Gay and Catholic in Brazil

Filmmaker Marcos Moura on the documentary “Rio de Fé”, which he co-directed with acclaimed Brazilian director Carlos Diegues


The recent documentary, “Rio de Fé(Rio of Faith), directed by the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Carlos Diegues tracks the World Youth Day that took place in Rio de Janeiro last July. Based on the stories of pilgrims, volunteers and the speeches of Pope Francis, the film reflects on religious tolerance and intolerance in a changing church.

For example, the film tracks the experience of gay Catholics in Brazil during the Pope’s visit. For example, the “Beijaço Gay” (gay kissing protest) held in the central Flamengo neighborhood, was a key moment for members and supporters of the LGBT community to gather and raise their concerns about some of the positions of the Catholic Church.

The film shows the work of gays from the “Catholic Diversity” group, which unites young people seeking to discuss and reflect on what it means to profess a gay identity in a religious space.

LGBT Protests During the Pope’s Visit

Is the Church ready to change its attitude towards the gay community?

During his first trip, the newly elected Pope Francis choose an informal venue, inside the plane, to speak on the issue of gays who have historically been discriminated against as “sodomites” within the  Catholic church.

Eschewing the traditional formality of the papacy, he surprised everybody using the word “gay”, which already reflects an important indication about the change in dialogue. Almost as important as anything he said was how he said it. Abandoning the term “sodomite” represented a breakthrough in the dialogue between the church and gay Catholics.

The change in communication could also be observed in the preparation of the third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will be held in October 2014.

To guide the discussions on the theme of “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization”, the Pope launched a questionnaire with 38 questions for the church and bishops of various parts of the world. One section of the questionnaire deals with unions of persons of the same sex. There were four straightforward and objective questions on the issue:

A) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

B) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

C) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?

D) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

RDF30_Peregrinos do Ônibus de Natal

Can you be catholic while being gay?

Like it or not, there are many gay Catholics.

The film argues that, while we cannot equate faith and sexual orientation, we need to realize that just as we do not choose our sexual orientation, we also often cannot explain, justify or choose our faith. In the case of the Catholic Church, for reasons of ritual and tradition, many Brazilian become Catholics at a very young age, through baptism, long before we have formed our sexual awareness.

In this sense we develop and experience our faith first and then realize our sexual orientation later in life. This can be perceived when we do a simple exercise to analyze the keywords:      “faith + sexual orientation = catholic gays” and “sexual orientation + faith = gay Catholics” the latter being the more common expression for euphonious reasons, although the former is more accurate.

Religious persecution 

Gay Catholics have always routinely suffered from religious persecution, causing many young people to use social masks to hide or preserve their own identities. The young people entering Catholic Diversity are well aware of the bullying which some young people have to endure, whether by church members or by Priests.

This has led to gay Catholics exchanging information about which congregations are most welcoming to gay audiences, causing some young people to attend churches distant from their neighborhoods just to avoid harassment.

The attitude shift that gay Catholics have long hoped for from the Church had been slow in arriving until the Pope recognized the importance of the laity, as they are indeed the church. Pope Francis seems to suggest that he is willing to break with conservative segments of the church to give it back to the faithful.

The Pope has already challenged notion of the “traditional family” in his recent blessing of Paraguay women took on the role of head of the family after 19th century war in Paraguay, when there were eight women for every man.

As the Pope confirmed, this did not have negative consequents for family values. If the Pope can publicly accept different models of a family, this would undercut the historic argument against gays in the church: that they are a threat to the traditional family.

Finally, given that the documentary is an official product of the church, it reflects an openness for a new discussion that the church intends to pursue. Since assuming the papacy in March 2013, Pope Francis has shown that he is willing to take on challenges in search of a culture of understanding.


Also by Marcos
Rio of Faith
Class Dismissed: Brazilian Police Abandon Protocol During Teachers’ Protests

See also: Gay Rights in Latin America: Francis Called It

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