SÃO PAULO, Brazil – A video posted on President Jair Bolsonaro’s Twitter account on Oct. 28 with attacks on several political parties, civil society organizations, media outlets and the local Catholic bishops’ conference spurred controversy in Brazil.
The ninety-second-long clip shows a lion surrounded by hyenas trying to kill him. Over the head of the hyenas, there are logos and symbols of political parties – including Bolsonaro’s own Social Liberal Party, with which he has been in a dispute over leadership in the past weeks – social movements, newspapers and TV stations, and civil society organizations, such as the Brazilian Bar Association.
Other hyenas carry ideas, such as “impartiality.” One of the most recurrent entities portrayed is the Supreme Court. There’s also a hyena identified with the United Nations.
By the end of the video, one of the last hyenas to appear carries the logomark of the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil (CNBB, in Portuguese).
The clip ends when another lion appears and dispels the group of hyenas. It’s identified as the “conservative patriot.”
Bolsonaro is heard saying his campaign slogan – Brazil above everything, God above everyone – and a message says “Let’s support the president till the end and not attack him! That is what the opposition does!”
The video was later removed from Bolsonaro’s Twitter account, but it keeps being reproduced by his followers.
On the same day, the dean of the Supreme Court, Celso de Mello, released a statement about Bolsonaro’s post, saying that “the presidential insolence seems to be unlimited.”
This was not the first time Bolsonaro has attacked the CNBB. During the electoral campaign in 2018, a video went viral in which he said that the “CNBB is the rotten part of the Catholic Church.”
Earlier this year, during the preparatory works for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, the Bolsonaro administration expressed concerns about the possible political consequences of the debates organized by the Amazonian Church.
A story published in February by the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo revealed that members of his administration were treating the Brazilian Church as part of the “left-wing opposition” to Bolsonaro.
According to the article, Bolsonaro’s Institutional Security Office, in charge of the Brazilian intelligence agency, was spying on members of the clergy involved in the preparation of the synod. Members of the office, including Minister General Augusto Heleno, later dismissed the accusation, saying the government was only “monitoring” the preparation of the synod.
In August, when a record number of wildfires devastated huge areas in the Amazon, the CNBB released a statement saying it was the time for urgent measures and not “for insanities and absurdities in judgement or in speech,” in a reference to Bolsonaro’s accusation that NGOs were provoking the fires.
“The president needs to continually create enemies in order to govern. That’s his power strategy. This kind of conflict expands his constituency,” said Father Antonio Manzatto, a Theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.
“President Bolsonaro doesn’t want to unify the country. When he raises this kind of controversy, he’s addressing only his followers,” he told Crux.
According to Manzatto, accusing the Brazilian episcopate of “communism” is part of a pattern of conspiracy theories aimed at fundamentalist Catholics.
“To say that the CNBB is socialist is a complete absurdity. The ones who affirm that don’t know anything about the Conference and its work,” the priest said.
“If in the past the CNBB was more engaged in social causes, that was not because it is socialist, but because of the Gospel,” he added.
Bolsonaro describes himself as Catholic, although Brazil’s growing number of Evangelical Christians formed the bulwark of his support during his 2018 presidential campaign. His wife is a member of an Evangelical denomination.
“When he said the CNBB is the ‘rotten part of the Church,’ he manifested a deep ignorance of how the Catholic Church works. There’s no Catholicism without priests and bishops. If the Episcopate is ‘rotten’ and should be removed, there would be no Catholic Church left,” said Manzatto.
The CNBB press office said it will not comment on Bolsonaro’s video, which Manzatto said was the correct course of action.
“The Conference is not part of the opposition to the president – there would be no consensus on that matter. So, it’s right not to comment on President Bolsonaro’s attacks. Any answer could confirm an attitude of opposition,” the priest said.
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