SÃO PAULO –A Brazilian pro-choice group has been forbidden to use “Catholics” in their name by the São Paulo State court.
Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD) was inspired by the U.S.-based Catholics for Choice,
The petition to remove the name “Catholic” from the group was made by the Conservative Catholic association Centro Dom Bosco, which argued that a pro-abortion group couldn’t be called Catholic.
Judge José Carlos Ferreira Alves stated in his decision on October 27 that the goals of the association “reveal incompatibility with the values adopted by the Catholic Church.”
“By advocating the right to decide for abortion, which the Church clearly and severely condemns, there’s a clear distortion and incompatibility of the adopted name and the association’s goals and concrete action, which directly violate moral and good customs, in addition to hurting the common good and the public interest,” the judge said, according to a story published by the new website G1.
The judge ruled that CDD must change its statutes and legal name within 15 days, under penalty of fines of $175 a day.
Since the court ruling, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, social movements, religious leaders and politicians have expressed solidarity with CDD, claiming that such a decision reinforced “fundamentalism” in Brazil and that the Judiciary shouldn’t interfere with religious matters.
In an article published on the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, the Dominican priest Frei Betto, a leading figure in the Latin American Liberation Theology, asked if the Brazilian society “returned to Inquisition.”
“The judicial ruling is wrongful. First of all, it’s not up to the civil Judiciary to determine who can or who can’t be considered Catholic. This would be the responsibility of the ecclesiastical institution, but it doesn’t get to such a frontier. The canonical law admits that a Catholic be excluded from the Church for professing, for example, apostasy. Even so, nothing impedes that he keeps considering himself to be Catholic,” Betto said.
According to Pedro Affonseca, Centro Dom Bosco’s president, the petition had been made in 2018, after CDD attended public hearings in the Brazilian Supreme Court during proceedings related to a project for the depenalization of abortion.
“We realized that such association passed as a representant of a part of the Catholic followers, something that’s simply false and inconsistent with the association’s finality, which is the depenalization of a very serious sin such as abortion,” he told Crux.
Affonseca called the criticisms on Centro Dom Bosco’s petition “unfounded and ridiculous.”
“We never intended to define what can be called ‘Catholic’ or not, but obviously, as Catholics, we obey the definition established by the Holy Catholic Church 2,000 years ago. Abortion Is defined by the Holy Catholic Church as a very serious sin against the Fifth Commandment of God’s law, under penalty of excommunication,” he said.
“A Catholic can’t be favorable to the depenalization of abortion, under penalty of not being Catholic,” he continued.
Affonseca said that he hopes that Catholics from other countries, either individually or gathered in associations, petition against the use of “Catholic” in the name of the associations that are part of the CDD’s network.
Regina Jurkewicz, a member of CDD’s institutional board, said the group is surprised by the judicial decision and intends to appeal it.
“It’s a lay state. It’s not up to the state to decide such things,” she told Crux.
According to Jurkewicz, who holds a Ph.D in Religious Studies, “being Catholic means being universal” and there’s a multiplicity of theologies and ideas in the Church.
“There are Liberation theologies, black theologies, feminist theologies, and so on. Not even the Church has ever declared who’s Catholic and who isn’t in such a scenario. The right path is dialogue and not extinction,” she said.
Jurkewicz admitted that the group advocates the women’s access to legal abortion in Brazil.
“Only a few hospitals perform legal abortions. It keeps being a big problem in the country,” she said.
CDD, she said, doesn’t incentivize abortion. “We only want to secure the women’s health. It’s been proved that in countries which legalized abortion, its rates have fallen,” she said.
Bishop Devair Araújo da Fonseca, auxiliary in São Paulo and the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for communication, the bishops in Brazil had decided to be neutral in the dispute.
“It’s a civil dispute between two civic associations. I don’t think the Church should take any position in it,” he told Crux.
According to Da Fonseca, the Brazilian Church doesn’t have ownership of the name “Catholic” in Brazil, something that could prevent this kind of problem.
“In fact, I think there’s an incongruency with an entity which defends abortion and the name ‘Catholic’. The Church is against abortion,” he said.