Catholicism and political praxis: from dictatorship to the present



More than 150 archbishops, bishops and emeritus bishops, claiming to be "in deep communion with Pope Francis", accuse the government of being unethical and spreading an "anti-scientific discourse"

Liberation theology: essential characteristics

Liberation Theology is a theological current, with many facets, which was born in Latin America after the Medellin Conference in 1968. For her, reading the Bible shows that man's liberation is not exclusively spiritual, but requires a preferential option. by the poor. This theology also considers that the Human and Social Sciences are indispensable for the realization of this option, and some of its theorists give outstanding importance to Marxism.

Inspired by the interpretation of biblical texts, this theology gives centrality to the theme of Liberation, which will take place through divine action in History. Indeed, “The liberation of the oppressed is, nowadays, especially in the South American context, the reality of God's salvation present in the world. The liberation spoken of in scripture has historical and social consistency. Thanks to the action of God, man and society pass from a situation of dependence and slavery to independence and redemption, from the condition of domination to manumission and freedom” (CATÃO: 1986, p.66).

But the Catholic Church, under the conservative pontificate of John Paul II, condemned in 1984 and 1986 the main foundations of Liberation Theology, supposedly, for their exclusive emphasis on institutionalized, collective or systemic sin, on the elimination of religious transcendence, on the devaluation of the magisterium of the church and the encouragement of class struggle.

This condemnation weakened the influence of Liberation Theology, having been the main reason for its decline in the nineties. Nevertheless, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, it has been tacitly rehabilitated by Pope Francis. He put an end to the anathema that hit it, with the resumption, as we will see later, of the dialogue with some of the main exponents of the “classical” Liberation Theology, of Marxist inspiration.

Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) adheres to one of the highest modalities, Theology of the People, which rejects both the Marxist methodology and its categories of analysis (ARMATO: 2013). Thus, the various manifestations of Liberation Theology continue to influence the most progressive sectors of the church, as demonstrated by the positions of Pope Francis, but also that of significant sectors of the hierarchy, critics of capitalism.

The Catholic Church and Resistance to the Dictatorship

The Catholic Church enthusiastically supported the civil-military business coup of 1964. On the occasion, the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) praised the initiative of the military, thanking God and the military for having “stopped, without bloodshed, the accelerated march of communism” (FOLHA: 2014). The military coup was praised, even by the exponents of its hierarchy who were most notable by assuming courageous self-criticism, translated into their praxis of staunch opposition to the atrocities committed by the 1964 regime, and to the curtailment of democratic freedoms. This was the case, among others, of D. José Maria Pires, “Dom Pelé”, Archbishop of Paraíba, D. Helder Câmara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife and D. Paulo Evaristo, Cardinal-Archbishop of São Paulo.

Fifty years after the “1964 Revolution”, the CNBB, makes its my fault, acknowledging having committed a “historic error” in supporting the establishment of the military regime, whose “government methods did not respect the dignity of the human person and their rights” (FOLHA: 2014). limiting it to accusing her of supporting the military regime. This is a half-truth that, objectively, is worse than a lie, since it reveals a part of it, but leaves the other hidden. And, in this case, the most substantive: the vanguard role of leading church figures and lay movements in the mobilization against the dictatorship. Furthermore, who, in Brazilian civil society, could cast the first stone?

Even the OAB sympathized with the coup! Political personalities also supported him, sung in verse and prose, for his courageous fight against the dictatorship, such as Teotônio Vilela, the “Menestrel de Alagoas”. In the Catholic Church, even staunch anti-Communists, like D. Eugênio Salles, committed themselves to protecting opponents of the dictatorship from their iniquities. Likewise, few prominent prelates continued to actively support the self-styled “Revolution of March 31, 1964”.

