SÃO PAULO – Although ministry to the LGBT Catholic community in the United States is common, in Brazil it still exists largely in the shadows.

Most LGBT Catholic groups lead a parallel existence with the Church, although in 2014 a network of 23 such groups was formed in the country.

Although this puts Brazil’s Catholic LGBT movement decades behind the United States, the network is still a fairly rapid development: The oldest LGBT association, Diversidade Católica [Catholic Diversity] was only created in Rio de Janeiro in 2006.

A handful of diversity pastoral care commissions also have been established in connection to dioceses in the same period, including in Nova Iguaçu, in Rio de Janeiro State, where it was officially created in 2017.

Except for such pastoral commissions, most of the other groups don’t hold their meetings in parishes or in other Church-owned spaces, preferring instead to gather in independent locations.

Several of them opt to not publicly announcing the encounters, in order to avoid attracting undesirable attention, with potential attendees being interviewed before receiving information on meetings.

“Politically, it’s a very sensitive moment concerning possible relations between us and the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil [CNBB]. The CNBB is under much pressure from ultraconservatives, who are strongly aligned with President Jair Bolsonaro and his anti-human rights agenda,” said Cris Serra, the network’s coordinator.

Indeed, the LGBT movement has turned out to be one of the main targets of Bolsonaro’s supporters, including in the Catholic sphere.

In May 2019, shortly after the Archbishop of Belo Horizonte Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo was elected the new president of the CNBB, a Bolsonarist YouTuber released a video attacking him due to the existence of a pastoral care commission for diversity in his archdiocese.

Azevedo denied the group was for LGBT Catholics in Belo Horizonte, saying it was a pastoral service for families with relationship problems.

Serra, who is a psychologist and identifies as a non-binary person, claimed the Catholic right-wing in Brazil currently has a great power to mobilize people and to exert financial pressure on the Church.

Despite such difficulties, most LGBT groups are accompanied by at least one priest.

“We have a network of allied priests, as we call them. Most of them are members of religious congregations, so they don’t suffer too much pressure from the diocese,” Serra said. Jesuits and Redemptorists have been the most helpful congregations.

Most meetings involve group discussions followed by a Mass, with many priests saying it’s common that some participants break into tears as they feel embraced by a Catholic community again.

“In the church, we’re commonly silenced and demonized. Some of us are physically assaulted during exorcisms and other similar practices,” Serra said.

João Victor Oliveira, a Catholic historian who investigates the trajectories of young LGBT Catholics, says the effects of such actions can be long lasting.

“Most of us have profound scars. Extremely violent processes have shaped our subjectivities in the Church. It’s common to have deep resentment and to believe forever that we’re naturally sinful,” he told Crux.

One of the network’s concerns is to offer a safe space for the participants.

“Nobody is able to identify as a Catholic LGBT individual without a safety network. That’s why so many groups have been formed,” Oliveira explained.

Such a safety network not only includes LGBT people, but also their parents. In Curitiba, in Paraná State, Silvia Kreuz and other parents of LGBT Catholics created a few years ago a group called Mães de Amor Incondicional [Mothers of Unconditional Love], known as MAMI.

Kreuz and a friend were catechists in a parish and their children came out as homosexuals at the same time.

“We suffered an enormous rejection from the community,” she told Crux, adding she was forced to leave her community.

One day, she decided to hold a meeting with other mothers of homosexual sons and daughters.

“One of the participants didn’t accept her lesbian daughter. After much talk, she finally changed her mind,” she said. That’s how MAMI began.

The archdiocese of Curitiba promptly accepted and encouraged MAMI’s work. A year earlier, it had established a group of pastoral assistance to LGBT people.

Soon, Kreuz was being invited to talk about her experience in parishes and to ecclesiastical groups across the country.

“There are many conservative movements trying to question our work, but what I see is an institution eager for answers,” she said.

Kreuz said the success of a group like MAMI in a diocese is affected by the amount of institutional support it receives.

Oliveira said that since a more sympathetic stance is not possible among Catholic leaders in Brazil, many Catholic LGBT groups have been allied with other Christian movements.

“We’re nurtured by marginal theologies of different kinds. Ecumenism is one of the basic characteristics of our groups’ ideas,” Oliveira said.

“We’re not much concerned with justifying our positions or asking the Church’s permission to get in. We know we’re God’s beloved sons and daughters and that we’re Christ’s followers,” Serra added.