SÃO PAULO – Over 1,500 priests have defended the bishops who signed a letter criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after they came under attack from traditionalist clergy in the country.

A draft of the letter signed by 146 Brazilian bishops was leaked by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on July 26.

Called a Letter to the People of God, the bishops blamed Bolsonaro for the ongoing political polarization in the country and claimed that his administration is too incompetent to manage the pandemic and its consequences.

The arch-conservative Catholic Institute Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (IPCO), posted a video on August 3 in which it accuses the prelates of being “Liberation Theology sympathizers.”

“The Bolsonaro administration certainly has problems, but it’s not because of them that those bishops, followers of the so-called ‘Christian’ left, criticize it. Those bishops are Liberation Theology supporters – at least a great part of them support it or sympathize with it,” IPCO member Frederico Viotti said in the video.

Viotti said Liberation Theology – a Progressive Catholic movement that saw its heyday in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s – is a “heresy” which was condemned by the Church and that the bishops who signed the letter “don’t represent the Church doctrine.”

The bishops who signed the letter have been supported by a number of priests.

A July 30 letter was signed by 1,058 priests from all regions of Brazil, many of them associated with two recently formed movements, Padres da Caminhada (Priests who Walk) and Priests against Fascism.

A second letter released on Aug. 4 received an additional 500 signatures.

“Some people, including Church people, said that the bishops shouldn’t have written their document. They’re facing several attacks on social media. That’s why we decided to enumerate the priests who support them,” said Father Geraldino de Proença, one of the signatories of both letters.

“Our politics is directed to common good. Jesus defended life in abundance and questioned the religious and political structures of his time,” De Proença told Crux. “If the Church doesn’t bother anyone, maybe we can ask if it’s really being Evangelical.”

In the first letter, the priests thanked the bishops for their document and said that it “represents our thoughts and sentiments.” They called it a “lucid and brave” analysis of the current situation in Brazil and added that it was prophetic, given that it clarified the “People of God’s discernment of the signs of so difficult times in our country’s history.”

The priests said that they have been seeing more and more people suffering, particularly the “poor, the vulnerable, and minorities.”

“We know that the ones who rule have the duty of acting in favor of the whole population, especially the poor. This has not been the current administration’s platform […]. That’s why we’re also profoundly outraged by the President of the Republic’s actions against – and with disdain of – the lives of human beings and also against ‘our sister, Mother Earth’, and so many actions against the people’s life and Brazil’s sovereignty,” the priests’ letter continued.

The letter concluded with a call for the reconstruction of social relations and a new commitment of the people to “the option for the Gospel and for the promotion of life.”

The priests’ second letter stressed the collective nature of priesthood – in an apparent effort to confirm their unity – and the need to “never separate faith and daily life, [given that] by neglecting our duties in relation to the world, we’d be neglecting our duties with our neighbor and with God himself.”

In another part of the letter, the priests mentioned the final documents of different Latin American episcopal conferences, seemingly emphasizing that their motivation is not grounded on left-wing politics, but in the Church’s tradition.

The priests drew attention to the Latin American bishops’ conference meetings in Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992), which called for a “preferential option for the poor” and criticized the “neo-liberal” order” of Western-style capitalism.

“Our country looks like an airplane without a pilot, suffering numerous turbulences, throwing its people through the window without a parachute,” they said.

Considering the total numbers of priests in Brazil – 27,400 – the total number of signatories was not insignificant, claimed De Proença.

“We planned the initiative through WhatsApp, without any formal organization. Probably more priests will join,” he argued.

With over 95,000 deaths attributed COVID-19 in Brazil, and a grave economic crisis, the economic situation of the country’s most vulnerable population – urban poor, indigenous peoples, peasants – is rapidly deteriorating, while the healthcare crisis keeps affecting large segments of society.

“Most priests are following the events in the outskirts of the big cities, working-class neighborhoods, poor communities. They’re feeling the people’s sufferings. That’s the reason of our protest,” said De Proença.