The resistance of Catholics also had its martyrs. Among the best known are the secretary of D. Helder Câmara, Fr. Henrique Melo, savagely murdered by the dictatorship, and Frei Tito, brutally tortured at DOI-CODI. This murder was a retaliation for D. Helder's unsuspecting preaching. Her denunciations, in various international forums, about torture and other arbitrary practices practiced by the dictatorship, led her to ban any references to her person in the media. The Archbishop of Olinda and Recife was also one of the great supporters of the Base Ecclesial Communities (CEBs), which we will detail later.

Historical landmark of the opposition to the military regime was the publication of the Pastoral Letter I heard the cries of my people, at the height of the repression, in May 1973. Signed by eighteen archbishops and bishops, abbots and provincials from the northeast, its main articulators were D. Helder and D. José Maria Pires, and brought together what was most representative of the church in that region .

Even though several of her directors and advisors have already been persecuted, tortured and some even killed by repression, she has not remained silent. She took a public position, through that document, denouncing “international capitalism that uses all means of communication and education to justify its domination and to disguise the system of oppression on which it is based.” She considers, moreover, that “the historical process of capitalist domination leads fatally to class struggle, with the dominated class having no other way out to free itself than following the long path that leads to social ownership of the means of production”. “Only this one”, concludes the document, of undeniable Marxist inspiration, “will allow the oppressed to recover the humanity they were deprived of” (PASTORAL LETTER: 1973).

However, as or more important than the struggle of members of the clergy against the atrocities of the military regime, was the role of militants from lay movements and institutions, among which the Base Ecclesial Communities stood out. (CEBs). They played a leading role in the Northeast, committed to the “preferential option for the poor”. The CEBES became concrete spaces for social struggles during this period, notably in the countryside, serving as a training laboratory for many leaders who came, with redemocratization, to assume prominent positions in the public sphere.

But the CEBs went much further, contributing decisively to make a new strategy viable, which substituted the logic of armed struggle for that of popular participation. Thus, inspired by Liberation Theology, they favored a change in the praxis policy, which extended, in addition to segments of the hierarchy itself, to broad sectors of Brazilian civil society and politics.

The CEBS also provided an alternative to armed struggle and exclusively partisan militancy, by putting the common man, especially the oppressed, at the center of the political process (LYRA: 2016, p. 23). In short: Democracy, for the CEBs, more than a matter of principle, is a matter of practice (BETTO: 1981, p. 7).

Other events of the Catholic Church's democratic resistance achieved national repercussions, such as the courageous confrontation, by prominent figures of the hierarchy and by members of religious orders, of restrictions on democratic freedoms. An example of this resistance was the support given by the church, since before the enactment of the AI-5, to initiatives contrary to the military regime. This was the case of holding clandestine congresses in a monastery of religious orders: in this case, the XXVIII UNE Congress, in 1966, in the city of Belo Horizonte (MG) and the XXIX of that entity, in 1967, in Valinhos (SP).

In the first, the students managed to hold the conclave, without being discovered by the agents of repression. In the second, the police, upon arriving at the monastery, no longer finding the congressmen, arrested the Dominican friars they found, looting its facilities (MENDES JUNIOR: 1981, p. 79-81).

Three other episodes have as their central protagonist the Cardinal-Archbishop of São Paulo, D. Paulo Arns, a prelate who was most distinguished by the assistance provided to political prisoners and the courage with which he faced, on several occasions, the repression of the military regime. D. Paulo considered that “the opposition [of the church] was obligatory. From an evangelical point of view, it was our mission at that time, perhaps the most important”. Deeply shocked by the unprecedented violence practiced against these prisoners, Bishop Arns expressed himself as follows: “what I heard from them I had not heard in Europe, where I spent five years with prisoners from Russia and Germany. So much Brazil had lowered itself” (DINES ET ALII: 2001: p.154).

1. Paulo held, in the Cathedral of Sé, in 1976, an ecumenical mass of protest against the death, by torture, of the journalist Vladimir Herzog, in the premises of the São Paulo DOI-CODI. This ceremony shook the power of the “hard line”, and gave rise to the following comment by D. Helder, who was beside Cardinal Arns in that ceremony: “D. Paulo, today the dictatorship has fallen” (DINES et ALLI: 2001, p.154).

