"Jesus loved all human beings without prejudice. He loved them all, regardless of their social status, race, or sexuality." (Religion Digital)
"If the human sciences are telling us that today we can no longer classify human beings as homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, but as sexual beings, and that love can emerge at any of these levels, if science leads us to this level of awareness, the Church needs to study this, otherwise it will be committing a sin. Which sin? Not loving one's neighbor. So the Church has to change, not because society is changing but because science and human knowledge have evolved." (O Globo)
It was public positions such as these that led this week to the excommunication of Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, better known by his nickname "Padre Beto", a priest in the Diocese of Bauru, Brazil. Padre Beto, in addition to celebrating Mass in the parishes of Santo Antônio (Bela Vista) and São Benedito (Vila Falcão), is well-known as a columnist and radio commentator. His columns have appeared in Bom Dia (Bauru), Gazeta de Botucatu (Botucatu-SP), Impacto (Adamantina-SP), Jornal de Pompéia (Pompéia-SP), Jornal Comércio do Jahu (Jaú-SP) and O Regional (São Pedro, Águas de São Pedro, Charqueada, Ipeúna, Piracicaba, Santa Maria da Serra, Torrinha and Brotas). He currently hosts a radio program called "Espaço Aberto" on Auri Verde.
Padre Beto, who has studied radio, history and theology and who has a doctorate in Ethics from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, has also been a professor of Philosophy at the Instituição Toledo de Ensino Law School in Bauru and at several other local higher education institutions. He has written several books including Sem Medo de Voar – Uma Filosofia para o Cotidiano ("No Fear of Flying - A Philosophy for Everyday Life" -- Ed. Nobel) Faça Uma Revolução Possível – Uma Filosofia para a Transformação ("Making a Possible Revolution - A Philosophy for Transformation" -- Ed. Nobel) and Um Coração Sábio e Inteligente – Autodescoberta através do Cinema ("A Wise and Intelligent Heart - Self-discovery through the Cinema" -- Ed. Idea).
In the end, however, it was his Internet presence that brought Padre Beto's career as a priest to a close. Like any modern priest in touch with the younger generation, Padre Beto has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and his own web site. In the videos he posted on his web site, Padre Beto expressed views such as those quoted above. The diocese objected and asked the priest to publicly acknowledge his error and recant. Padre Beto refused and submitted his resignation to the Church, saying that for him, "it has become impossible to live out the Gospel in an institution where, for the moment, freedom of thought and freedom of expression are not respected."
In his statement on his intent to resign from the priesthood, Padre Beto added: "I sincerely hope that the Church will once again be, as it was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, a Church in which all its members have the right to think and express themselves freely, creating true communion in faith in Christ. I also hope that the Church will be open to scientific development and the new realities that we are experiencing in our contemporary society so that it (the Church) doesn't commit injustice and isn't an obstacle to human happiness."
The Church saw it differently. In a statement explaining the decision to excommunicate the controversial priest, Bishop Caetano Ferrari said that Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, "in the name of 'freedom of expression', has betrayed the commitment to loyalty to the Church that he swore to serve on the day of his priestly ordination." The statement went on to explain that the diocese had attempted to dialogue with Padre Beto but that the latter had refused to cooperate. Padre Beto was charged with heresy and schism under canon 1364.
Despite the serious penalty, Padre Beto has been essentially unrepentant. When asked by O Globo why he had chosen to post the controversial videos, Padre Beto replied: "To deepen reflection. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is still homophobic despite having many homosexuals in it. It's closed to today's world and not open to dialogue. It doesn't tolerate thought."
About his excommunication, Padre Beto responded that he was largely indifferent, reminding the interviewer that, before the Church acted, he had already publicly stated that he would be leaving the ministry. He joked that he was thankful to God that the "bonfire" no longer exists, and added that he is a theologian and that he intends to "develop a theological argument so that the analysis of Biblical texts will not be used anymore to disciminate against people and make them unhappy. Today, sexual diversity exists and there are many texts in the Bible that we can no longer consider to be the word of God."
And to his friends on Facebook and Twitter, Padre Beto offered this terse, albeit hyperbolic, coda: "I feel honored to be on the list of the many persons who have been killed or burned alive for thinking and seeking knowledge. I'm grateful to the Diocese of Bauru." Padre Beto intends to keep on teaching and communicating through the media and online and to do pastoral work outside of the institutional Church, possibly through organizing prayer groups.