A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wears a crucifix necklace over a shirt with Bolsonaro’s likeness prior to his inauguration, in Brasilia, Brazil, on Jan. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Eyeing Amazon synod, Brazil accuses church of 'leftist agenda'

SAO PAOLO, Brazil (RNS) — While the Vatican's synod on clergy sexual abuse has grabbed headlines in much of the world, another meeting of bishops, slated for October 2019, is already making news here, with some in the administration of Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, reportedly calling the synod a platform for "leftist agenda."

In 2017, Pope Francis has called a special synod of Catholic bishops from the Pan-Amazon region, a territory that includes nine South American countries connected not only by the massive river system but to the historically strong presence of the church.

A major newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported earlier this month that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government, with the country's intelligence agency and military monitoring the preparative meetings for the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazon Region, and the church's activities in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro's Cabinet secretary for institutional security, Gen. Augusto Heleno, was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.”

Bolsonaro, who was elected late last year, campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil's indigenous people's rights to designate land in the river's sprawling basin as preserves. In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

Pope Francis greets indigenous representatives in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, on Jan. 19, 2018. Standing with thousands of indigenous Amazonians, Francis declared the Amazon the "heart of the church" and called for a threefold defense of its life, land and cultures. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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In calling the synod, Pope Francis, a South American who visited Brazil for World Youth Day in 2013, has made it no secret that he considers the Amazon a central area of mission for Brazilian Catholicism. “One can see the pope has been concerned about these themes in the last few years,” said Bishop Flavio Giovenale of Cruzeiro do Sul, who has long opposed deforestation of the Amazon jungle as a social justice matter for indigenous people.

Preparation for the synod has reportedly been guided by the pope personally and is expected to deal with themes such as the destruction of the rainforest, indigenous rights and the rights of fishermen, peasants and urban populations.

Brazil is the largest country in South America. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

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According to Roque Paloschi, archbishop of Porto Velho, the church's attention to the Amazon is not new. “Throughout the last six decades – even more – the church has recognized the plurality of the human presence in the Amazon and struggled side by side with the Amazonian peoples for their right to exist," he told Religion News Service.

Giovenale, who has served in the Amazon region since the mid-1970s, is a member of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, an alliance of parishes, dioceses and ecclesial movements from the Amazon focused on social and environmental challenges. It is one of several Catholic movements and organizations established to protect the region decades ago.

Giovenale pointed out that the synod was called by Francis in October 2017, long before Bolsonaro’s election, and concerns "not only Brazil, but also Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, Ecuador and French Guiana," an overseas department of France.

But the Estado de S. Paulo's Feb. 10 story suggests the Brazilian government suspects that “progressive clergy” connected to popular movements and parties on the left intend to transform the synod into an international platform to criticize Bolsonaro's Amazon region policies. “We think this would be interference in the domestic issues of Brazil,” Heleno was quoted as saying.

The general's office later issued a statement denying that any Brazilian intelligence agency is spying on the Catholic Church but confirmed that it is concerned about “some points of the agenda of the Synod” and that “part of the subjects of said event deal with elements that somehow affect our national sovereignty.”

The statement concluded by affirming that “it is up to Brazil to take care of the Amazon.”

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attends the inauguration ceremony of his new commander of the army, Gen. Edson Leal Pujol, at the Army Club in Brasilia, Brazil, on Jan. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

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The following day, Bolsonaro's secretary of the environment, Ricardo Salles, appeared on a talk show and was asked his opinion of Chico Mendes, a well-know Amazonian rubber worker, union leader and Catholic activist who dedicated his life to the protection of the rainforest and its inhabitants until his murder by the son of a Brazilian rancher in 1988. Mendes' activism was strongly supported by the Catholic Church.

While claiming to be unfamiliar with Mendes’ biography, Salles cast doubt on Mendes' reputation as a defender of the Amazon. “On the part of environmentalists, more connected to the left, there is an aggrandizement of Chico Mendes. The people who are in agribusiness and are from his region say Chico Mendes was not all that.” Salles suggested Mendes was a profiteer who “took advantage of the other rubber tappers.”

Salles’ comments seemed designed to spur further division between the government on one side and Catholics and environmentalists in Brazil, many of whom regard Mendes as a martyr. “A secretary of government cannot accuse without any evidence a leader whose work is recognized all over the world. It is an outrage for the country and its history,” said Paloschi.


  1. It will be interesting to see what happens in Brazil. In the US, white, fundamentalist Christians elected Trump. In Brazil, fundamentalists Christians certainly supported Boldosaro, if not elected him. There are many parallels.

