Excommunicated Priest Suing Diocese is Inspired by Pope Francis

Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, aka “Fr. Beto”

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

7 replies
  1. JAD
    JAD says:

    “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.

    Indeed…I can think of four active bishops who fit this description perfectly.

    Reply
  2. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    What is astonishing is that there are many of us who could be excommunicated because we deviate from the church’s man-made rules. But this priest was brave and spoke out. How courageous! If the bishops listened to the conversations between Catholics, they would learn that even among those of us who have decided to stay, there is great dissent, and we are voicing our concerns to one another because who else will listen to us? I am continously surprised when people I only know slightly bring up “the church,” because the urge to share is there and there are few forums where we can discuss it freely. Among the grandmothers and older mothers, there is this sadness that a whole genertion (or maybe two) don’t identify at all with the heirarchal church in which they grew up. Who can blame them? World Youth Day did not really represent most of our young people.

    Reply
  3. smokey307
    smokey307 says:

    I appreciate what Pope Francis said about homosexuality and I appreciate even more what he didn’t say. In the middle 1970s the official way to deal with previous marriages was the costly and lengthy annulment process. However, most priests I worked with used the internal forum. When it comes to homosexuality the official church teaching requires gay men and women to be celibate. Most gay men and women believe church teaching is wrong and let their informed conscience decide the issue for them. By not mentioning church teaching, unlike his predecessors did frequently, he offers folks a not so new way. I applod (sp) Father Beto for his writings and commitment to the issue, I believe he know what his bishop’s response would be.

    Reply
  4. Nylda Dieppa-Aldarondo
    Nylda Dieppa-Aldarondo says:

    The church’s position against homosexuality caused a very painful rift in my family when my brother lay dying of what turned out to be AIDS. My parents chose to believe he had acquired Kaposis Sarcoma because he was a heart transplant patient. One of my daughters is now filming a documentary about our family story to show the painful ramifications of a theological position that denies unconditional love. I hope the trailer helps to illustrate the terrible consequences of living a theology of fear and Ijudgmentalism.

    Reply

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