SÃO PAULO – After nine years of activity, a network of LGBTQ Catholic groups in Brazil is going through a process of institutionalization, with direct participation in lay movements and a growing number of clergy members giving support.

While the atmosphere it has found in the Church has been mostly one of openness and dialogue, which leaders attribute to to Pope Francis’s message concerning the need to welcome everybody, it has faced greater resistance when it comes to Brazilian society and politics.

In a public letter released after its fourth national encounter, organized earlier this month in the city of Fortaleza, the Catholic network denounced “fundamentalist groups of Christian base in the Brazilian Congress” that have been acting to curtail LGBTQ rights.

The so-called “Christian bloc,” mostly formed by politicians connected to Evangelical churches, has been pushing for the approval in Congress of a bill to impede same-sex marriage in Brazil.

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage as constitutional in 2011 and since then an estimated 80,000 unions have become official.

“If that bill passes the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the Supreme Court will certainly declare it unconstitutional. But it will cause a political effect in society,” said Luis Fernando Rabello, who heads the Catholic network of LGBTQ groups.

Rising conservatism in Brazil over the past few years, when former President Jair Bolsonaro galvanized support among traditionalist Catholics and Evangelical churches, is seen by Rabello as one of the causes of what he described as intolerance LGBTQ people are suffering in the country.

“That process also resonates in the Church, with conservative groups that have a rather anti-LGBTQ attitude,” he said.

Ahead of its recent assembly in Fortaleza, the network did not publicly announce the location in order to avoid potential protests by anti-LGBTQ groups, a precaution commonly taken in recent years.

Inside the Church, however, network leaders say that have been receiving more attention from the episcopate and from lay movements, and significant steps were recently taken to further integrate it to ecclesial life.

The network currently has 23 groups in 10 Brazilian states and two on-line clusters that gather participants who cannot attend in-person meetings. Although those groups are not part of the local diocesan lay councils, the network became a member of the national lay council in August of 2022.

“There are conservative groups in the national lay council, but none of them opposed their admittance. Their affiliation was unanimously approved,” said Marcio Oliveira, the lay council’s secretary.

In his opinion, the pontiff’s continuous campaign for an “open Church, one that can reach the geographical and existential peripheries,” created an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance.

“I think those traditionalist groups avoid directly contradicting the pope’s word,” Oliveira said.

As a member of the lay council, the LGBTQ network has been able to take part in important encounters of the Brazilian Church, including the South American phase of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality in March.

“We have been pretty excited about the synod, and want to give our collaboration to it if possible,” Rabello said.

In August, the network had a meeting with the heads of the Bishops’ Conference in Brasilia, the first one in the movement’s history.

“It was a very positive encounter. They were able to know who we are. At times, people may have the impression that we want to promote a rupture. But it was clear for the episcopate that we are part of the Church and want to walk along it in the synodal path,” Rabello said.

Potential next steps, including the creation of a bishops’ conference commission to accompany the LGBTQ network, were discussed in the meeting.

For the future, Rabello hopes that the network will keep building partnerships with other ecclesial organizations and that new groups are formed.

Oliveira said local clusters will be able to integrate the diocesan councils and consolidate their local ecclesial participation. In that process, more and more LGBTQ Catholics may get involved in the network and resume Church life, he added.

“I think the network will keep advancing, there is no way around it. There will be clashes with opposing groups, they are inevitable, but it will keep growing,” he said.