  2. In Laudato Si, Francis writes about the richness of the Amazon: “…we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations.” This would seem to make this article a tempest in a teapot. Further: “In fact there are ‘proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations.'” Article 38 See also Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops Aparecida Document (29 June 2007, #86) for the quote about internationalization.

  3. Oh Heavens! Wrong Church! But maybe we have a Trump clone…

  4. Trump wishes he was in a country with such a tenuous grasp of democratic institutions. Democracy was less than 40 years old before it elected its current authoritarian minded leader.

  5. Democratic Republics are the wisest and best institutions to defend against authoritarianism. When Lincoln was solidly elected by the electoral college, he also led in the popular vote, but the Democrats had two candidates, that year, which means he definitely was not elected by the majority of the American People. The North had stood against the South making them complicit in the extension of Slavery. So you think if the Democrats stick together, Trump will not leave office, if not elected?

  6. Considering more than 60% of the adult population could not even vote at the time “majority of the people” would not have been a reliable criteria back then. Just saying 🙂

    ” So you think if the Democrats stick together, Trump will not leave office, if not elected?”

    If he had a choice, I doubt he would. But he won’t, nor the means to stay.

    One thing which has kept the US democracy safe is the lack of a “military social class” in our society. The military is well integrated with civil authority and has no history of acting on its own volition politically. Brazil has a long history of military backed dictatorship.

  7. The only evidence “white, fundamentalist Christians elected Trump” was an exit poll the day of the election.

    Since then further analysis indicates black evangelicals, in fact nearly everyone who opposes abortion, voted against Hillary.

  8. Any time that fundamentalists of any stripe come into power, the result is bad.

  9. Many of the people who were against Hillary stayed home.

  10. Complete fiction. White Christian fundamentalist leaders were and remain his most uncritical supporters.

  11. Since you commenced with the “troll game”, you’re rather stuck with it.

  12. i think that “Art” is the new incarnation of Bob Arnzen/Mark Connolly

  13. I grant you the Lincoln thing:) I should have said voters. None of the women or slaves could vote. However, my point still holds. The Founders did not want the population centers to fully rule the country. Each state has weight.

    Trump as a military dictator is not feasible, in your opinion. Then will you address what you consider his most authoritarian move to be, and why it has not been stopped by other checks and balances?

  14. One does not look for the Founders as the final word on the subject of civil liberties. Their omissions and errors took about a century to correct.

    “Then will you address what you consider his most authoritarian move to be, and why it has not been stopped by other checks and balances?”
    So, so many where to start….
    1. Travel Ban 1.0. One which violated so many laws and principles that it only lasted 48 hours before being recalled.
    2. Trying to use the military and emergency powers for the vanity wall project
    3. The emolments, constant profiteering personally and for family using his position
    4. Encouraging enforcement abuse for immigration issues
    5. Constant attacks on a free press and use of whataboutism as a go-to response
    6. Throwing children into concentration camps in order to coerce parents into giving up due process rights.

    The Judiciary has been the primary check to his authority. Hence constant talk from Trump supporters of “judicial activism” and “biased judges”. Republicans in Congress have no motivation to oppose Trump as of yet, so they rubber stamp his efforts. But mostly it has been the incompetence of the people undermining the Republic which has kept damage to a minimum.

  15. Oh, I think the founders did very well, considering their time and place. I don’t think we do well to be so proud of what we consider our achievements. For you see, whether I disagree with you or not on these 6 items, the checks and balances were employed. Are they still out on the wall thing, or did that go down? If he is so incompetent why do you worry so about him?

  16. The civil war proved the Founders had some issues that needed working out. They laid a foundation.

    But the sanctifying of them done by conservatives is done to pretend the 14th Amendment can be ignored with impunity. It is largely an attempt to treat law like Bible Study and quote mining Founders as proof texting.

    An incompetent has done a lot of damage even if he was unsuccessful in achieving planned goals.

  17. I wonder how the next generation will see the people of this? It is not sanctification, but understanding of people. What lasting damage has he done? I’m not kidding here. If he’s been checked at every turn, isn’t that proof that the system works?

  18. The errors and omissions of the Founders are corrected using the procedures in Article V of the Constitution, which has been used over two dozen times, and not the courts.

  19. You missed the point and the reference. The grave errors of the Founders were ultimately corrected by the civil war and its results.

    The courts have had the job of interpreting the constitution in light of real world legal conflicts for over 200+ years. Your statement is not only false but deliberately so. A canned partisan falsehood

  20. The Civil War was a catastrophe, not a correction.

    The 14th Amendment was a correction.

    The Federal courts have the job of interpreting the Constitution as it was written, not as they are anyone else wish it was written.

    Any other position is a canned partisan falsehood.

  21. And really off the subject of the Amazon. But I am really interested in what Spuddie thinks on this.

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