The Pope, Brazil and Liberation Theology

News: World News
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by James Baresel  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 14, 2019   

Pope Francis has been a strong supporter of Brazil's political Left

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One might by now reasonably suppose that every disturbing facet of the upcoming Amazon Synod has been exhaustively analyzed — reasonably suppose, not rightly suppose.

Little mention has been made of the relationship between Churchmen organizing the synod and the contemporary politics of the country that must feature most prominently in any discussion of the Amazon region — Brazil.

After a quarter-century of the Brazilian presidency being held by an uninterrupted succession of leftist and "centrist" politicians, power finally passed into the hands of a staunch conservative when Jair Bolsonaro took office this past Jan. 1. 

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (left)

His election was largely owing to a younger generation's desire to end oppression and corruption, with 60% of his voters under 35 years of age. His second base of support was Evangelical Christian denominations, which are growing exponentially, as poorly educated Catholics fed up with liberation theology abandon the Church rather than fight for orthodoxy.

Bolsonaro was also aided by scandals that have recently plagued the long-ascendant Workers' Party. The last president elected from its ranks, Dilma Rousseff (who in her younger years robbed banks to fund communist guerillas), was impeached and found guilty of corruption in 2016. Later in the same year, her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was arrested and convicted on similar charges. 

A member of the Workers' Party since its 1980 founding by a gang of trade unionists, liberation theologians and leftist "intellectuals," da Silva gained widespread if brief attention from Catholic media in the United States in 2009 when he condemned Abp. José Cardoso Sobrinho's declaration that the adults responsible for aborting the twins of a 9-year-old girl had automatically incurred excommunication. 

Despite such hostility to Catholic principles, he enjoys the favor of both Brazilian Cdl. Cláudio Hummes and of Pope Francis. 

[Bolsonaro's] election was largely owing to a younger generation's desire to end oppression and corruption, with 60% of his voters under 35 years of age.

Hummes' relationship with da Silva began over 40 years ago when the former was bishop of Santo Andre and the latter a union leader, and the two have been steady allies in their political machinations.

Both aid the formation of "base ecclesial communities" dominated by liberation theology, and Hummes allowed da Silva to use Church properties as venues for meetings held to organize political agitation. The cardinal is a patron of da Silva's closest clerical collaboration, a Dominican priest and liberation theologian popularly known by the nickname Frei Betto. 

Betto's life could be mistaken for a calculated attempt to render attempts to satirize liberation theology impossible. In his early days as a Dominican were among a handful of friars who worked with a communist guerilla organization founded by the leading theoretician of urban terrorism, an episode he has recounted in a book carrying the blasphemous title Baptism of Blood.


Che Guevara is one of his heroes, and he maintains that "Fidel Castro lived like a Christian," even wishing that "all of us, revolutionaries, leftist militants, will one day be like Fidel." 

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Cdl. Cláudio Hummes

The laicized priest Leonardo Boff, whose work was censured by John Paul II and then-Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger, runs in the same circles. Like Betto, he has been a friend and advisor to both da Silva and Castro (whom da Silva was himself friends with) and is a friend of Hummes. Like Betto, Boff now advocates using environmentalism as a cover for the promotion of liberation theology (which John Paul had appointed Abp. Sobrinho to oppose). 

As one would expect, Pope Francis has been a strong supporter of Brazil's political Left. One of his initiatives is the creation of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, to which he has given addresses. Among its members are leaders of the Landless Movement in Brazil (a communist organization more radical than the Workers' Party with which it is allied).

In 2018, he met with the man who had served as Brazilian chancellor under both da Silva and Rousseff, Celso Amorim, at a time when the Workers' Party was attempting to have the imprisoned da Silva accepted as a candidate for president (convicts cannot run for office during their time behind bars, and Brazil has no limit on the number of terms a president can serve, though no more than two can be served consecutively).

During their meeting, Francis expressed approval of da Silva, a message Amorim quickly communicated to the public and which had a significant impact on segments of the Brazilian population. The Pope has also written letters of encouragement to the ex-president during his imprisonment. 

But the political context suggests that the Pope wishes his position on environmental issues and the synod to promote the agenda of the Brazilian and international Left.

Environmental questions concerning the Amazon region are not just an area of disagreement between Bolsonaro and the international Left but have come to hold a central place in the battle between them. Germany and Norway have begun using financial pressure to stop Bolsonaro's deforestation of parts of the Amazon rainforest (which absorbs much of the world's carbon emissions).

Bolsonaro's response was to point out that while nearly half of Brazil's energy supply is "green" and only 5% of its energy provided by coal, Germany uses coal for about a third of its energy. The issue has even exploded into a conflict between Brazilian national autonomy and UN regulation, with some at the UN interested in the possibility of removing territories from Brazilian control to create one or more new countries. 

There is every reason to believe that Pope Francis is sincere in his insistence that the Amazon Synod is intended to focus on the environment rather than on such matters that have received far more attention, such as permission for married priests. But the political context suggests that the Pope wishes his position on environmental issues (whatever their merits when taken in isolation) and the synod to promote the agenda of the Brazilian and international Left. 

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