A Brazilian Catholic priest is under investigation by state prosecutors after a video of his criticism against a gay journalist went viral.
In a homily, Fr. Paulo Antônio Mueller referenced a 2020 viral video of a TV Globo reporter sending a message to his gay partner for Lovers’ Day, a Brazilian celebration of love and romance. The video had been widely re-shared around the holiday this year as well, Crux reported.
“Dating for us is not like Globo showed this week,” Mueller said, addressing Catholic relationships. “A reporter with a little viado [a Portuguese slur about gay men] called Pedrinho, I mean, Felipe, saying: ‘Prepare lunch, I’m coming home. I miss you, Felipe.’ Ridiculous.”
The priest also called out another Globo reporter, Erick Rianelli, who shared a message to his partner, Pedro Figueiredo, on air. Mueller went on to tell parishioners to read the Book of Genesis where he said God “created man and woman.”
“That’s marriage. They can call the union of two viados and two lesbians the way they want, but not marriage. Please! That’s a lack of respect towards God, it’s sacrilege, it’s blasphemy. Marriage is something beautiful and dignified. Sentiment, love, is for a man and a woman.”
Prosecutors in the state of Mato Grosso launched an investigation shortly thereafter to determine if Mueller had in fact committed a crime with his homophobic language. Lawyer Cláudio Langroiva Pereira told Crux that the inquiry stemmed from a recent Brazilian Supreme Court decision “that acts of homophobia should be treated in a similar way that acts of racism, which are crimes according to the Brazilian law.”
Pereira, who is also a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo and member of the Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, explained that even though church and civic models of marriage differ, “that doesn’t mean people should be discarded by society. Pope Francis has been saying that everybody has a right to be welcomed and to live happily.”
Mueller had crossed the line from free speech into hate speech, which is not protected by either Brazilian law or the Catholic Church. All citizens must be held accountable when “their rhetoric harms fundamental human rights,” Pereira argued.
Fr. Antonio Manzatto, a theology professor also at the Pontifical University, agreed: “Freedom of speech is not an end in itself.”
Manzatto notes that, “freedom of speech is a tool for the building of a more democratic world. If some kind of speech is not able to build that reality, it cannot claim ‘freedom.’”
He also pointed out that the Catholic Church opposes discrimination that harms human dignity and suggested that Mueller’s language was influenced by President Jair Bolsonaro and the charged political atmosphere in Brazil: “The priest’s rhetoric is fully backed by the social segments that support the current administration’s absurdities.”
João Victor Oliveira, who is involved with the LGBT Catholic movement in Brazil, said that Mueller mentioned the reporter Rianelli “with the intention of stigmatizing him.”
“In a country where homophobia is a crime, when someone insists is [sic] manifesting such ideas by using religion as a disguise to a political agenda, what’s really being requested is a license to kill,” he said, referencing the high rate of LGBT murders in Brazil.
The suicide rate among Brazilian LGBTQ Catholics is also often related to “hate speech that we hear in the church,” said Cris Serra, the coordinator of the Network of LGBT Catholic groups in Brazil. While “this kind of manifestation at the altar is very frequent,” Serra notes that “the difference is that it was recorded in video, because now Masses are being broadcasted online. But we [LGBT Catholics] know this kind of rhetoric very well.”
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, August 7, 2021