Last weekend, the Cristo Rei League, linked to the Dom Bosco Center, took place in Rio de Janeiro. Both are conservative Catholic organizations, which puts them in opposition to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB). It is not by chance, therefore, that this event of Catholics did not count on any Brazilian bishop. On the other hand, the great ecclesiastical star of the event was Archbishop Athanasius Schneider, the Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan. He is from a location in the Soviet Union that is now part of Kyrgyzstan, a country sandwiched between Kazakhstan and northwest China. What brings this bishop so remote to Brazil is his outspoken opposition to Pope Francis’ policies, his alignment with Benedict XVI, his theological work and his anti-communism.
The Church has a rigid hierarchy. At the top is the pope; at the base, lay people. So, something worth noting is that Centro Dom Bosco and Liga Cristo Rei are lay entities. This active part of the Church’s base is in conflict with its Brazilian superiors and was able to find a superior in Kazakhstan to support it. It is not a question of breaking with the papal institution, nor of any heresy; after all, the same institution that gave authority to the bishop of Kazakhstan gave it to the bishops of Brazil. Formulated in strictly abstract terms, there is the strange situation in which Brazilian laymen recognize an intermediary authority from Kazakhstan while rejecting Brazilian equivalents. But, in political terms, the situation is not strange: everyone knows that the CNBB is red, that Liberation Theology caused a stampede of Catholicism, and that the religious of ex-Soviet countries are staunch anti-communists.
Practicing, conservative Christians, who did not abandon Catholicism, were orphans of leadership. On the other hand, cardinals are keen to please progressive atheists. A recent case illustrates this well: in Salvador, the new Archbishop Primate of Brazil decided to say a mass for the victims of homophobia. Luiz Mott protested against the omission of the victims of transphobia, and the man, obediently, said another mass to fix himself. What’s the point of pleasing Mott, an openly atheist, instead of the average believer who has never even heard the word “transphobia”? Is it absurd to suppose a red sabotage inside the Church in Brazil?
By the eye, the public profile was class layman average and with children. Children, plural. If there was a couple with only one child, the child was a baby, potential older brother. If there was a couple hugging each other, exuding romanticism, the rings were in the right hands. I made this observation of the natalist profile to the wife of the friend who called me. I commented that, in an environment of beautiful people, there are few children, and almost always only children. I have speculated that the middle class is anti-natalist for fear of falling living standards. She, who took care of her second child, observed that in fact middle-class mothers who have more children than her learn to make pizza, because any trip to the pizzeria costs hundreds of reais. Nor can they afford two thousand reais for schools for their children, so they have to think of alternatives. The homeschooling, by the way, is also an economic demand of the natalist niche of the right middle class. It is even questionable whether the woman at home, in a large middle-class family, is not more affordable than a woman working outside the home. Because I already feel the expense of meals multiplying when I eat on the street in a restaurant by the kilo instead of cooking at home. (With and a few reais, as a dish; with 30 reais, I buy a kilo of good shrimp in Cachoeira .) Imagine this difference in a family, adding food, school fees and daily cleaning fee. Does a mother earn a salary?
The item “family”, in the slogan “God, homeland and family”, is not an empty word. They do take it seriously and opt for a natalist and family lifestyle. If a Simone Tebet were to enter that environment and problematize the “gender pay inequalities”, the authoritarianism of the proposal would become clear: it implies taking away from women the time spent at home without pay, with the aim of increasing pay. It is doubtful that the women work there and earn as much as their husbands. What matters is to ask if they wanted to work and earn the same as them; otherwise, it is the imposition of a lifestyle contrary to what they have chosen. And if husbands started paying domestic work, they would have a maid instead of a wife.
Pata da patria
As for the homeland, the President of the Center, Pedro Affonseca, refers to Brazil as the Land of Santa Cruz, a special place of Catholicism in the world. In a rather impassioned speech, he referred to the Catholic Church as the true Universal Church (the local audience surely knew that “catholic” means “universal” in Greek). The Land of Santa Cruz would have to be rid of communism and heresy (read: Protestantism). The various politicized Catholic niches on the right would have to stop fighting each other and focus on evangelizing. He was quite right when he said that Catholics, once the official religion, were content with tolerance on the part of the Republic and now they don’t even have that anymore. I myself, who have been an unbeliever for as long as I can remember, sometimes get called “religious” when defending something. It is noteworthy that “religious” is an insult in a country with a religious majority. Is citizenship conditioned to some atheistic orthodoxy?
