LGBT Catholic Groups in Brazil Make Strides in Building Community and Connections

In the face of widespread homophobia and transphobia, LGBT Catholic groups in Brazil have been making strides to develop community and connection with the queer community, other Catholics, and each other.

The LGBT Catholic movement in Brazil is smaller and more underground than that in the United States, Crux reported, though Brazil, as the largest Catholic nation in the world, has a far larger per capita Catholic population. Diversidade Católica (“Catholic Diversity”), the oldest LGBT Catholic association, was founded in 2006, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city. Since then, similar groups have appeared across the country to minister to Catholics who are often not accepted by their parishes. A national network of 23 Catholic LGBT groups was started in 2014.

Most groups are relatively independent of the Church, according to Crux:

“Except for [a few] pastoral commissions, most of the other groups don’t hold their meetings in parishes or in other Church-owned spaces, preferring instead to gather in independent locations.  Several of them opt to not publicly announcing the encounters, in order to avoid attracting undesirable attention, with potential attendees being interviewed before receiving information on meetings.”

The network enables LGBT Catholics to find a safe space to worship, often led by affirming priests, and to find community. At least one support group for affirming parents of LGBT Catholics has appeared as well.

Politically, it is a difficult time for the LGBT movement in Brazil, with supporters of far-right, authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro wielding a lot of influence. Cris Serra, the network’s coordinator, told Crux that “the Catholic right-wing in Brazil currently has a great power to mobilize people and to exert financial pressure on the Church.” In the face of attacks from Bolsonaro’s supporters, the president of Brazil’s conference of bishops has attempted to distance the church from LGBT Catholics. According to Crux:

“In May 2019, shortly after the Archbishop of Belo Horizonte Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo was elected the new president of the CNBB [the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil], a Bolsonarist YouTuber released a video attacking him due to the existence of a pastoral care commission for diversity in his archdiocese.

“Azevedo denied the group was for LGBT Catholics in Belo Horizonte, saying it was a pastoral service for families with relationship problems.”

Beyond facing a lack of support, LGBT Catholics in Brazil have been tortured at the hands of their own church. Serra, who is nonbinary, told Crux, “In the church, we’re commonly silenced and demonized. Some of us are physically assaulted during exorcisms and other similar practices.”

João Victor Oliveira, a Catholic historian, commented on the deep trauma that many LGBT Brazilian Catholics experience:

“Most of us have profound scars. Extremely violent processes have shaped our subjectivities in the Church. It’s common to have deep resentment and to believe forever that we’re naturally sinful … Nobody is able to identify as a Catholic LGBT individual without a safety network.”

Because of the deep need for support and healing among LGBT Catholics, building a welcoming community has been Oliveira’s main focus. He commented:

“We’re not much concerned with justifying our positions or asking the Church’s permission to get in. We know we’re God’s beloved sons and daughters and that we’re Christ’s followers.”

Catholics have cause to grieve when our church prioritizes social respectability over the safety and well-being of its own members. Bishop Azevedo’s denial of a group he established is reminiscent of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the Gospel. Serra and Oliveira’s words speak to the trauma suffered by the LGBT Catholic community, and also to our deep resiliency. In the face of extreme homophobia and transphobia, members of these communities in Brazil have developed a faith and sense of self-worth that does not depend on the approval of the institutional church.

Mac Svolos, December 18, 2020

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