Brazil's bishops' conference has issued a declaration acknowledging that some of its members supported the authoritarian military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.
“For New Times, with Freedom and Democracy,” issued April 1, says some of the nation's bishops backed the junta with “the intention of combatting communism.”
The document, unprecedented among Latin American bishops' conferences, is a contribution of the Church in Brazil to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the dictatorship's beginning.
The Brazilian Armed Forces staged a coup March 31, 1964, overthrowing the left-wing president João Goulart, a member of the Brazilian Labour Party.
It was feared that Goulart would align Brazil with Fidel Castro's Cuba, and the military installed itself as a dictatorship. During its 21 years of rule, it restricted freedom of speech and the press, as well as political opposition. For it's anti-communist stance, it was also supported by the U.S.
The bishops called the period of the junta one of the “darkest periods of history” in Brazil: “throughout this period, student movements, laborers from rural areas and cities, intellectuals and religious groups fought arduously for democracy. Many were assassinated, tortured, exiled, or 'disappeared'.”
They recounted that “a spiral of violence, the limitation of the freedom of expression, the establishment of torture and censorship, the freeze of political rights” took place during those 21 years.
“In the name of a progress that was not carried out,” people were displaced from their homes, and killed.
Democracy and civilian rule returned to Brazil with the 1984 presidential elections, after which Jose Sarney assumed office.
“If it is true that, initially, part of the Church backed the movement that led to the so-called revolution to fight against communism,” the bishops' declaration stated, it is also true that “the Church did not neglect to denounce the repression as soon as it discovered that the means used by the new powerholders did not respect human dignity and human rights.”
Another statement, issued April 27 by the Church in Brazil as well as other Christian groups in the country, examined the current situation in Brazil, urging that public interest not be subjugated to “the private interests of businesses and organizations of economic power,” lamenting that there is a political culture which “is, in part, a legacy of the years of dictatorship.”
The bishops committed themselves to “a reform of the political system” and stated their support for popular democracy.
“We reaffirm our commitment to the deepening of a full democracy. The electoral process this year should be permeated by the central issues which guarantee the quality of democracy in our country.”
Elections for both president and the National Congress are schedule for October.
A source close to the Brazilian bishops' conference told CNA that Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida and president of the conference, is not willing to take strong political stances, and wants to keep neutral in view of the upcoming political elections.
The source maintained that the choice of issuing such a document “is driven by the need of balancing the bishops' conference, as well as the government.”
He underscored that “liberation theology remains strong among the members of the current administration,” and that some bishops and priests as well are “fascinated by it.”
“Taking responsibility for the wrongdoing of those in the Church who backed the dictatorship” also means “leaving the Church's left-wingers armless,” he explained.
“No more polemics can be made about the role of the Church in the military dictatorship – and so the bishops will be able to take the middle ground in view of the upcoming elections.”