Sex Battles Religion in Catholic Brazil


BUENOS AIRES, Jul 11: Brazil may be the largest Roman Catholic country in the world, but its image is marked by its beaches and Carnival much more than by its approach to religion.

Indeed, the effortless yet self-aware sexiness of 'The Girl from Ipanema' and the voluptuous women who frantically dance samba on Carnival floats are world-famous symbols of the South American giant - in which an estimated 135 million people consider themselves Catholic.

Most Brazilians live happily with the dichotomy of a strong faith and a prominent presence for sexuality. However, tension has been rife between Brazilian authorities - particularly under the current left-wing, socially-progressive government - and Roman Catholic officials over issues like abortion, contraception and homosexuality, among others.

The country's constitution establishes the separation of church and state; even if about 74% of the total population says they are Catholic. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the country in May 2007, he made scathing comments on abortion even before he landed. But Brazilian health minister Jose Gomes Temporao was quick to put him back in what the government considers to be his place.

"Debate in the field of philosophy, ethics, religion, in the field of morals is legitimate, but the minister has to focus on the field of public health," said Gomez Temporao.

Brazilian law currently allows abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, but only when there is a danger to the mother's life or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. Violations to the current law can be punished with up to three years in prison. But abortion is not the only point that has seen Lula at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.

The state is also set to begin paying for sex-change operations. Brazil's Medicine council approved sex-change operations in the 1990s. In 2008, the Church complained about the free handout of 19.5 million condoms over Carnival, and Temporao stressed that the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases "is a public health problem, not a religious problem".

Despite Carnival's Christian background, Brazilians are keen to keep religion separate from Carnival, and from sex throughout the year. Lula's government, in turn, is not up to letting the Vatican determine its policies.


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