Some bishops in Brazil have criticized an ecumenical fundraising campaign over the inclusion of LGBTQ issues in campaign materials. The Brazilian bishops’ conference is a participant in the campaign.
The Fraternity Campaign is a major Lenten fundraiser held by Brazilian churches since the 1960s. Every five years since 2001, the fundraiser becomes ecumenical with the involvement of the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil, which is the case this year.
In a document for the campaign prepared by theologians from the different churches, the authors note, “it is important to emphasise that the social relations of class, gender, race, ethnicity are historically interconnected.” The Tablet reported further:
“The part that drew the greatest controversy, however, was the support given to the LGBTQ community.
“‘Another social group that suffers the consequences of systemic politics and violence and the creation of enemies is the LGBTQ+ population,’ says the document, Fraternity and Dialogue: Commitment of Love.
“The statement was followed by data on deaths of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, released by one of the country’s most well-known LGBT lobby groups, Gay Group of Bahia.
“‘These murders are the effects of hate speech, religious fundamentalism, voices against the recognition of the rights of LGBTQI populations and other persecuted and vulnerable groups,’ says the Fraternity Campaign document.”
These statements prompted backlash from some Catholic leaders:
“Archbishop Fernando Guimarães of Brazil’s Military Archdiocese has instructed chaplains working with Brazil’s armed forces to refuse to participate in the 2021 campaign.
“In a public letter sent to Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Asevedo, president of the bishops’ conference, the archbishop said ‘evangelisation of the faithful … at any time and even more so in a special time such as Catholic Lent, is not a place for dialogue on controversial topics and contrary to the authentic doctrine of our church’.”
Adding to this criticism is Archbishop Gil Antônio Moreira of Juiz de For, who said in a statement reported by Crux, that the campaign document include “doubtful concepts regarding social doctrine and Christian morals.” Bishop Fernando Rifan, who heads a unique church jurisdiction dedicated to traditionalists, said the campaign document was a “bad text, with erroneous and biased insinuations.”
But some Brazilian bishops came to the Fraternity Campaign’s defense. São Paulo’s Cardinal Odilo Scherer issued a statement, saying, per The Tablet:
“‘This controversy is driven by prejudices and anti-ecumenical passion; in addition to baseless accusations against the (bishops’ conference), it is also a controversy marked by ideological polarisation. I admit that in the base text there are positions that can be criticised, that may not be shared, but for God’s sake, the focus here is not that.'”
Following this debate, Crux reported on the episcopal conference’s response:
“On February 9, the CNBB [Brazil’s episcopal conference] released a statement about the controversy, explaining the workbook was collectively written by CONIC [the ecumenical working group], and ‘consequently the text follows CONIC’s structure of thought and work.’
“‘Therefore, the text doesn’t have the style it would have if it had been prepared by a CNBB commission, given that we have distinct understandings, even though it’s the same ideal of serving Jesus Christ,’ the statement reads.”
From the perspective of some ecumenical partners and LGBTQ advocates, the debate over the Fraternity Campaign this year highlights the very realities of anti-LGBTQ oppression which the document condemns. Reuters explained:
“‘Words were chosen and taken out of context,’ Eliel Batista, an Evangelical minister and member of the CONIC committee who wrote the Fraternity Campaign declaration, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“‘With these attitudes, these groups prove that everything we are talking about is correct,’ he said, noting that its opponents had singled out the mention of LGBT+ people. . .
“‘Everyone should be welcomed without any discrimination,’ said Toni Reis, the president of the National LGBTI+ Alliance, who is Catholic. ‘After all, we are all brothers and sisters, whether we’re gay, lesbians or trans.'”
Brazil is one of the world’s deadliest places for LGBTQ people. The Fraternity Campaign report itself includes a note that some 420 LGBTQ people were killed in the country in 2018. Those numbers have been maintained or increased in succeeding years. A willingness to acknowledge the systemic and severe threats faced by LGBTQ Brazilians, especially those who are transgender, should not be controversial. The Fraternity Campaign’s show solidarity with this oppressed community under attack should not be something from which the Catholic bishops back away. Such actions should be considered the minimum that they can do.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 5, 2021