Brazilian bishops discuss controversial text of ecumenical Lenten campaign

CFE2021_ImagemCNBB.jpg Poster for the Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign for Lent 2021. Credit: National Conference of Bishops of Brazil.

The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil has issued a statement to confront a wave of complaints over the inclusion of gender ideology and the almost null presence of Catholic concepts in the base text of the Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign for Lent 2021.

The Fraternity Campaign is a prominent Catholic fundraiser celebrated in Brazil during Lent; every five years it is carried out in conjunction with mainline ecclesial communities.

This year's campaign is entitled "Fraternity and dialogue: commitment of love", and the motto is a phrase from the Letter from Paul to the Ephesians: "Christ is our peace: he who made one of both peoples."

The controversy in social networks arose because the material for parish meditations during Lent includes a text that says: "another social group that suffers the consequences of systemic politics and violence and the creation of enemies is the LGBTQ+ population," and provides information on alleged violence against gay people.

The manual quotes the "Grupo Gay da Bahía," a homosexual lobby group, and claims that "193 LGBTQ+ were murdered in 2017."

"These homicides are the effects of hate speech, religious fundamentalism, voices against the recognition of the rights of LGBTQ+ populations and other persecuted and vulnerable groups," the text says.

After the storm of protests and calls to boycott the campaign, the CNBB released a statement claiming that "for 2021, as approved in our 2018 general assembly, the campaign was meant  to be ecumenical and, according to a custom since 2000, under the responsibility of the NCC," or National Council of Christian Churches.

"In the first meetings, the urgency to address these times of polarization and fanaticism was discerned and this chose the topic of dialogue, but the elaboration of the basic text was assigned to NCC."

"Consequently, the text followed the structure of NCC's thinking and work. Several meetings were held, the text went through the revision of the theological consultancy of NCC, a consultancy of members of various churches, reaching then what we have today. Therefore, it is not a text in the style of what would happen if it were prepared by the CNBB commission, since we have two different theological understandings, although around the same ideal of serving Jesus Christ," the CNBB statement says.

The text of this year "must be understood in this way, as it was in the fraternity campaigns carried out in an ecumenical way," they added.

To answer the problem of gender ideology, the bishops cite page 673 of the Lexicon of ambiguous and disputed terms on families, life and ethical issues, of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The bishops affirm in this regard that "Catholic doctrine on gender issues affirms that 'gender is the transcendent dimension of human sexuality, compatible with all levels of the human person, among which are the body, mind, spirit, the soul. Gender is therefore malleable and is subject to internal and external influences to the human person, but it must obey the natural order predisposed by the body.'"

Several lay Catholics questioned the wisdom of the CNBB in releasing the material for the campaign, especially when the significance of mainline ecclesial communities in Brazil is negligible and the brunt of the collection depends on the hundreds of thousands of Catholic parishes in the country.

Bruno Braga questioned the response of the bishops and said on his Facebook account that the episcopal note tries to defend "a campaign evidently incompatible with the Catholic faith that does not justify the absurdities committed in the name of a false ecumenism."

Braga explains that the note speaks of the responsibility of the NCC in the text that will be "distributed and worked in parishes and churches throughout the country," but does not mention that "who coordinated the preparation of the text is the pro-abortion pastor Romi Bencke."

Bencke is a Lutheran pastor who supports abortion and same sex marriage, and was heavily involved in drafting the text for the campaign.

The Dom Bosco Center also published a video explaining Bencke's pro-abortion, feminist, and pro-gender ideology stance.

"The problem is that there is no space to talk about sexual and reproductive rights for women. People know these issues are very difficult, an abortion for example," says Bencke in the video made available by the Don Bosco group.

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The video also shows Catholic priest Oscar Beozzo, a well-known liberation theologian in Brazil, who considers Bencke to be "the soul" of the 2021 ecumenical Fraternity Campaign.

"In a sense, the 2021 Fraternity Campaign pretends to be like something like a Socialist Worker's Party or the Democratic Party infiltrating the Catholic Church. The doctrine of these organizations is fully replicated in a document prepared to be executed in all the Brazilian dioceses. That must be an alarming sign for us," the group said in a video released Feb. 5.

"The campaigns of Fraternity are carried out during Lent until Palm Sunday, it is a time of penance, prayer and conversion. It is a very important time to reflect upon our lives," the Don Bosco group also said.

The video also indicates that the words Mary, Saint Joseph or the sacraments are not found in the text, and Pope Francis is mentioned only once to make a reference to caring for the environment.

Braga also said that "the 2021 Fraternity Campaign is an aberration and should be abandoned immediately."

Braga also argued that the money collected annually on Palm Sunday is used in "causes that would not be consistent with Catholic doctrine" and asked Catholics not to contribute to it. The campaign raises annually the equivalent to $700,000.

But in their statement, the Brazilian bishops argue that the money will not be spent in projects that are inconsistent with Catholic teachings.

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"From the beginning of the 2021 Fraternity Campaign, we have informed the NCC about the difficulty and even the impossibility of working together in the structure of the Fraternity Campaign, unlike previous ecumenical campaigns. On this point, based on the last campaigns, that of 2016, this presidency (of the CNBB) has already expressed the difficulties and, in a spirit of communion and co-responsibility, will discuss the matter in a future meeting and the conclusion will be reported immediately," concludes the bishops' statement.

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