Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Excommunicated for defending gay people, Padre Beto talks...and fights...back
August 13, 2013
Pope Francis' words at the end of his recent trip to Brazil asking who he was to judge a homosexual who is seeking God surprised many around the world, but it had special value for Roberto Francisco Daniel.
This 48-year old Brazilian priest was excommunicated by the Catholic Church at the end of April, after uttering commentary published on the Internet in support of homosexuals that bothered the Diocese of Bauru, the city in the state of Sao Paulo where he was serving.
Now "Padre Beto", as they call him locally, has just published a book titled Verdades proibidas ("Forbidden Truths") and turned to the Brazilian civil justice system alleging that the Church ignored his rights and tha he should be readmitted.
"If (the Diocese of Bauru) wants to excommunicate me, they'll have to do it within the legal rules," he says. "I don't think this would have happened after the Pope's visit."
Below are excerpts from the conversation BBC Mundo held with the excommunicated priest, who defines himself as heterosexual, wears an earring in his right ear, and shaves his head.
How would you characterize your current relationship with the Catholic Church?
It's ambivalent: I feel I'm Catholic, belonging to this Church. I didn't choose to stop being a priest, so I continue to be a priest. But through the Diocese of Bauru, through the local Church, I'm excluded.
You went to the civil justice system to file a claim over your excommunication. Are you seeking to come back to the Church even though you talked earlier about resigning?
The Bishop of Bauru gave me two alternatives -- retract all materials published on the Internet and apologize, or canon law would be applied to me. In the face of this, I thought it was good to leave the priestly ministry and return at another period of time. Wait for the wave of conservatism that exists now to pass.
But facing excommunication, I decided to get into the common justice system, not simply because I want to come back, but because no institution can do to a person what the local Church did to me. I was treated like an adolescent and expelled without the right to defend myself.
The Church didn't respect me as a human being, it didn't respect the 14 years I've been in the priesthood, it didn't respect my family.
The question is to what extent can the Church allow a representative to speak against its own teachings...
I didn't speak against the teachings of the Church. I just raised some points of reflection on the sexual morality of the Church. I was born in a Church in the 70s and 80s which -- in Latin America, at least -- was very open to reflection.
When I came back from Germany in 2001, after 10 years, I was making reflections openly because I thought that every Christian ought to reflect about the rules we have and propose changes. The Church can't keep on defining things at the top and then deciding for its faithful, as if they were children.
Did Pope Francis' visit to Brazil and what he said about gays change your opinion of the Church at all?
This pope was already motivating me. He's trying to get back to a more open, reflective Church. When he says that if a Christian isn't revolutionary, he's not a Christian, that's where he's going. When he says that the pastor ["the shepherd"] should smell like the faithful ["the sheep"], he's indicating that we priests have to live a simpler life along with the other faithful.
He doesn't have a vision of a hierarchical Church. And when he talked about gays, he ended on a high note. "If a gay person is seeking God, who am I to judge him?" It means that what he cares about is the person's character, not their sexual orientation.
Isn't there a difference between what the Pope says and what you say about gays? Francis talked about homosexual tendencies, which some distinguish from the homosexual act itself, but you don't make that distinction...
There's no way to make that distinction. It's clear that our pope has to use the strategy much more than I do. There's still a Roman Curia that was created by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that's still alive. His situation is very delicate. I have more freedom as a theologian.
There's a big difference between what he says and what I'm trying to reflect about. Is saying to a gay person "we accept you but not your sexuality" really loving one's neighbor? It's condemning a person to celibacy and instilling in them that their sexual desire is a sin, something they'll have all their lives.
Is this respecting human knowledge? That's my question, which is neither a sin nor an attitude that merits excommunication.
But do you agree that the homosexual act is a sin?
No. That two people of the same sex, who are intimate, are freely giving pleasure to one another and perhaps even expressing love...what about that would be a sin? A sin is a loveless act. And lovelessness isn't present in a homosexual relationship.
Do you personally consider yourself gay or as having homosexual tendencies?
No. I'm heterosexual. I entered the seminary at 27. I didn't enter as a virgin; I'd had relationships before. My sexuality is well resolved and my priestly vocation too. I sense a truly Christian attitude in my stance on homosexuals and bisexuals.
I could be in my comfort zone as a heterosexual and let gays and bisexuals deal with their lives. But no. I have heard many confessions for 14 years from people -- men and women -- who are homosexuals and are experiencing very great anxiety.
There's a lot of talk about a "gay lobby" in the Church. In your experience, how extensive is homosexuality and how much power do gays have in the Church?
The gay lobby exists, but it isn't for the Church to accept homosexuals. It's a power struggle and the gays within the Church are much more homophobic than the heterosexuals, incredible as it may seem. They're more conservative; they're struggling for power. A power that's more focused on aesthetics, on positions.
They're mostly people who entered the priesthood fleeing their sexuality and they've ended up living out their sexuality in an almost schizophrenic way within the Church hierarchy.
The Pope also said that he shares the Church's position against gay marriage and the right to abortion, and he opposed the liberalization of drug [laws]. Is he a progressive or conservative pope?
I would say he's a progressive pope, but moderate.