SÃO PAULO – A Mass in memory of murdered members of the LGBT community has spurred controversy in Brazil.

While LGBT Catholic movements hailed the event as a sign of support to their cause, Traditionalists criticized what they said was as political act against the doctrine of the Church.

The Mass was celebrated on May 21 by the Archbishop of Salvador, Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, and had been requested by two local LGBT rights organizations, the Center for Advocacy and Defense of the LGBT Rights in Bahia State (CPDD/LGBT) and the Beneficent Institution Conceição Macedo (IBCM).

Statistics released by national and international institutions have traditionally put Brazil at the top of the list of nations with the highest number of transgender people being murdered. In 2020, 175 transgender men and women were murdered in the South American country.

According to Renildo Barbosa, CPDD/LGBT’s director, the Archdiocese of Salvador promptly responded to the request for a Mass in for those of murdered members of the LGBT community.

“We saw it as a gesture of love and greeting from the Church. A lot of LGBT people believe in Christ and love the Catholic Church. A bridge has been built,” Barbosa told Crux.

Members of the LGBT community and spiritual leaders from other religions attended the Mass. Dressed in drag, the CPDD/LGBT’s communications officer sang a popular Brazilian version of Ave Maria.

In his homily, da Rocha remembered the large number of LGBT people killed in Brazil in 2020, especially in the Northeast region, where Bahia State is located.

“The Church is called to be a merciful mother; it suffers with the violence perpetrated against the people. […] Violence against the LGBTI+ population is a sad signal of a society which is used to constant violations of life, of dignity, of the rights of so many victims of brutal death,” the cardinal said.

He emphasized that no form of violence can be tolerated and that Brazilians “cannot get used to so many violent deaths, as if they were normal or inevitable.”

The Network of LGBT Catholic Groups said they were surprised by the Mass.

“We didn’t expect anything like that. The importance of a high episcopal authority accepting to celebrate a Mass for the victims of LGBTphobia is undeniable,” Cris Serra, the network’s coordinator, told Crux.

Serra stressed the fact that da Rocha used the abbreviation “LGBTI+”, and not the generic term “homosexual” more commonly employed by Church officials.

“When Cardinal da Rocha – the Primate of Brazil – said ‘LGBTI+’, he refused to condone the erasure of the people that we are and to repeat the Church’s rejection to listening to us and to recognizing the legitimacy of our experience and of what we have to say about ourselves,” Serra said.

The moment in time that da Rocha chose to do the celebration was also important, Serra added, considering that a few weeks earlier some parishes in Germany blessed same-sex unions as a reaction to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent statement banning the practice.

“In the Catholic world of the Global North, there has been a noisy reaction to the statement, while here in Latin America the silence has been scandalous. So, it’s noteworthy that Cardinal da Rocha decided to express his stance like that,” Serra said.

For some conservative Catholics, the Mass in Salvador was based on propaganda.

The Dom Bosco Center, a Traditionalist Catholic lay association, criticized the liturgy. In a video posted on social media, Álvaro Mendes Jr., a member of the group, said that the data on murders of transgender people is unreliable.

“We obviously can’t believe that heterosexuals are out on the street killing homosexuals only for their orientation. What happens is always something else: A member of a couple kills the other, or the fact that violence in Brazil is high and a homosexual can be killed during a robbery, something that also happens to heterosexuals,” he claimed.

Mendes argued that the Mass in Salvador follows the same path of the German movement.

“What have the heretics been doing? Mainly two things: Destroying priesthood through the end of celibacy and destroying family,” he said. The loosening of sexual morality is part of the process, he added.

The Traditionalist Catholic website Fratres in Unum called the Mass as an event for “the ostentation and naturalization of homosexuality.”

“What’s happening to cardinals? Are those orders coming from above? What’s brewing? What will be the apex of all that? The election of an openly homosexual Pope?” the website rhetorically asked.

The article also questioned the statistical information on the killings of transgender people in Brazil and highlighted the fact that the cardinal didn’t take part in the distribution of Communion, leaving it to his co-celebrants “possibly in order to avoid pictures.”

Father Lázaro Muniz, one of the organizers of the celebration, denied that the Archdiocese of Salvador had any political motivated when it decided to celebrate the Mass.

“It wasn’t our initiative, but we welcomed it. Cardinal da Rocha accepted the request because the idea was to pray for the deceased, people who were killed due to LGBTphobia. That doesn’t change the Church’s point of view concerning that matter,” he told Crux.

Muniz added that the Church will always keep inviting people to conversion when it comes to homosexuality.

“But the Church has always been side by side with the oppressed and the marginalized,” he said.

Muniz also emphasized that the Church has always prayed for the dead.

“Maybe some people will think that now the Church is celebrating Masses for the LGBT, but we’ve always prayed for everybody who had been violently killed and for all deceased,” the priest said.

The archdiocese knew that there would be critics, both among the LGBT community and Traditionalist Catholics, he said. “But the cardinal focused on the spiritual good for the people,” Muniz told Crux.