SÃO PAULO – A São Paulo state legislator sparked outrage among Catholics in Brazil after a speech in which he insulted an archbishop, the Brazilian episcopate as a whole and even Pope Francis.

State legislator Frederico Braun D’Ávila, a supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro in the São Paulo State legislature, attacked Archbishop Orlando Brandes of Aparecida during a legislative session on Oct. 14.

Two days earlier, on the feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brandes had criticized Bolsonaro’s pro-gun stance and the dissemination of fake news in the country. The archbishop’s remarks came just a few hours before the president visited the Aparecida basilica.

“You bum, you rascal, who is subjected to that equally bum of a pope. The last thing you take care of is the spirit, the well-being and the comfort of the people’s souls,” D’Avila said.

D’Ávila also criticized the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB).

“Who do you think you are to use your cassock and the altar in order to do political proselytism? You shameless pedophiles, the CNBB is a cancer that has to be extirpated from Brazil,” he added.

D’Ávila, a longtime leader in agribusiness and a member of Bolsonaro’s former Social Liberal Party, is an outspoken advocate of re-establishing Brazil’s monarchy, which was abolished in 1889, and conservative values.

In his tenure as a State legislator, D’Ávila has gotten involved in several quarrels with left-wing colleagues and also has been notorious for the proposal of controversial measures.

In November of 2019, for instance, he tried to pass a motion to officially honor former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, famous for his bloody regime that killed about 40,000 people during the 1970s and 1980s.

The CNBB reacted to D’Avila’s latest speech with a video of by the conference’s president, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte.

De Azevedo said D’Ávila’s speech was “crazily contaminated by hate” and was an “anti-Christian stance.”

“We ask all citizens, especially Catholics, to have much prudence and to avoid being persuaded by politicians who want to disseminate hate and attack the Church,” the archbishop added.

The CNBB also released a letter addressed to the speaker of the São Paulo legislature, Carlão Pignatari, in which the conference reaffirmed its right to “pronounce its moral judgement on social realities when the fundamental rights of the people, the common good and the human salvation require so.”

“As a defender of the Rule of Law and loyal to it, the CNBB respectfully hopes that this egregious legislative house, by trusting in its credibility, apply effective, legal and regimental internal measures so that outrageous disrespect can be compensated in the proportion of its seriousness – in a signal of an unswerving commitment to the building of a democratic and civilized society,” the letter said.

The letter was personally taken to Pignatari by Bishop Pedro Luiz Stringhini of Mogi das Cruzes on October 18. According to Stringhini, the State legislative house speaker “apologized to Pope Francis and Archbishop Orlando Brandes on behalf of the São Paulo legislature.”

On the same day, D’Ávila also apologized, claiming that he was under stress after suffering a “murder attempt” during a robbery on October 12.

“I admit that my speech was inappropriate and exaggerated […] it was a response to some religious leaders who exceed the limits of the propagation of the faith and spirituality to do political proselytism. I reaffirm my apologies for my words and exaggeration,” he said.

He also declared that he did not intend to show disrespect to Pope Francis, a “sacrosanct leader and chief of State.”

“My speech only had the intention of diverging from [his] ideas and thoughts. Including Pope Francis in my discourse was a mistake, and I humbly apologize to all Catholics in Brazil and in the world, given that I did not take into consideration the spiritual figure that he symbolizes,” added D’Ávila, who is Jewish.

The ethics committee of the legislature is currently studying the case. D’Ávila may be suspended or even lose his seat.

Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino of Sao Felix do Araguaia told Crux that unfortunately many Catholics end up being persuaded by declarations like D’Ávila’s.

“We can clearly see it on the social media. That kind of talk does not have any relation to Our Lord’s gospel,” he said.

Vasino said that “under the Rule of Law, people cannot freely attack each other” and that such insults have to be somehow restrained.

“I believe that this State legislator broke with the code of conduct that is required for a minimum of civilized coexistence,” he said.

Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, the director of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo’s Center of Faith and Culture, said that Bolsonaro’s alliance with conservative Christians in Brazil – including Catholics – is controversial, “given that it is a denial of the Christian values.”

He said the controversy over D’Ávila’s remarks is an example of that contradiction.

“Bolsonaro is particularly the antithesis of the classical values of Christianity. It is admirable, and contradictory, that he managed to become an icon of Christian conservatism,” he told Crux.