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:: Foreword [read this content also in Spanish]
Francis the First and the politics of sexuality in Latin America
Before March, 2103 — when the Argentinean Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope — we began discussing the content of the SPW Newsletter No 13 and raised the possibility of focusing on the papal visit scheduled for the World Youth Day in July in Rio de Janeiro. This choice was not accidental as, in 2007, when Ratzinger made his first visit to the country, SPW in partnership with Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights (CLAM) published a thorough analyses of the Brazilian sexual and reproductive rights landscape and of the potential negative impact on its future unfolding (read the working paper The Pope’s visit to Brazil: context and effects).
Since 2007 — although the Brazilian Supreme Court decisions, in 2011 and 2012, have granted the rights to same sex civil unions and abortion in the case of anencephaly –the country has witnessed flagrant regressions in sexual and reproductive politics, as dogmatic religious forces, mostly Evangelical but also Catholic, have gained increased influence on policy processes (click here to read more) . In early 2013, the most glaring illustration of these backlashes was the election of the Pastor Congressman Marco Feliciano for the presidency of the House Committee on Human Rights and Minorities in February. The new legislature has also brought an expedited processing of pending law provisions such as the ones on the “gay cure” and on the “statute of the unborn”, not to mention the proposal of a parliamentarian inquiry commission on the international funding for abortion rights in Brazil.
This Congressional dynamic, though pushed by the Evangelical, group obviously also had the support of conservative Catholic parliamentarians who may have wanted to please the Pope with the approval of these propositions. Furthermore, the pope’s presence in the country just a few months later would add waters to this mill of retrogressions. Yet, Ratzinger unexpectedly resigned in February, leading quite rapidly to the election of Bergoglio on March 13th . This unpredicted development led us to reframe the editorial approach to focus on the meanings and effects of the new papacy on the wider Latin American sexual and reproductive landscape, without losing sight, however, of the pope’s visit to Brasil, because if nothing else there are still organic links between the Pope’s visit and the potential effects between Bergoglio and the Brazilian Church hierarchy. For example, Monsignor Claudio Hummes –who had been the bishop of São Bernardo do Campo since the years when Lula emerged as a union leader and has close connections with PT members — was the person behind Francisco in the Vatican window when he came out to salute the crowd of the faithful.
To do this chartering we invited five SPW partners: Daniel Jones, Diana Maffia and Juan Marco Vaggione, from Argentina; Edgar Ruiz, from Mexico and Maria Jose Rosado, from Brazil (read the author’s profiles). We thank dearly all of them for their positive responses and generosity, as well as Le Monde Diplomatique Argentina for authorizing the re-publication of Vaggione’s article. Three of these authors are from Argentina because we consider it productive to have critical assessments of the new papacy made by analysts who are more closely acquainted with Bergoglio’s trajectory and political style. Edgar Ruiz, in his article provides a sweeping view of the new papacy from a wider Latin American perspective, and Maria Jose Rosado’s interview speaks more directly of the Brazilian context including concerns about the papal visit and its potential negative impacts.
This framework seemed solid enough when the production of the newsletter started in May. Nevertheless as we entered the final editing stage the live worlds of both the Church and Brazil politics proved once again to be unpredictable. A new financial scandal erupted in the Vatican Bank indicating that — as suggested, by various analysts since Bergoglio was elected — if Francis is really committed to structurally transforming the Church he will have to challenge the deeply entrenched power of the Curia and its nefarious ramifications (read more on this issue). Then, on July 1st the Vatican released the first Encyclical Letter signed by Francis titled The Light of Faith (Lumen Fides).
