In power since 1987, 89-year-old Mugabe has cranked up attacks on the LGBT community to deflect attention from Zimbabwe’s economic woes. A law passed in 2006 criminalized any actions even perceived as homosexual—leading to arrests for holding hands or hugging—and government operatives have infiltrated gay groups with reports of blackmail, assault and even rape not uncommon.
Mugabe, who has referred to gay people as “sub-animal…worse than dogs and pigs,” even had former President Canaan Banana arrested on 11 charges of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But Italy gave him a temporary reprieve on his travel ban since Mugabe was visiting Vatican City, which has its own jurisdiction. And, well, because the Pope asked nicely.
“President Mugabe belongs in the dock at the International Criminal Court, not in the Vatican being feted by the Pope,” says LGBT rights advocate Peter Tatchell, who was beaten beaten unconscious by Mugabe’s guards when he tried to put the dictator under citizen’s arrest. “His regime has abused the Christian values of love and compassion [and] stands accused of kidnapping, detention without trial, torture, rape and murder.” (Throw in child molestation and he could be a bishop.)
Other attendees at yesterday’s service included Vice President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner, who had called out the Pope’s hateful rhetoric on marriage equality when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In an address to the masses, Francis said it was the duty of all men and women of good will “to be custodians of creation and of the design of God inscribed in nature—custodian of others and of the environment.”