SÃO PAULO, Brazil – An archbishop in Brazil has been accused of abetting “a leftist infiltration” of the Church in a letter to the Vatican ambassador sent by a group of professional and employer associations from the city of Londrina.

The letter was published July 2 and is signed by trade associations that represent building companies, metal industries, growers, retailers and professional associations of physicians and engineers. The document, which contains fierce criticism of Archbishop Geremias Steinmetz, is addressed to Archbishop Giovanni D’Aniello, who has served as apostolic nuncio to Brazil since 2012.

In the document, the associations praise the virtues of Steinmetz’s predecessors and then accuse the archbishop of “allowing the [center-left] Workers’ Party to instrumentalize the structure of our Church.”

The Workers’ Party (PT, in Portuguese) ruled Brazil from 2003 – when Luís Inácio Lula da Silva became president – to 2016, when then-President Dilma Rousseff was impeached. Since then, the country has seen growing political polarization, further complicated with the election of arch-conservative President Jair Bolsonaro in 2018.

“In almost every manifestation and public document of the archdiocese, it is possible to notice the influence of the leftist and socialist thesis advocated by that party (which are, it must be said, contrary to the Social Doctrine of the Church),” reads the associations’ letter.

“In several parishes, the publicizing of half-truths and ancient lies has been allowed, such as the identification between socialism and Christianity; the Marxist class struggle, that opposes rich and poor; the ill-fated Liberation Theology (strongly condemned by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI); and the ideologization of the Church (strongly condemned by Pope Francis),” the document continues.

The letter concludes by saying that many Catholics in the city feel like “orphans.”

“We need an archbishop that can make the Church in Londrina smile again. We want a Father, a Pastor, a Leader. We want to love our archbishop the same way we love our Church.”

It’s not the first time Steinmetz has been criticized by anti-PT Catholics in Londrina. In 2018, the Archdiocese of Londrina held a meeting of base ecclesial communities – a movement that was historically connected to the foundation of the PT in 1980. Footage of participants holding pro-PT banners went viral on the internet and conservative activists accused Steinmetz of promoting political propaganda.

This time, the problem seems to be a document published by the archdiocese about one of the major policies of Bolsonaro’s administration.

In May, Steinmetz released a guide with information on the pension reform that Bolsonaro is trying to pass in Congress. The reform raises the minimum age of retirement for most Brazilians, in an attempt to save up to $270 billion from the social security system in the next 10 years. The archdiocesan publication presents a 10-point guide to the losses workers would suffer if the pension reform is enacted.

“Those associations are employers’ organizations. They’re free to express their opinion, but the Church cannot be silent when it knows the people will be harmed,” Steinmetz told Crux. According to the archbishop, the signatories of the document haven’t tried to talk to him about the subject before publishing their critique. “I only knew about their letter in the press.”

Steinmetz argues that his pastoral work is in line with the social doctrine of the Church and with Francis’s guidance: “I have peace of mind.”

In the official statement issued by the archdiocese in response to the letter, Steinmetz said he is “aware there are in the Church tensions and different ideas” and that the Catholics “were always free to accept or not the themes that have a pure pastoral nature.”

On July 10, two dozen workers’ associations and social movements from Londrina released a letter expressing their support for Steinmetz. In the document, they say the attack from the employers’ associations was motivated by the desire of “stopping a Church that rejoices with the profound hardships that have been inflicted on the poorest segments of society.”

“They condemn the stance of Archbishop Geremias because he is not happy with social injustices and because his ministry is a journey in defense of those who have been wronged,” the movements affirm in the manifest.

On the same day, the pension reform was approved in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress. It still has to be approved in the Senate.

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