By Jennifer Ann Thomas
SAO PAOLO, Feb 17 (Openly) - A group of major Brazilian churches came under fire for supporting LGBT+ people for the first time in an annual Lent fundraising campaign that launched on Wednesday, in which they said homophobia leads to murder.
Every year the Brazilian Bishops' Conference (CNBB) kicks off a Fraternity Campaign on Ash Wednesday, with a message from Pope Francis this year urging people "to overcome divisions and unite around life" with Brazil's COVID-19 death toll at 240,000.
A declaration from the Fraternity Campaign added that pushback against LGBT+ rights was also causing deaths, with about 420 LGBT+ people killed in 2018 in Brazil, while rates of violence were also high against Black and indigenous people and women.
"These homicides are caused by hate speech, by religious fundamentalism, by (the) voices (of those) against recognising the rights of the LGBTQI+ population," said the declaration that was posted online.
The declaration, officially launched on Wednesday, sparked a backlash from conservative senior Catholic leaders, with some refusing to use the fundraising campaign material and unveiling plans to instead divert donations to their own programmes.
About 80% of Brazil's 210 million people are Christians - mostly Catholics and Evangelicals - and churches have tended to criticise LGBT+ rights while President Jair Bolsonaro is known for making homophobic remarks.
"Special moments, such as Lent, are not the time to discuss controversial topics and those against the authentic doctrine of our church," said Fernando Guimaraes, the Archbishop of the Military Archdiocese which ministers to Brazil's armed forces.
Guimaraes did not directly mention the LGBT+ elements of the fundraiser in the letter he wrote to CNBB, the highest Catholic body in the country, which usually leads the campaign.
Every five years, including this year, the campaign includes other Christian denominations, including Baptists and Anglicans, and is coordinated by the National Council of Christian Churches (CONIC), a national, non-denominational body.
The CNBB said in a statement in response to criticism of the declaration that it still adheres to traditional Catholic thought on gender and the declaration would have had a different style if it alone had been writing it.
"Words were chosen and taken out of context," Eliel Batista, an Evangelical minister and member of the CONIC committee who wrote the Fraternity Campaign declaration, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"With these attitudes, these groups prove that everything we are talking about is correct," he said, noting that its opponents had singled out the mention of LGBT+ people.
The CNBB's campaign in 2019 raised about 3 million reais ($555,000), with 60% going to Catholic dioceses and 40% to a national CNBB fund for social causes.
LGBT+ advocates welcomed the churches' support.
"Everyone should be welcomed without any discrimination," said Toni Reis, the president of the National LGBTI+ Alliance, who is Catholic. "After all, we are all brothers and sisters, whether we're gay, lesbians or trans."
($1 = 5.4057 reais) (Reporting by Jennifer Ann Thomas; Additional reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Rachel Savage and Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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