Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One year of excommunication: Padre Beto looks back

By Padre Beto (em português -- English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 29, 2014

Today, April 29, 2014, marks the one year anniversary of my excommunication from the Catholic Church after refusing to remove my reflections on the sexual morality of the Church from the Internet or apologize for having made these reflections.

It seems paradoxical, but it isn't -- my refusal to retract the material from the Internet or ask forgiveness for having reflected freely, was confirmed during this year as purely consistent with the Christian faith and with my mission as a priest.

During this year it became very clear to me that not apologizing meant saying "NO" to the Church's lack of reflection. It meant defending the fundamental dignity of human beings -- the possibility to reflect and the freedom to publicly express one's thoughts.

During this year it became clear that not apologizing meant that being a priest is not being a laborer in an institution but being someone who has the obligation to live the criteria preached and lived out by Jesus Christ -- love of God and love of neighbor.

During this year it became clear that the refusal to apologize was taking responsibility for bringing love of neighbor up to date. After all, how can I love my neighbor while demanding that homosexuals, lesbians, and transsexuals live as celibates? How can I love my neighbor without understanding that his or her sexuality is a Blessing from God and that its non-acceptance is an illness of a society that just doesn't reflect on, doesn't study, and doesn't want to understand human nature?

In a year of excommunication, it became clearer to me how Christian denominations need a more lucid interpretation of the Bible and, in particular, need to understand that the biblical text contains not only the Word of God, but also Stoic, Jewish, and Hellenistic worldviews typical of antiquity, a time in which men and women didn't know human nature and sexuality as we know them today.

During this year as an excommunicated person, the danger of religions forming people with dogmatic and fundamentalist minds, minds that reproduce this way of thinking in other sectors such as politics, society and the media, became clear.

The importance of deepening the dialogue between faith and sexuality became clear to me. Mainly at those times when I was with LGBT groups (such as, for example, when I received the Prêmio Rio Sem Preconceito). I could see more clearly the violence and deaths caused by homophobia.

Today, after a year, I feel I'm more a priest than ever. I could have been trying to start a family, developing particular projects, or even affiliating with some political party to run in the elections this year (invitations weren't lacking). But instead of taking some other path, I've remained a priest and I feel called to be a priest. I remain a priest with the obligation to spread the message of an all-loving God who wants the maturity and happiness of all humankind.

I still have a lawsuit in common court against the Diocese of Bauru. Not for revenge, but because I believe that my excommunication was an unjust and hasty act which infringed the right to respond that must exist in any trial process. I'm continuing the lawsuit because what is right must be done. Just as Pope Francis went to the hotel the day after his nomination to pay for his lodging, so must justice be done. The institutional Church needs to understand that you can't treat people as disposable objects when they become "inconvenient".

This year of excommunication was a year of learning about human nature, about our humanity, especially in moments of encounter with the LGBT community.

After a year of excommunication, I'm still happy to be able to do something so that our society becomes more humane. I'm still glad to see my latest book, Verdades Proibidas ("Forbidden Truths"), being read and commented upon. I'm still happy to be invited to celebrate people's weddings. I'm still being called to celebrate people's funerals. Finally, I'm continuing with my mission to be with people in their joyful and sad moments.

Photo: Padre Beto receiving the Prêmio Rio Sem Preconceito for his work on behalf of Brazil's LGBT community

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