The next transgender, lesbian or gay person who is godmother or godfather to a baby baptized in a Catholic parish or cathedral somewhere in the world may not know the process through which they will assume this responsibility is known. What was crucial to the Church of Rome began in Brazil in the office of a bishop in São Paulo. Specifically, with a letter with six questions to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by José Negri, head of the diocese of Santo Amaro, in the southern part of Latin America's most populous city. The Holy See, which received the letter on July 14, responded almost four months later with a decision signed by Pope Francis. The news broke in early November. In short, transgender believers can be baptized, but this is not a right and requires avoiding uncertainty among believers or a public scandal. And the children of a homosexual couple can receive the same sacrament, provided there is a reasonable hope that they will be raised in the Catholic faith. Both can be witnesses.
The six questions were asked clearly and directly by Bishop Negri. First: “Can a transgender person be baptized?” Or the fourth: “Can two homosexual people act as parents of a child who needs to be baptized and who was adopted or conceived in another way, such as through surrogacy?” The panel's answer , which deals with the doctrinal and theological issues of the Church – the ancient Inquisition – was also concise: three pages, including several footnotes. The Brazilian prelate declined this newspaper's request for an interview about the consultation and its consequences.
The decision on whether gay and transgender Catholics should be allowed to receive certain sacraments drew less attention than another ruling signed by the pope (unrelated to Negri), announced in December, which delved more deeply into his policy of opening up the institution deals. The Vatican approved the blessing of homosexual couples, although this did not mean that it would be equated with marriage. The decision has even led to a small rebellion among clergy in Peru.
The diocesan prelate, known here as Dom José, was born Giuseppe in Milan (Italy) but has lived in Brazil since he was 20. He has a degree in psychology from the Gregorian University of Rome. He has a slight Italian accent, is 64 years old and has 132,000 followers on Instagram, almost ten times more than the diocese he leads. There is no reference to the matter in the publications surrounding the day last November when the Vatican announced the news in response to your consultation.
But like Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Negri is in favor of the Catholic hierarchy “listening to the peripheries,” be it urban, social or economic. He was previously bishop in Blumenau, in whitest Brazil, a country colonized by German immigrants who preserve the language and even celebrate Oktoberfest. A few years ago he headed the Child Protection Commission of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. He then promised that the church would firmly address sexual abuse within its church.
The bishop of Santo Amaro “belongs to the most conservative spectrum” of the church in Brazil and “is prudent as a bishop,” explains Paulo Ricardo of the Instituto de Estudos da Religião. The diocese he leads, with around two million Catholics, owes its fame primarily to Father Marcelo Rossi of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, which was a true mass phenomenon in the 1990s thanks to its albums, a Latin American Grammy, show masses and other modern methods of evangelization.
That this consultation on gays and transsexuals reached the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith precisely from Brazil is not so surprising, considering that this is one of the countries where the Catholic Church has the largest number of believers, although this group is becoming increasingly smaller the huge advance of the evangelicals. Gay marriage has been legal for more than a decade. It has been 15 years since public health performed the first gender reassignment surgery. And although it is the country where the most transsexual people are murdered (among those who prosecute these crimes), at the same time they are present in many areas and their visibility is enormous. Two trans representatives sit in Congress and two more in state legislatures.
Bishop José Negri (right), last Wednesday. Diocese of Santo Amaro
Luis Rabello, 35, executive director of the Brazilian Network of LGTBI Catholic Groups, welcomes these changes introduced by Pope Francis because “they serve to give visibility to a group” that “has always existed in the Church, whether as Believers or as a serving group. “Catechists.” He is glad that the Vatican has finally adopted rules to solve problems that were previously treated individually. On the phone from Brasilia, he recalls a case from a few years ago: a transsexual woman who had undergone gender reassignment surgery requested that her dead name – her birth name – be replaced by the new one on her baptism certificate. He got his wish. It happened in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil.
The representative of Brazil's LGTBI Catholic faithful claims that Bishop Negri's consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responds to a social demand. “LGTBI people demand more space in the Church, they demand respect,” a trend that, as he explains, has increased in recent years with social changes and with the hope that the current pontiff's gestures have generated in the group Rabello, who he says has increased, has received transsexuals in the Holy See. This, a civil servant by profession, considers the Vatican's recent decisions to be “very important in order to train priests, bishops…” within the Church.
In Brazil, there are around twenty LGTBI Catholic groups in ten states that meet in person, as well as other virtual groups, including one for non-binary people. According to Rabello, a priest from the diocese of Santo Amaro, Father Negri's, monitors these groups.
Pope Francis has a very special place in the hearts of Brazilian LGTBI Catholics for the response he gave to a Brazilian journalist on the flight back from his visit to Brazil in 2013. “Francis spoke about gays for the first time. “The first pope to utter the word ‘gay’!” remembers Rabello. A revolution in an institution with two millennia of history. This gesture and others that followed encouraged believers in this group to seek further information. And to advise in their parishes about baptism, marriage, sponsorship, sponsorship at baptism or wedding.
Last October, during an interview with another priest – both wearing collars – during the so-called diocesan youth meeting, Prelate Negri shared a little about his childhood. He remembered his grandmother introducing him to church and teaching him the rosary (which she recited in Latin). “My ideal was to become an altar boy, but Jesus wanted something different,” he explained. The motto of this youth meeting sounded provocative: “You have seduced me, my Lord, and I have allowed myself to be seduced.” Bishop Negri took the opportunity to announce that he would organize a large event “to evangelize on a mass scale, in schools, in subway stations, at bus stops, at universities…”. The battle between Catholics and Evangelicals for the souls of more than 200 million Brazilians is bitter.
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