Pope Francis may clash on doctrine with young Brazilian Catholics

Thousands of young people gather Tuesday on Copacabana Beach for a World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro.
Thousands of young people gather Tuesday on Copacabana Beach for a World Youth Day Mass in Rio de Janeiro.
(Jorge Saenz / Associated Press)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- By all accounts, Pope Francis has already won over many hearts in Brazil with his simplicity and message of caring for the poor. But as he travels the country on his first overseas trip as pontiff, he will be speaking to a group of young Catholics who hold far more liberal views than the church hierarchy on a number of issues, including female priests, homosexuality and abortion.

After arriving in Rio to enormous crowds on Monday, the pope spent Tuesday resting and having private meetings at the Sumare residence where Pope John Paul stayed in 1980 and 1997. Thousands of young pilgrims filled a rainy Copacabana beach to attend a series of religious-themed concerts that were part of World Youth Day, which, despite the name, is a five-day event that began Tuesday and is ostensibly the reason for the pope’s visit to Brazil.

But the young people Francis encounters are not necessarily representative of young Catholics worldwide, and they hold some views that run sharply counter to those espoused by Francis and the Roman Catholic Church.

For instance, 82% of Brazilian Catholics ages 16 to 29 think they should be able to use the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, 72% support ending the celibacy requirement for priests, and 62% believe women should be candidates for ordination, according to a survey published Sunday by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics.

A majority of young respondents also opposed the criminalization of abortion (62%), and 56% said they accepted “union between people of the same sex,” using the language in Portuguese usually covering gay marriage and/or civil unions. Same-sex marriage was in effect legalized under a judicial ruling in Brazil this year.


The survey was done among 4,004 people across Brazil in May and June. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

“Getting married is a right that gay people should have and we shouldn’t be able to take it away from them, no matter what we think,” 19-year old Victoria Carvalho said just moments after she got a glimpse of the pope Monday. She said she attends Catholic Mass regularly but doesn’t agree with the church on all of its doctrines, such as those prohibiting the use of condoms.

“We’ve seen people go to other religions, for example [African-inspired] Candomble, because they’re more open to the 21st century,” she said.

Reflecting the views of Francis and the church leadership, pilgrims arriving in Rio this week received a packet of literature reinforcing Catholic doctrine. On homosexuality, for example, it says: “A child needs a father and a mother to grow,” and “Would our body lie to us? Adopting that theory means wanting a society based on an illusion.”

Leonardo Boff, a former Catholic priest and prominent theologian who clashed with the previous two popes over his support for left-leaning liberation theology, has enthusiastically welcomed Francis. He agreed, however, that the Brazil that Francis will see over the next several days will not be a place devoted to Catholic orthodoxy.

“Brazilians are profoundly religious. They see the presence of God in everything,” he said. “God isn’t an object of faith, but of experience.... But this doesn’t mean they are doctrinaire in their Catholicism. The vast majority don’t follow Catholic doctrine because they don’t know it well. Brazilians are cultural Catholics, not orthodox Catholics.”


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