For this very reason, the political character of the movement is unmistakable. A special attraction was the possible presence of the “Myth”, which was not known if it was a rumor or not.
I was watching the final minutes of the presentation of an academic opposed to Chardin’s “pantheism” and to Maritain’s optimism whose end was always postponed when at last there was a sudden interruption. Mito would enter a video call on the big screen. The auditorium was euphoric. He got up to give a standing ovation, and I ended up having to get up too, because no one else sat down until the video call was over, and I couldn’t see the screen sitting down. In Bolsonaro’s speech, nothing was out of the ordinary. I only record that he was moved when Pedro Affonseca identified the person of Bolsonaro, a Catholic rejected and mistreated by the Bishop of Aparecida, with their own. He assured Bolsonaro that he was not alone and that they, also Catholics, were by his side. The video call ended with cheers to Christ the King.
The Church, mirror of Brazil
The political-cultural framework of the Church is a clear and belated portrait of Brazil, as there is an evident mismatch between the summit of power and the base of the community. Both in Brazil and in the Brazilian part of the Church, power was captured from above, without the base keeping its sense of belonging intact. The common man has become an outcast at home, be it Brazil or the Church, depending on his values. The reaction against these summits comes from below, is based on moral values and, in both cases, is identified with the person of the Catholic-pariah and low-clergy politician Jair Bolsonaro. Will the last be the first?
The middle class is undoubtedly more politicized, so it articulates its discontents more clearly in political and philosophical terms. However, the first to react to the elite were the poor. They were the ones who, without fanfare, started the stampede of Catholicism towards the Pentecostal sects when Liberation Theology took over the Church. As they did not dare to have the power to mess with bishops appointed by Rome, they did what they could: gather their little things and move to whoever would give them what the Church stopped giving them.
Because Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism is still a vulgar imitation of medieval Catholicism, made by those who could no longer find the original article. When Luther had the brilliant idea that a single man should use his reason to understand divine matters by reading the Bible (no one thinks it reasonable to give a doorman a neuroscience manual for him to decipher, but Protestants think it very sensible to give Revelation) , the Church was painted as a den of corruption where men of God sold indulgences. The rationalism of the Protestants would also come to persecute any manifestation of known pagan origin (such as São João) and eliminate the magic of everyday life.
Here in Brazil, the men who moved away from the Church sought to precisely what Protestantism repressed in Europe: magical objects such as relics of saints or medieval splinters of the cross (see Universal’s trinkets and Valdemiro’s iconic little beans); the Christianization of ancestral pagan rites (much ink has already flown about the similarities between Candomblé, Umbanda and Neo-Pentecostalism); the ostensible use of money in relationships with God (see “offers”); as well as the magic present in everyday life. (It was the syncretic character of Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism, so typical of medieval Catholicism, that made Brazilian religions grow in Africa like no other.) On top of all that, if corruption were a constant concern of the average Brazilian evangelical, the great neo-Pentecostal churches would not would have so many faithful. Edir Macedo gives a Universal faithful as much guidance in matters of politics and culture – telling without hesitation what to read or who to vote for – as a Catholic bishop of old, when there was a Catholic cultural hegemony.
The creation of Brazilian neo-Pentecostalism was, in my view, a new Counter-Reformation made in the thighs. Perhaps their temples are usually so ugly, with such improvised structures, because they are temporary.
Investment in culture
The Dom Bosco Center now strives to compete with Brasil Paralelo in content production. The trailer of the film Cimbres was enthusiastically presented, which, according to the presenter, is not ready because of the devil. The film tells the story of what these Catholics see as an extension of the miracle of Fatima in Brazil: Our Lady would have come to Brazil in Cimbres, Pernambuco, in 1936 to warn about the dangers of communism. The Church neither confirms nor denies the miracle.
There is also a publishing house dedicated to the publication of conservative and anti-communist Catholics, such as D. Athanasius himself. For my part, I bought Communism: The inevitable consequence of free Protestant examination, by Jordán Bruno Genta (30 – 1974). It is about an Argentine nationalist murdered by communists. There was more than one book by the author for sale published by the publisher.
Let’s see what this grassroots Catholic cultural movement will lead to. Brazil is a country created by the Counter-Reformation, whose people have, in my view, a counter-reformist nature, despite nominally Protestantism growing here.