SÃO PAULO – Archbishop Alberto Taveira Corrêa of Belém, an archdiocese with more than 2 million residents in the Amazon region in Brazil, faces criminal and ecclesial investigations after being accused of sexual harassment and abuse by four former seminarians.
The accusations were disclosed by the Brazilian edition of the Spanish newspaper El País at the end of December and became a high-profile scandal on January 3, when TV Globo’s weekly news show Fantástico aired a report on the story.
The names of the former seminarians have not been revealed. All of them studied at the Saint Pius X seminary in Ananindeua, in Belém’s metropolitan area, and were between 15 and 20 years old when the alleged abuse happened.
According to the alleged victims, Corrêa usually held in-person meetings with seminarians in his residence, so they didn’t suspect anything when they were invited by him.
One of them, identified as B. in El País’s story, used to frequent Corrêa’s house for spiritual guidance, but the harassment began after the seminary discovered he had a love affair with a colleague. He was 20.
According to the report, B. asked Corrêa’s help and the archbishop said that the young man had to comply with his spiritual healing method.
“I came to the first session and it all started: He wanted to know if I used to masturbate, if I had an active or passive role, if I liked to alternate roles [during sex], if I used to watch porn, what I thought about when I masturbated. I found his method to be very awkward,” he told El País.
After a few sessions, B. casually met with a friend who told him he was also attending that kind of meeting with Corrêa. His friend said that the encounters had evolved to other practices, such as getting naked with the archbishop and letting him touch his body. B. decided to leave the seminary for good and ceased to meet with Corrêa.
He and his friend remained in touch and eventually met two other former seminarians with similar experiences.
El País’s story includes lurid details of the former seminarians’ accounts. A. said he was threatened by Correa after resisting his efforts to get intimate with him. Like B., the seminary discovered he had an affair with a colleague.
“He said he would tell my family about my affair at the seminary,” A. told the newspaper. The archbishop allegedly promised to reinstate A. if he submitted to his demands. He ended up being sent as an assistant to a parish and was allowed to go back to the seminary afterwards.
“It was common for him to pray beside my (naked) body. He would come close to you, touching you, and started to pray into some part of your naked body,” the former seminarian alleged.
Another former seminarian, who was 16 at the time, told investigators that Corrêa usually sent his driver to pick him up at the seminary, sometimes at night, to have spiritual direction. The encounters, which allegedy took place for some months in 2014, included penetration.
The alleged victims reported that Corrêa used as part of his method the book The Battle for Normality: A Guide for (Self-) Therapy for Homosexuality, written by the Dutch psychologist Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg.
According to Fantástico’s story, the accusations were sent it to Bishop José Luís Azcona Hermoso, bishop emeritus of the Marajó Prelature, who has extensive experience working with victims of abuse. The accusations then reached the Vatican, which sent delegates to investigate the case in Brazil.
Azcona didn’t respond to Crux’s request for comment.
On December 5, Corrêa released a statement and a video in which he said that he had been recently informed of “serious accusations” against him. He decried the fact that he hadn’t been “previously questioned, heard or given any opportunity to clarify such alleged facts included in the accusations.”
Mentioning only that he was facing “accusations of immorality,” he said he lamented that the alleged accusers had opted for the “way of scandal, with the circulation of the news across the national media” with the apparent goal of “causing irreparable harm to me and provoking a shock in the Holy Church.”
A campaign supporting Corrêa has been launched on social media. Fantástico’s noted the archbishop had the support of notable Catholic leaders in Brazil, including the famous singing priests Fábio de Melo and Marcelo Rossi.
On the other hand, a group of 37 organizations released an open letter requesting the immediate removal of Corrêa from his post while the inquiries were ongoing. One of the signatories of the document is the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Santarém. Archbishop Irineu Roman of Santarém later released a statement to clarify that he hadn’t been consulted by the Commission about the document.
The Archdiocese of Belém said in a statement that the ongoing inquiry forbids it and the archbishop from commenting on the case at this moment. The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil [CNBB] declined to comment. The Apostolic Nunciature didn’t respond to Crux’s requests for comment.
Corrêa, 70, was ordained a priest in 1973 and became an auxiliary bishop in Brasília in 1991. He was the first archbishop of Palmas, in Tocantins State, and became the archbishop of Belém in 2010. He’s the ecclesial advisor of the Charismatic Catholic Renewal in the country.