Studies. Photo at Senate House. London, November 3rd 2021.

Participating as a delegate from Antigua and Barbuda in the Summit of 40 Leaders on Climate, organised by us President, Joseph Biden, on 22 and 23 April 2021.  Sir Ronald second from left at top.


With the late Right Honourable Professor Owen Arthur, former Prime Minister of Barbados at his office at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in January 2020, talking Caribbean integration


Meeting between US Congressional Representatives, Global Banks and Caribbean government representative.  Congresswoman Maxin Waters (centre in red), Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne to her right, Sir Ronald Sanders to Prime Minister Browne's right.  Capitol Hill on November 14, 2019


Signing agreements for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Kosovo and Antigua and Barbuda in Washington, DC on 24 July 2019.  The agreemenst were signed by the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Ronald Sanders (sitting right) and the Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo, Vlora Citaku (sitting left). Frymezin Isufaj and Joy-Dee Davis. Ministers Coundellor (standing left to right)


 Speaking at US Capitol Hill in behalf of CARICOM during Caribbean Legislative Week on 5 June 2019


Meeting Wesley Kirton Co-Chair Caribbean Studies Associaton, US, and Captain Gerry Gouveia of the Guyana Privat Sector at Antigua and Barbuda Embassy, Washington, DC on 4 June 2019


On 15 May, 2019 with the formidable US Congresswoman Maxine Waters who is Chair of the Financail Services Committee of the US House of Representatives.  I had presentred the case against de-risking, withdrawal of correspondent banking relations and blacklisting alone with CARICOM Ministers of National Security. 


 Testifying on 14th May, 2019 before the US International Trade Commission on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda and Caribbaean States on the perennial US trade surplus with the region which reached $7 Billion in 2018. 


Sir Ronald at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, talking trade and other relations between the US and CARICOM countries, especially Antigua and Barbuda, with Cingressman Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati) on  27 February 2019.


Caribbean Ambassadors in Washington with US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Kim Breier, at the US State Department. Sir Ronald third from right in January 2019. 


In July 2018, while in Ottawa for Antigua and Barbuda bilateral talks with Canadian government officials, Sir Ron ran into old and repected friend, Joe Clarke - former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Canada and a great warrior in the anti-apartheid struggle.


With Ambassador Jesus Silvera of Panama, receiving a donation to the rebuilding of Barbuda, June 2018


With OAS Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, on 6 June 2018, signing the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and  Related Forms of Intolerance.  Antigua and Barbuda was the first signatory to the Convention and the second country to ratify the Convention. 

 Signing ceremony in Washington, DC of Abolition of Visa Requirements between Ukraine and Antigua and Barbuda in May 2018.  Ukraine Amnbasador (left) and Joy-Dee Davis, Minister Counsellor, Antigua and Barbuda Embassy (right) 


 With Governor-General of Canada,Her Excellency Julie Payette, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 30th 2018.  In addition to beeing accredited to Canada as High Commissioner, I have the honour of sharing the distinction with this amazing former Astronaut of being a Senior Fellow at Massey College in the University of Toronto.


In Tobago after delivering feature address at The Tobago Finance week on 13 November 2017.  Photo shows, Economist Terrence Farrell, Sir Ronald, Tobago Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack, and Anthony Pierre, Chairman of the Caribbean Association of Chartered Accountants


 In Port-of-Spain, Trinidad speaking at the annual Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Trinidad and Tobago on 9 November 2017


 Speaking at a meeting in Geneva, prior to appearnace at the World Trade Organisation on Antigua and Barbuda's contention with the US government on the WTO award to Antigua over Internet Gaming, September 2017 


 Speaking on Refugees resulting from Climate Change and the growing danger to small island states at an event organised by OXFAM in Washington, DC on 30 October 2017. (Heather Coleman, OXFAM; Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda; Selwyn Hart (Barbados), Lisa Friedman, New York Times)


Sir Ronald speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC on 12 October 2017.  He was talking about the devastation of Barbuda by Hurricane Irma and the remedies for Climate Change and Global Warming.  To his left are:  The Prime Minister of Grenada Dr Keith Mitchell, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin la Rocque and St Lucia Prime Minister Alan Chastanet


Sir Ronald speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the security and other threats posed to the Caribbean and the Hemisphere of Climate Change and Global Warming on 13 September 2017


 Sir Ronald (third right) with senior officers of the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, DC after discussing what assistance could be given in the clean up and rebuilding of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma (Friday, 15 September 2017)


With US Congressman, Ranking member of Committee on Foreign Affairs at Capitol Hill on 14 September, discussiing secutty matters, Hurricane Irma and Barbuda and the US-Antigua and Barbuda WTO issues.  Very helpful.