In 1977, a new event – ​​the invasion of PUC-SP, by Colonel Erasmo Dias, Secretary of Security of São Paulo – led to the arrest of two thousand students and the destruction of books, equipment, thousands of documents and even part of the physical structure. from the university. This invasion placed D. Paulo at the forefront of defending university autonomy and democratic freedoms.

In this regard, he expressed himself as follows: “I came back from Rome because of the PUC invasion. Why enter PUC only with the entrance exam or to serve the students. Otherwise, no”. Dom Paulo Arns provoked, once again, the ire of the military, by organizing a procession that reached about 200.000 people, in protest against the execution, in October 1979, with a bullet in the back, of the worker Santo Dias, coordinator of the Pastoral Operária in São Paulo. (DINES ET AL11: 2001, p, 151).

We conclude with a mention of D. Pedro Casaldáliga, bishop of the Prelacy of São Félix do Araguaia, who achieved notoriety in the defense of poor communities and indigenous peoples, and for the firm support given to the operation and expansion of the CEB's. His tireless voice against the landlordism, supporting the MST and Via Campesina, earned him several death threats, in addition to expulsion processes from Brazil during the military dictatorship.

His indomitable performance earned respect, tributes and national and international admiration. He chose to be buried in the Karajá cemetery, on the banks of the Araguaia river, where pedestrians and Indians who resisted land grabbing were buried (VEJA: 2020).

The Catholic church today – Pope Francis: a new aggiornamento?

At the international level, the evolution of the church, with the election, on April 19, 2003, of the German Cardinal Ratzinger to the throne of Peter, inaugurated a markedly harmful phase for the progressive sectors of that institution. As Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had already shown what he was going to do, bringing disciplinary proceedings against members of the clergy, followers of Liberation Theology. As Pope, the bishops he appointed extended the influence of the church's conservative wing.

The climate of hostility to the progressive church only dissipated with the ascension, on March 19, 2013, to the throne of Pedro of Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio, whose positions, critical of capitalism, he identifies with. Since then, the path taken by the Catholic Church, with regard to its praxis policy, shows significant differences in relation to the Protestant churches, especially the Pentecostal ones.

These churches “evolved” to accept the so-called Prosperity Theory, which legitimizes the accumulation of wealth and the unrestricted enjoyment of material goods. Catholicism, on the other hand, remains averse to neoliberal ideals, as witnessed by all the declarations of the current Supreme Pontiff and members of the Catholic hierarchy.

Pope Jorge Bergoglio links Christ's teachings to notorious concerns with social equality and the far less orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures, with the consequent appreciation of scientific knowledge. Pedro’s successor made harsh criticisms of capitalism, first as a source of inequality and, second, as an economy that “kills” (STOURTON: 2020). And he went further, saying that “communists think like Christians”, causing outrage in conservative circles. (POPA: 2013).

It is evident that the choice of the Argentine pope expresses a new correlation of forces within the Catholic Church, contributing to the construction, within its scope, of a new hegemony. His election allowed this centuries-old institution to absorb the aspirations for renewal, coming from its millions of faithful, conditio sine qua non for its own survival. They are often submerged yearnings, fueled by a kind of dunghill fire, which sometimes finds the strength to come to the surface.

With Francisco, the progressive wing of the Catholic Church, inspired by Liberation Theology, gained greater space and recognition, even though he was a supporter of a branch of this theology, called Theology of the People, which differs from it by not using either the methodology or the specific characteristics of Marxism (SCANNONE: 2013).

Proof of this judgment is the friendship between the current Pope and the well-known Brazilian theologian, Friar Leonardo Boff. Let us remember that Boff was punished by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, with “obsequious silence”, for a period of one year, during which he was prevented from expressing his ideas, and even from publishing (LYRA: 2018, p. 301 and 302). Francis honored another exponent of Liberation Theology, the theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, by writing him a congratulatory letter on his 2013th birthday and inviting him to an audience at the Vatican (POPA: XNUMX).

