SÃO PAULO, Brazil – A bishop in Brazil allegedly said he wished to “give rat poison” to a famous singer who opposed the country’s military dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s.
Auxiliary Bishop José Francisco Falcão of Brazil’s Military Archdiocese is also accused of calling the singer – two-time Grammy Award winner Caetano Veloso – “that imbecile that sang ‘it’s forbidden to forbid’ in the 70’s.”
The bishop has claimed his words were misrepresented.
The incident happened on March 31, the 55th anniversary of the military coup that started a 21-year dictatorship in the South American country and was seen by many observers as a celebration of the event.
The Mass was attended by military officers and their families, including reportedly the widow of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, an infamous torturer during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.
Many of those who attended were members of the same party of Brazil conservative populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a retired Army captain. Bolsonaro is a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump and has pursued a similar confrontational attitude with Brazil’s political and media elite.
During his homily, Falcão was supposedly addressing themes of discipline and hierarchy and said that even the conception of freedom has restrictions.
It was the newsmagazine Veja, that reported his comments about Veloso. The song he referenced – “It’s Forbidden to Forbid” was written in 1968 a year before Veloso was forced to leave the country after being arrested by the regime. He lived in exile in London until 1972.
The report on Falcão’s homily highlighted the controversy over Bolsonaro’s decision to have the armed forces commemorate the coup’s anniversary. The president has been a fierce defender of the military dictatorship – a regime that was officially declared responsible for at least 434 deaths. It also conducted thousands of political arrests and is accused in many cases of torture.
It was the first time since democratic government was re-established in 1985 that such a celebration has taken place, and several civil organizations, politicians and scholars protested the president’s decision.
According to magazine Época, Veloso heard about the homily and decided to sue Falcão, asking for a clarification in court about his words, saying the bishop’s statements amounted to “threats.”
Falcão released a public statement addressed to Veloso on April 4, claiming that the celebration on March 31 was a Thanksgiving Mass for the promotion of some officers to the rank of general and noted the Mass has been celebrated annually on the same date.
“At no point during the homily was there any mention of the name of any singer or composer, neither does the word ‘imbecile’ appear. […] In the homily, I affirmed: ‘In the 1970s, someone composed a song ‘it’s forbidden to forbid…’ I was referring to the slogan coined in the end of the 1950s and transformed in song in the years that followed the spirit of May of 1968, in Paris, which was disseminated all over the world, notably in the 1970s,” the statement said.
Falcão said his sermon was about the prodigal son, who left his father’s house in search of unrestrained freedom, something that – the statement goes on – is not possible according to the Christian vision, given that six out of 10 commandments are prohibitions. The bishop said his idea was therefore to demonstrate the inherent contradiction of the conception of unlimited freedom.
“I said: ‘If I could meet with the person who wrote this song, I would ask: What? So you would accept to eat rat poison or chew cyanide?’ The question is posed to the interlocutor as questioning, not as desire.”
Falcão concluded his statement accusing the press of having distorted the sense of his sermon.
Veloso is an advocate of social causes and political progressivism since the 1960s and in the past few decades was a recurrent supporter of the leftist Workers’ Party, who ruled Brazil from 2003 to 2016. During the presidential campaign last year, he endorsed the Worker’s Party candidate Fernando Haddad in the second round against Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro’s campaign was largely based on attacks against the left wing, including artists such as Veloso.