Excommunicated this spring for making public comments in support of LGBT people, Robert Francisco Daniel is turning to the Brazilian court system to seek justice from Catholic Church. Fr. Beto, as he is commonly known, is acting now partially due to Pope Francis’ positive remarks about LGBT people at the end of World Youth Day.
Fr. Beto was a popular priest and media personality before the Diocese of Bauru charged him with “heresy” and “schism” and forced him to leave the priesthood in April. Folha de S. Paulo reports on the recent legal developments, noting that the former priest has considered a civil lawsuit since his excommunication and believes the local hierarchy’s treatment of him was unjust.
The former priest also published a book, “Forbidden Truths,” since then. Iglesia Descalza carries a translation of Fr. Beto’s recent interview with BBC Mundo about everything that has happened since April. When asked why he is choosing legal action, Fr. Beto replied:
“The Bishop of Bauru gave me two alternatives — retract all materials published on the Internet and apologize, or canon law would be applied to me. In the face of this, I thought it was good to leave the priestly ministry and return at another period of time…
“But facing excommunication, I decided to get into the common justice system, not simply because I want to come back, but because no institution can do to a person what the local Church did to me. I was treated like an adolescent and expelled without the right to defend myself.
“The Church didn’t respect me as a human being, it didn’t respect the 14 years I’ve been in the priesthood, it didn’t respect my family.”
Yet, he also credits Pope Francis’ remark on gay priests as important in going ahead with the lawsuit. Fr. Beto calls the pope a “moderate progressive,” saying:
“[Francis is] trying to get back to a more open, reflective Church. When he says that if a Christian isn’t revolutionary, he’s not a Christian, that’s where he’s going. When he says that the pastor [‘the shepherd’] should smell like the faithful [‘the sheep’], he’s indicating that we priests have to live a simpler life along with the other faithful. He doesn’t have a vision of a hierarchical Church.
“And when he talked about gays, he ended on a high note. ‘If a gay person is seeking God, who am I to judge him?’ It means that what he cares about is the person’s character, not their sexual orientation.”
The acclaimed comment was the pope’s response to a journalist’s question about a ‘gay lobby’ in the Church, and Fr. Beto offers his own views on this perennial issue:
“The gay lobby exists, but it isn’t for the Church to accept homosexuals. It’s a power struggle and the gays within the Church are much more homophobic than the heterosexuals, incredible as it may seem. They’re more conservative; they’re struggling for power. A power that’s more focused on aesthetics, on positions.
“They’re mostly people who entered the priesthood fleeing their sexuality and they’ve ended up living out their sexuality in an almost schizophrenic way within the Church hierarchy.”
As for the root of Fr. Beto’s problems, namely his rejection of homosexuality or same-sex acts as sinful, the former priest contrasts his work as a theologian with Pope Francis’ public role:
“There’s a big difference between what [Pope Francis] says and what I’m trying to reflect about. Is saying to a gay person ‘we accept you but not your sexuality’ really loving one’s neighbor? It’s condemning a person to celibacy and instilling in them that their sexual desire is a sin, something they’ll have all their lives.
“Is this respecting human knowledge? That’s my question, which is neither a sin nor an attitude that merits excommunication…
“That two people of the same sex, who are intimate, are freely giving pleasure to one another and perhaps even expressing love…what about that would be a sin? A sin is a loveless act. And lovelessness isn’t present in a homosexual relationship.”
Finally, Fr. Beto is asked about his current relationship with the Catholic Church and offers words familiar to many who identify as Catholic, even as contemporary leaders and institutions might turn them away:
It’s ambivalent: I feel I’m Catholic, belonging to this Church. I didn’t choose to stop being a priest, so I continue to be a priest. But through the Diocese of Bauru, through the local Church, I’m excluded.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry