Opposition to Catholic Amazon Synod Spurs New Right-Wing Coalition in Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at a ceremony to kick off the Economic Freedom Project, at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, on Sept. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

While the most vocal opponents of the Catholic Church’s upcoming Amazon synod have been conservative Catholic cardinals such as the Germans Gerhard Mueller and Walter Brandmueller, criticism within Brazil has come primarily from its right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his political allies.

Now those political forces have joined with conservative religious leaders, particularly a newly revived group of Catholic conservatives, to oppose the synod before it has begun.
In the months before the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which begins officially Sunday (Oct. 6) in Rome, two factions in Brazil have risen up to oppose it: the military and a gaggle of climate change deniers in Congress and the right-wing media.

Members of the armed forces have repeatedly criticized what they see as the Vatican’s meddling in Brazilian affairs. In February, former Gen. Augusto Heleno, who now oversees national and personal security issues for Bolsonaro, said the country’s intelligence agency was monitoring the working documents of the synod.

In September, Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas, a former commander in chief of the army and now an adviser to Heleno, told the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo that the government “would not admit interference in domestic matters of our country.”
Villas Bôas also said the debates surrounding the synod will be “distorted by environmentalists” and said he worried that Brazil’s image would be tarnished by the meeting.

Conservatives’ concerns were seemingly borne out when wildfires broke out in the Amazon in August and the devastation was blamed on large landowners in the Amazon region, many of whom support Bolsonaro. The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil released a statement during the crisis that criticized government policies that, the bishops said, “led to a surge in devastation of the environment” in the country.

“When the church adopts this environmentalist attitude, it’s really adopting the leftist agenda,” said Ricardo da Costa, a history professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo who advises Bolsonaro’s education agency. “The clergy should worry about saving people’s souls, not saving trees.”

In recent months, however, the intellectual rationale for opposing the synod has been provided by an organization called the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, or IPCO. Made up of the remnants of an ultraconservative Catholic group founded in the early 1960s by Brazilian lawyer and thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, its members have long denounced Catholics who favor abortion rights, left-wing social movements infiltrating the church and progressivism in general.

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Source: Religion News Service