As reported by the press, Lumen Fides results from the joint work of Ratzinger and Bergoglio and revisits the theme of god’s love, previously addressed by Deus Caritas Est, the first letter issued, in 2005 right after Benedict XVI was enthroned. It is also a scholarly and complex text that requires a more thorough examination to be properly critiqued. But even with that caution in mind, a brief glance over its content confirms the views presented by the authors contributing to this Newsletter that — even if poverty may become more central in the Vatican discourses and practices — no substantive doctrinal changes are to be expected in respect to families, gender differences and reproduction. As shown in the passages quoted below, the Church’s position in relation to these matters remains firmly patriarchal, heteronormative and intrinsically informed by a an unshakable critique of modernity and its prospects regarding the well being of societies:
“I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, where by spouses can become one flesh (cf.Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan…Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood. ”
And, even, before these new Vatican events had happened, the political Brazilian scenario has drastically and unexpectedly changed. As protests mushroomed across the country making claims for lower urban transportation fares, better education and health public systems and raising sharp critiques of corruption and the tons of money being spent on the so called mega –events. This uprising has taken almost all analysts by surprise and caused the popularity of Dilma Roussef’s administration to plummet. While it is not possible to delve into the deeper layers of this unexpected insurrection of societial voices here, they decidedly express dissatisfaction with politics as it is and bring renewed re-distributive claims to the forefront (read about the Brazilian protests). But discomforts with the growing influence of dogmatic religious over Congressional negotiation and policy decisions and related regressions in regard to sexual and reproductive matters are also part of the plethora of calls that have spiraled in streets and on the internet since June. Photos of demonstrations easily show posters criticizing Feliciano elections and the gay cure and statute of the unborn law provisions in the midst of many other claims.
These unexpected shifts are not trivial from the point of view of the fore coming visit of Bergoglio because, though less visible than the outspoken Evangelicals, Catholic dogmatism is also a key factor beneath regressions underway in Brazilian sexual politics. Furthermore, the Youth World Day that brings Bergoglio to Rio has also been portrayed and appraised by authorities as another key moment in a string of big events scheduled to take place through 2016, which are now under open attack by crowds on the streets. Yet is it very difficult to predict how these trends and elements may or may not condense when Francis disembarks in Rio in a few weeks. This is so, firstly, because it is not wise to make predictions with regards to the Brazilian shaking grounds more broadly speaking. But also because a huge and powerful machinery – involving governmental institutions, the private sector and the Church infra-structure– is on place to avoid disturbances. Most importantly, bets are being made in many quarters that the visit of Bergoglio may eventually tame the roaring of the streets in respect to both youth disquieting and the re-distributive claims. It is worthwhile to remind that many other occasions in Brazilian history the Brazilian Catholic Church has played a crucial mediating role in the pacification of unruly politics. Let’s wait and see.
Co-coordinator of Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW)
:: Appearances should not deceive: Francis is Bergoglio
Read the interview with Maria José Rosado, coordinator of the Catholics for Free Choice (Brazil). In Maria José Rosado’s view, there are no signs that the Holy See will make any significant changes in the near future in relation to sexuality and reproduction because they are central issues in the Church doctrine. [Interview also available in Portuguese]
:: Bergoglio: an enemy of sexual rights
Read the article Bergoglio: an enemy of sexual rights, written by Edgar González Ruiz (Mexico), philosophy and journalist, on the new’s Pope conservatism views on sexual and reproductive issues.
[Article also available in Spanish]
:: What to say about the new pope and sexual and reproductive rights?
Read the article What to say about the new pope and sexual and reproductive rights?, written by Diana Maffía (Argentina), for the SPW Nesletter N.13, in which she points that the austerity policy and the global South visibility that pope Francis embodies does not at all imply any advancement in relation to sexual and reproductive rights in our region. Diana Maffía is currently the Academic Director of the the City Magistrates of Buenos Aires, where she directs the Gender Observatory and justice.
[Article also available in Spanish]
:: Pope Francisco and sexual and reproductive rights
Read the article Pope Francisco and sexual and reproductive rights, by Daniel Jones (Argentina), in which the social scientist says that Bergoglio’s election is a political opportunity for us to awake from the dreams of eminent secularization and to renew our political strategies.
[Article also available in Spanish]
:: The sexual limit for politics of what is possible
Read the article The sexual limit for a politics of what is possible, written by Juan Marco Vaggione (Argentina) and published originally at Le Monde Diplomatique, Argentinean edition (Issue No. 166 – April 2013). For the author, sexuality is not a marginal dimension of the fight against inequality but, on the contrary, it is one of the axes that determine its impact.
[Article also available in Spanish]
:: Read more at SPW website:
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