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Brazil bishops grapple with court ruling prohibiting homophobia


FotoRua | NurPhoto | AFP

John Burger - published on 06/26/19 - updated on 06/26/19

Catholic leaders warn of violations to religious freedom as legislature takes up issue.

The Supreme Court of Brazil ruled earlier this month that “homophobia” should be criminalized, and as the country waits for the legislature to act on that decision, bishops of the majority Catholic nation have cautioned authorities not to trample religious liberty.

“We hope the competent authorities recognize themselves as pilgrims in search of the truth and not as the owners of the truth,” Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, the president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (NCBB), said in an article published on the conference’s website. “Therefore, they will realize that the freedom of religion, secured by the Federal Constitution, presupposes the preservation of moral codes rooted in faith. This way, they will respect freedom of religion in judiciary decisions concerning the criminalization of homophobia.”

Bishop Oliveira said that the Catholic Church “has the duty of informing and guiding its followers on matrimony and family, according to the Christian perspective.” Such a mission cannot be considered as an offense against persons or groups, he said.

On June 13, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that actions based on “homophobia” should be, like racism, against the law. The court decision will be valid until Congress passes legislation to regulate the issue.

The Church does not “admit any kind of discrimination,” Oliveira affirmed. Rather, it upholds “the importance of the solidarity and respectful welcoming of every person.”

“It is always appropriate to reaffirm: the doctrine of the Catholic Faith does not spread violence, but cherishes a code of conduct engaged in the promotion of life, in all its stages, from conception to the decline with natural death.”

But as the Crux website points out, the Court decision acknowledges religious ministers’ right to “freely preach and publicize, through word, images or any other means, their thought,” provided that does not involve “hate speech, which is understood as the exteriorizations that encourage discrimination, hostility or violence against persons due to their sexual orientation or their gender identity.”

Some observers are wary, though, considering that Brazil’s high court has a track record of “judicial activism.”

“So in the future the Supreme Court’s decision may be interpreted in a different way. That’s why some churches feel insecure,” said Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, coordinator of the Center for Faith and Culture at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, in an interview with Crux.

Religious Freedom
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