Furthermore, the Argentine pontiff has been adopting a tolerant behavior in relation to differences, in contrast to the evangelical majority. Asked if he condemned homosexuality, he replied: "who am I to judge the Gay Boys?.

The Brazilian church in the 'Bolsonaro' era

In this regard, it is worth checking the positions of the Catholic Church in the 2018 presidential elections and those that followed, related to Brazilian politics. In the second round of these elections, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) lent tacit support to the PT candidate, Fernando Haddad. Indeed, since the first round, the church had harshly criticized “hate speech” in these elections, without naming its author. In the second round, the Catholic hierarchy guided its faithful to vote for the candidate who defends “more democracy” (CNBB: 2018).

It was necessary to wait 19 months of Bolsonaro's government for the Catholic Church, through a considerable portion of the Episcopate, a minority, but endowed with undeniable representativeness and respectability, to manifest itself again, in an ardent way and with a radicalism comparable to that of the Pastoral Letter I heard the cries of my people, now on a specific issue: the performance of the Bolsonaro government.

More than 150 archbishops, bishops and emeritus bishops, claiming to be “in deep communion with Pope Francis”, accuse the government of being unethical and of spreading an “anti-scientific discourse”, which “naturalizes the scourge of thousands of deaths by COVID-19, treating it as a result of chance or divine punishment”.

The prelates also denounce an “economy that kills, centered on the market and profit at any price” and, from a political point of view, “approaching totalitarianism and using reprehensible expedients, such as the support and stimulus acts against democracy”. They show that the alternative “should not be understood as a mere sum of personal gestures, in favor of some needy individuals, which are intended only to reassure one's conscience”. The document ends by calling on everyone to “wake up from the sleep that immobilizes us and makes us mere spectators of the reality of thousands of deaths and violence that plague us. The night is advancing and the day is approaching. Let us reject the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (BERGAMO: 2020).

Evangelicals and Catholics: what distances them and what brings them closer?

We try to show that the significant differences in political positions between Catholics and Evangelicals should not lead to the conclusion that the Catholic Church, as a whole, is a bulwark of “progressivism”.

Indeed, important sectors, both nationally and internationally, have shown a strong internal influence on the direction of Brazilian Catholicism, as evidenced by the “anti-PT wave” that spread throughout Brazil, involving conservative Catholic groups. They joined the evangelicals, “forming a pool of potential supporters of the campaign for Executive Power of a candidate accustomed to his usual agenda” (CALDEIRA E TONIOL: 2020).

For Marcelo Barros, writer and Benedictine monk, the advanced positions of Pope Francis and a significant part of the hierarchy are, in practice, assumed by a small minority of Catholics. Barros claims that the bishops who subscribed to the Letter to the People of God pay the price of having in their dioceses a substantial portion of Catholics who dream of a church with characteristics similar to those of the ultraconservative American order. Knights of Columbus (BARROS: 2020). It is home to almost two million members, whose social concerns are restricted to the practice of philanthropy.

In any case, for a large majority, religion continues to function only as a refuge where those who are satisfied with palliative care are sheltered, invoking an unlikely help from God to alleviate adversity.

Even not fully agreeing with Barros, one cannot deny the reality of convergences and, in certain cases, the identity of positions between Catholics and Evangelicals, in the scope of morals and customs. The antagonism between them is restricted to the vanguard of Catholic militancy, where social justice and democracy are fundamental guiding parameters of their religious practice, although these principles are also, to some degree, present in most Catholics.