 With US Congressman Mark Meadows on Capitol Hill talking the US-Antigua and Barbuda WTO issues, and the effets of Hurricane Irma on the island of Barbuda on 12 September, 2017.  Good man. 


 Talking to the Emergency Agencies of the OAS about the impact of Hurricane Irma on the island of Barbuda and seeking assistance on 14 September 2017


Sir Ronald with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on 28 August 2017 discussing Canada-Antigua and Barbuda bilateral matters.


Sir Ronald with the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, at the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States in Cancun, in June 2017


Heads of Delegations to the OAS General Assembly in Cancun.  Mexican Presdident, sixth from right, front row.  Sir Ronald fourth from right, front row.


Meeting of Consulation on the situation in Venezuela at the Organisation of American States on 31 May 2017 Sir Ronald (far right).


With Texas Congressman Randy Weber at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, talking energy, water and US-Antigua and Barbuda relations on Wednesday 5 April, 2017 



With my colleague Argentine Ambassador to the OAS, Juan Jose Acuri (right) and the Argentina candidate for election to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rigjts Dr Carlos de Casas on 29 March 2016


 At the International Monetary Fund with Exceutive Director for Canada and the Caribbean, Nancy Horsman, to discuss Antigua and Barbuda matters.


At the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy receiving Antonia Urrejola, the candidate of Chile for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, on 23 March 2017 


 With the Mexican Candidate for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Joel Hernadez Garcia, on 21 March 2017


 At the World Bank on20 March 2017 meeting Christine Hogan, the Executive Director for Canada and the Caribbean, to talk about Antigua and Barbuda matters.


With Joe Barton, US Congressman from the State of Texas in his Office on Capitol Hill on Thursday, 16 March 2017 discussing US-Antigua and Barbuda relations


Hosting a meeting at the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy in Washington, DC of diplomatic representatives of St Lucia (Ambassador Anton Edmunds, St Kitts-Nevis Ambassador Thelma Phillip-Browne and St Vincent Deputy Chief of Mission Omari Williams)


Meeting the Cuban Ambassador to the United States, Jose Cabanas Rodriguez at the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy on Tuesday, 21st February, 2017


With the Ambassador of Ecudaor to the United States, Francisco Borja Cevallos, talking Ecuador-Antigua and Barbuda relations on 13 February 2017


 With US Congressman Gus Bilikakis (Dem,Fl) for talls on Caiptol Hill in Washington


With Charlie Crist, US Congressman (Dem, Fl) for discussions on US-Antigua and Barbuda matters


 With US Senator Jeff Duncan, Chair Foreign Relations Committee talking energy and Citizenship by Investement Programmes in the Caribbean

  With Professor Louis Gates Jr at the Smithsonian National Musuem of African American History in Washington, DC after an evening of enlightening presentations on the neglected story of the building of the US 


March 17, 2014 in Barbados where I spoke with Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Caribbean thought leader and Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines (second right) at the launch of the late Jean Holder’s (third right) excellent book on Regional Transportation. All that Jean said remains relevant today. At far left is Warren Smith a former CEO of LIAT and at the time President of the Caribbean Development Bank. Each of us was born in different parts of the Caribbean, but all of us know that we are better off as One Caribbean.

US CARIBBEAN RELATIONS: The Biden Administration Year 1

                   “US-Caribbean Relations in Biden Administration Year 1”

A discussion brief for a Webinair discussion on April 28th 2022

and publication by the Florida International University

By Sir Ronald Sanders


 On April 28th, Sir Ronald presented a paper on “US-Caribbean Relations: The Biden Administration Year 1” at a webinar, which he was commissioned to produce by Florida International University (FIU),  the Latin American and Caribbean Centre and the Caribbean Policy Council.  The 7,000-word paper was subsequently published by  FIU. 

The paper can be read on this website under “Lectures” in the “Lectures and Interviews section.  

The discussion in the webinar which was Chaired by Dr Georges Fauriol and included former top US State Department Official, Ambassador Tom Shannon; Pulitzer Prize winning Reporter, Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald and Dr Vanessa Chaitram of Trinidad and Tobago, can viewed at:



Latest statements at the OAS - Russia Ukraine and suspension of Russia as a Permanent Observer at the OAS


On 25 March 2022, the Permanent Council of the OAS adopted a Resolution in “The Crisis in Ukraine” by 28 votes in favour, none against, 5 abstentions and one absentee (Nicaragua).  The Resolution was drafted, negotiated and presented by Ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda and Ambassador Rita di Scioli of Guatemala.

