Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic nation, containing an estimated 123 million Catholics which is about one-tenth of the global Church overall. When its Church leaders speak, their words can have a profound impact on the life of their local Church and increasingly in the age of Pope Francis, abroad as well.
This week, a top Brazilian bishop endorsed legal rights for same-gender couples and cited the pope in so doing. His words follow-up on the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s positive statement to that city’s Pride Parade participants in early May that promised the Church’s solidarity to Brazil’s LGBT community who face daily violence.
Dom (Bishop) Leonardo Steiner is general secretary of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and an auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, the capital city. He was recently interviewed by GLOBO where he made the gay-positive comments, which Bondings 2.0 makes available via a translation from Iglesia Descalza.
While Steiner endorsed civil unions, saying same-gender couples “need a legal protection in society,” his focus in the interview was on how the Church can support lesbian and gay people. Referencing Pope Francis, Steiner tells the interviewer:
” ‘You could say that the Pope is echoing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” It’s understood that accepting them with respect, compassion and sensitivity means walking and being with the homosexual person and helping them understand, deepen and guide their condition as a son or daughter of God’ …
” ‘Acceptance and walking with them are necessary to reflect on what fits or doesn’t fit the reality experienced by homosexual people and what, in fact, is rightfully theirs, for their own good and that of society.’ “
Finally, when asked about the possibility of change in the Church, the bishop said:
” ‘The Church isn’t the same through the ages. It seeks answers for the present time, using the Gospel as the illuminating force of its action…The Church is always seeking to read the signs of the times, to see what must or must not change. The truths of faith don’t change.’ “
Dom Steiner’s remarks echo tue positive statement made by the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s Justice and Peace Committee in April, released in anticipation of the city’s 18th Pride Parade, which took place on May 4th. The statement positioned the Catholic Church as an advocate for LGBT rights. Bondings 2.0 obtained a rough translation, in which the Committee writes:
“We can not remain silent in the face of the reality experienced by this population that is the target of prejudice and victim of systematic violation of their fundamental rights, such as health, education, work , housing, culture, among others…[LGBT people] face unbearable daily verbal and physical violence, culminating in murders that are true hate crimes…
“[P]eople of good will, and in particular all Christians, reflect on this deeply unfair reality of LGBT people and to actively engage in their overcoming it, guided by the supreme principle of human dignity.”
The statement quotes the opening of Gaudium et spes, a Vatican II document, linking “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of LGBT people with those of the Church. Strengthening this connection, the Committee’s director, Geraldo Magela Tardelli, told Estadao:
” ‘The committee has a mission, according to D. Paulo Evaristo Ars [the cardinal archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo]: ‘we have to give voice to those who have no voice.’ Right now, what we are finding is that there is an increase of violence against homosexuals, so we can not overlook this violation of human rights…
” ‘We are engaged in upholding human rights and do not agree with violence, regardless of the color and the sexual orientation of people.’ “
These statements of solidarity, and the further endorsement of legal rights, are important in Brazil where more than 300 LGBT people are murdered annually in hate crimes. Let us hope such positive words from Catholic bishops, and more so their commitment to be among those who are marginalized for their sexual orientation or gender identity, will spread throughout Brazil and beyond its borders.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry