SÃO PAULO – A Brazilian bishop is calling President Jair Bolsonaro a “fascist” and even asked God to “deliver us from [his] maladministration of death.”
The comment was made on June 14 on Twitter by auxiliary bishop Vicente de Paula Ferreira of Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais State, and has been one of the most pointed attacks by a Church prelate against the controversial South American leader.
Ferreira’s tweet alluded to an incident involving Bolsonaro a few days before. On June 11, the President had attended a ceremony in Vitória, in Espírito Santo State. Before leaving the city, he decided to get into a commercial plane in order to salute the passengers.
A video showed that some of them shouted that he should go away and called him genocidal, a common insult among his critics, connected to his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 490,000 Brazilians.
Many in the country accuse Bolsonaro of being responsible for such a high number of deaths due to his repeated attempts of downplaying the seriousness of the disease, his failure to secure enough vaccines, and his stance against social distancing measures.
He replied by saying that “those who say ‘Out, Bolsonaro’ should be riding a donkey [instead of travelling on a plane].” The world he used for donkey, jegue, is a regionalism from the Northeastern part of the country, where former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – Bolsonaro’s major political opponent – was born and where support for Bolsonaro is the lowest.
In his tweet, Ferreira said: “Lord, you who escaped to Egypt on a donkey, show us a way of getting rid of that Brazilian fascist. You who entered Jerusalem riding an ass, give us the courage to face the tyrant who is killing our people. Deliver us, Lord, from the maladministration of death. It’s too heavy.”
Ferreira’s use of the term “fascist” was highlighted in the press. In the current context of political polarization, such word may have a different meaning for some. Many of Bolsonaro’s critics commonly call him a fascist, particularly those on the Left. Moreover, his supporters often use the word to describe Lula’s backers.
“Such a political and party attitude is not adequate for a bishop of the Catholic Church,” Frederico Viotti, a spokesman for the Traditionalist Catholic organization Institute Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (known as IPCO), told Crux.
“Particularly if he reproduces formulations that have been used by the most radical left-wing to categorize any Catholic who defends the Catechism’s doctrine in temporal society, which is contrary to abortion, the so-called homosexual ‘marriage’, gender ideology, and socialism,” Viotti added.
In his opinion, Ferreira’s tweet is a signal of a “giant crisis that has encompassed the Church” and many times includes an alliance of members of the clergy with the Church’s enemies.
“In general, the criticism against the current administration expressed by certain Church members doesn’t aim at its possible flaws, but at its conservative stance, that contrasts with the so-called Catholic left-wing,” Viotti said.
However, Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, the director of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo’s Center of Faith and Culture, said it’s not wrong, per se, to call Bolsonaro a fascist.
“His current power strategy has been to employ the menace of a military coup d’état, one which dissolves the other branches of the State. He also continually supports aggressive political groups that consider violence as a valid element in politics,” he told Crux.
Ferreira’s declaration, however, is not helpful, according to Ribeiro Neto.
“Bolsonaro’s strategy is to appear as a victim of unfair judgements, to accuse his opponents of being radical left-wingers, to despise any Christian agent that doesn’t support him. When a bishop calls him a fascist, he does exactly what Bolsonaro wants him to do,” he said.
According to Ribeiro Neto, that is the point when Bolsonaro tells his supporters that the Church’s hierarchy no longer necessary discernment to guide churchgoers, so they should follow the bishops or even the pope.
“When it comes to communications strategy, it would have been better to point out the several divergences between Bolsonaro and the Christian message, instead of employing an adjective that has undeniable defamatory nature,” he said.