BRASILIA, Brazil (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pro-life president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro is being targeted for removal from office by a Catholic bishop, prominent Marxist priests and a chorus of Christian leaders of other faiths blaming his handling of the Wuhan virus outbreak for their outrage.
Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, who presides over the National Commission for Justice and Peace, sponsored by Brazil's national conference of Catholic bishops, was among the key signatories of a Jan. 27 petition to Brazil's Congress to oust the Brazilian president.
The petition, which attracted signers from 17 Christian groups, claims Bolsonaro waged a "disinformation" campaign surrounding the Wuhan virus in that his administration reopened economic activities in the country contrary to the social isolation recommended by the communist-linked World Health Organization (WHO).
Other signatories included:
The octogenarian Fr. Boff is considered a founder of Liberation Theology. When Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger [later Pope Benedict XVI] silenced Boff in 1985 after the publication of the priest's heterodox book Church: Charism and Power, Boff accused the future pope of "religious terrorism."
Fr. Christo is a Dominican friar and writer better known as "Frei Beto" [Friar Beto]. An exponent of Liberation Theology and spiritual advisor to former Brazilian socialist president Lula da Silva, Fr. Christo is the author of Fidel and Christianity, which was the result of extensive conversations between the Dominican friar and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
It was in Peru that that Liberation Theology was born, but it was in Brazil where it found fertile ground because of dire poverty, socio-economic divisions, and repressive governments of the 1960s. It spread to Latin America in the 1960s, inspiring social justice and environmentalist efforts led by Catholic clergy and activists and leaving a legacy of conflict within the Brazilian Church.
Bolsonaro received widespread support from Evangelical Christian pastors during his successful 2018 campaign, when he was favorably compared to U.S. President Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro appeared to stand up for Christian pastors who have criticized state governors and municipal mayors' closure of churches when, on his regular live webcast Jan. 28, he said, "This issue of COVID will continue for life," and added that local efforts to impose social distancing strictures will "lead nowhere."
Despite changing his discourse and allies several times to weather political storms, Bolsonaro continues to express socially conservative views that are consonant with Christian teachings. In late December, for example, he expressed his profound sadness over the new law in neighboring Argentina that allows abortion even to the day of delivery and for girls as young as 14.
I deeply mourn the lives of Argentine children, now subject to being cut out of their mothers' wombs with the consent of the government. As far as it depends on me and my government, abortion will never be approved on our soil. We will always fight to protect the lives of the innocent!
But one of the authors of the petition to remove Bolsonaro, theologian Tiago Santos, told Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper "One part of the Church gave uncritical and unconditional support to Bolsonaro without bothering about the discourse he advances. We want to show that the Christian faith must be defended and that the Church is not a monolithic block."
Brazil's Congress is currently considering some 60 petitions for Bolsonaro's impeachment. Polls show that his approval rating has tanked. However, most Brazilians, who are largely Catholic, do not favor impeachment.
Brazil has the largest percentage of Catholics in the world, or about 126 million people. However, that number dropped from 74% in 2000 to 65% in 2010, according to the Pew organization.
In a Jan. 26 press conference, Romi Bencke of Brazil's National Council of Christian Churches said, "The principal reason for this petition is the total lack of initiatives on the part of the government to diminish or contain the impact of the pandemic."
According to Johns Hopkins University, the number of infected persons in Brazil will soon surpass 9 million. Brazil is now in second place in the world for Wuhan virus deaths — a total of 221,000 that are now blamed on COVID.
"It is evident that Bolsonaro and [Health Minister Eduardo] Pazuello are at fault in the serious tragedy that occurred in Manaus, which culminated in the asphyxiation of thousands of Brazilians, as well as in a significant part of the almost 220,000 dead of COVID-19 in the country," claimed the petition.
In 2020, the federal government paid out more than $66 million in subsidies to workers laid off in response to Wuhan virus health and sanitary restrictions, but economic pains were felt throughout the country.
In July 2020, 152 Catholic bishops and archbishops of a progressive bent signed an open letter to Bolsonaro accusing him of misusing the name of God in support of his policies.
They were soon seconded by more than 1,000 priests, writing that the president had shown "omission, apathy and rejection of the poorest," an "inability to face a crisis," and "contempt for education, culture, health and diplomacy." They blamed him for an "unprecedented crisis in health" and "an overwhelming collapse in the economy."
Brazil's conference of Catholic bishops, however, distanced itself from the appeal, stating that it merely reflected the opinion of the signatories.
Governmental subsidies to help Brazilian citizens weather the economic downturn ended Dec. 31. And on the weekend of Jan. 23–24, scores of protests were held in cities across the country where thousands demanded Bolsonaro's resignation or impeachment.
As Brazilians face record unemployment and straitened circumstances, labor unions have joined leftist parties to demand that the federal government pay out more subsidies. In Manaus, a city in Brazil's interior, deaths blamed on medical shortages have spiked, thus sparking denunciations of the government's response.
Despite the protests, Bolsonaro said Jan. 28 that he regrets fellow Brazilians' circumstances but does not plan any more subsidies, which he said will "break Brazil." According to Valor Investe, Bolsonaro said that with new welfare payments "comes inflation, uncontrolled economy; disaster comes after that and everyone will pay dearly."
Bolsonaro's two immediate predecessors were leftist presidents Lula Inacio da Silva and Dilma Roussef. The latter was forced out of office by a congressional vote in 2016.