One organisation I haven’t mentioned much since I have been in Brazil is one of the most important, influential and yet always controversial: the Catholic Church. Brazil was one of the centres of the Liberation Theology movement and these activist priests, unlike the church hierarchy in many Catholic countries, never sided with the dictatorships. Liberation Theology remains a major influence and movement within the Brazilian church and it is no surprise to see the fraternal organisation of the Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil or CNBB) taking their campaign theme for this year as Public Security.
However, at the same time, the Church in Brazil seems to be clamping down on dissent and on those priests who are too outspoken on behalf of the poor and the victims of violence and insecurity. Today, the BBC is reporting that Father Luiz Couto, who is from the north-east and a colleague of President Lula (he’s a Workers’ Party federal deputy), has been suspended by the Church for advocating the use of condoms for public health and having a liberal attitude to gay rights.
Couto has however also been for many years a serious campaigner against unofficial ‘death squads’ and Autodefesas Communitárias. It seems to be at the very least bad timing by the church to suspend him just after announcing their year of campaigning on public security. He has my support and my sympathy. The Church needs to live up to what the CNBB are proposing this year and focus more on the realities of the big social questions that bedevil Brazil and not shoot themselves in the foot by suspending their best members over what should be matters of opinion on personal morality.