Differences between Catholics and Protestants in this regard are manifested, above all, in conceptions about the economy, given the enthusiastic adherence of a significant part of evangelicals to neoliberalism, and in those related to democracy and authoritarianism. But they also differ in the way they treat those who do not pray in their ideological framework. Evangelical exponents, cultists of religious fundamentalism, such as Pastor Silas Malafaia, tend to offend those with whom they disagree politically, especially those on the left, who are branded as “leftists”.

This type of intolerance, which does not thrive in the Catholic hierarchy, ends up encouraging others, such as those practiced by religious fanatics who tried to invade the hospital where a 10-year-old rape victim was hospitalized in order to undergo an abortion procedure. Screaming, demonstrators accused the doctors responsible for this procedure of “murderers!” (DORINI and MACHADO: 2020).

However, the assessment of the CNBB on the issue, formulated by its President, D. Walmor Azevedo, if not accompanied by a belligerent attitude towards those who disagree with it, has the same and worrying content as the evangelical invectives: “Legal abortion in girl raped in Espírito Santo is a 'heinous crime', says its President, D. Walmor Azevedo.

Therefore, the difference in the treatment of the question is, above all, one of form. Indeed, fundamentalist fundamentalism, hegemonic in Pentecostal churches, does not limit itself to condemning abortion: it intimidates, disqualifies or threatens those who do not accept its ideas. It also uses the pulpit as a political-party platform (TOSI: 218, p. 412). This “discursive aggressiveness invests in erasing the other, in correcting the behavior of those who are perceived as a danger” (ORTIZ: 2020). This author coined the term “bolçanarismo” to classify Bolsonaro’s behavior, but his criticism perfectly applies to religious fanatics.

Despite the existence of a plurality of religious positions on the issues addressed in this work, we believe that the observation made, sixty-five years ago, by the brilliant psychoanalyst and social psychologist Erich Fromm, about the alienating role of religion in society, remains current. Thus: “although it is true that this criticism has been made by the high hierarchies of the Catholic Church and that it has also been made by many priests, pastors and rabbis, all churches essentially belong to modern conservative forces and employ religion to maintain the man calm and satisfied with a profoundly irreligious regime” (1955: p.163).

Final reflections

We conclude these analyzes with a reflection on the results of a survey that the Pew Research Center just published, published in Piauí magazine. It shows the importance of giving greater attention to knowledge of the relationship between morality and religion, which is essential to understanding its relationship with politics. Respondents from 34 countries answered the question: “You have to be religious to be moral.” According to the survey, 84% of respondents in Brazil. consider that morality depends on faith. This conception therefore influences the behavior of the vast majority of the Brazilian population, with repercussions that go far beyond intimate matters (CALLIGARIS, 2000).

From the results presented, it can be deduced that every individual who has no religion is perverted. Consequently, due to its intrinsic evil, it lacks the conditions to make suitable choices that can contribute to the “common good”. This understanding is much more deeply rooted among evangelicals, especially Pentecostals, where fundamentalism is omnipresent.

There is, therefore, an imperative need to develop electoral and ideological dispute strategies suited to the struggle for hegemony, in the face of the thought embraced by many millions of people, who believe that religion condition sine qua non of morality. In that ranking, Brazil occupies a worrying 34%, “just behind Nigeria and Kenya, therefore, there are leagues from modernity” (CALLIGARIS, 2020).

It is, therefore, necessary to oppose this archaic conception of morality to modern thought, heir to the Enlightenment, for whom moral norms are constructed by the individual himself, not being the result of imposing precepts, external to the individual will.

Their lack of autonomy in the field of religion also compromises their free exercise in other dimensions of social life, especially politics. Therefore, it is necessary to subject religions to political debate, involving those who are strangers to them, and subjecting them to careful scrutiny of their antinomies and contradictions. In the diction of José de Souza Martins “many things that should not take refuge in their immunity, end up being outside of social scrutiny”.

* Rubens Pinto Lyra, PhD in Political Science, he is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among other books, of La Gauche en France et la Construction Européenne (LGDJ) and Political Theory and Brazilian Reality (EDUEPB).


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