The Resolution condemn all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights and calls upon all parties to respect strictly the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977 as applicable, and to respect international human rights law;  Insisted that all parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular with regard to the protection of the civilian population; and reiterate the importance of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter and of respect for the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine; and called on the Russian Federation to withdraw immediately all its military forces and equipment from within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, and return to a path of dialogue and diplomacy.

It also decided to keep the status of Russia’s statues as a Permanent Observer at the OAS under review.

Below is the statement made by Sir Ronald Sanders to close the meeting:

Closing Statement by Sir Ronald Sanders

Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda

At the Special Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS on the Crisis in Ukraine

on Friday, 25 March 2022

Madam Chair

Thank you for the opportunity to once again thank the delegations that joined the delegations of Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala in cosponsoring this resolution.

We thank all the 28 delegations that upheld the principles of the OAS Charter and the authority of the Permanent Council to raise its voice on international issues that are of such egregious proportions that they  threaten the wellbeing of all states including the members of the OAS,

We also thank the permanent observers that spoke here in encouragement of our Resolution.

Madam Chair, my delegation accepts the sovereign rights of our members states to speak and vote in accordance with positions arising from their circumstances.   Therefore, we accept and respect the rights of the 5 countries that abstained.

However, in the course of explanation of votes, one delegation said that the language of the resolution was infelicitous and was one of the reasons that caused that delegation not to support  the Resolution.

But, with all due respect, my delegation is obliged to point out that every delegation had the opportunity and the right to contribute to the language of the resolution, and all were invited to do so.

If any delegation did not seize that opportunity and did not exercise its right to negotiate the resolution , it can hardly complain about the final language of the resolution.

More alarmingly, Madam Chair, it was said that this Organisation of American States – one of the oldest multilateral organisations - has no authority to speak on a global issue even though it is clear that the issue involving aggression against a sovereign state, materially affects all our countries.

In law, any affected party has a right to voice its concerns and to seek remedies at the very least.

It seems that for the first time in its history, the OAS is expected to be silent as world peace and security is patently affected.

But silence is not an option in face of the violations of international law and of a grave humanitarian crisis

Silence is not an option for the OAS, especially as the two countries involved enjoy observer status of our Organisation with responsibilities to uphold the principles and values of our charter.

Madam Chair, we have acted in the OAS, after wide consultation amongst each other, to uphold the values for which we collective declare we stand.

Our collective action should be applauded and each of our countries that stood up here for international law and for peace and security deserves respect and thanks.

My delegation and the delegation of Guatemala thanks them all.

All posts...

Election for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General

Sir Ronald was a candidate for election to the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General In November 2015 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. View further details here.

Portrait of Sir Ronald Sanders

Sir Ronald Sanders is currently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States and the Organisation of American States.


Welcome to this website. I created it in 2009 in response to many requests for access to commentaries I have written, lectures I have given and interviews that have been broadcast or printed in the media on matters related to the political economy of the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.  They are all avaialble here for free.

These requests have come from university students, publications, academics, government officials and business people in many parts of the world. In the course of responding to these requests, I have been pleased to build up a network of global contacts who now receive my commentaries weekly.

From a career that encompassed broadcast and print journalism, development and commercial banking, diplomacy and international negotiations in both the public and private sectors, I am privileged to draw on wide and varied experiences to write, lecture and undertake consultancies.  The latter activity was susended while I carry out my present functions as Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda. 

I have taken the greatest pleasure in receiving comments and criticism from people all over the world that the Internet has made a “village”. I have learned from many of the comments I received. They have caused me to reflect on my own thinking. Through this website, I hope to communicate regularly with all who write to me.

The website is now a permanent repository of the weekly commentaries and lectures going back several years. Anyone is free to access them here, and to cite them provided my permission is sought in advance through the “Contact me” mechanism. A few of the lectures I have given in Britain and in the Caribbean are also posted on the site in a PDF format which can be easily downloaded. Again, I would make the same request to seek my permission before citing the material.

I invite responses to my writings, and inquiries about the experience and knowledge I can bring to achieving the objectives of companies and organizations that do business related to the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.

Kind regards

Ronald Sanders