SÃO PAULO – A Catholic priest is among a set of aides and allies of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro currently being investigated by federal police on charges of conspiacy to state a coup d’état following 2022 elections that returned leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to power.

Father José Eduardo de Oliveira e Silva, a prominent vicar in a city on the outskirts of São Paulo, was one of 24 individuals named in the probe whose homes were raided by police this week.

According to investigators, Silva took part in a meeting at the presidential palace in November 2022 to discuss the possibility of a miltary coup to overturn the election results. Police seized his computer and cell phone, and also ordered the priest to surrender his passport. He’s forbidden to leave the country and to talk to other people being investigated.

Silva has an international Catholic profile, and among other things has contributed a number of articles to the well-known Catholic media platform Aleteia.

Silva denied any wrong-doing in a social media post.

“I didn’t cooperate with or support any act that could be disruptive to the constitution,” he wrote, adding that he is available to collaborate with the authorities and that it’s the duty of society as a whole “to combat any kind of religious intolerance.”

The new police operation, launched Feb. 8, is headed by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. According to investigators, Bolsonaro and members of his entourage apparently feared losing the election to Lula, and discussed with allies and cabinet members ways of invalidating the electoral process.

After his defeat in October 2022, Bolsonaro, who’s proclaimed his admiration for former President Donald Trump in the U.S., allegedly decided to claim the election had been rigged and that a military coup was needed to restore order till new elections could be organized. At that point, according to investigators, Bolsonaro and his group incentivized popular demonstrations demanding the intervention of the armed forces.

One of the alleged results of that scheme was the occupation of several government buildings by Bolsonaro supporters on Jan. 8, 2023, an act compared by analysts to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack.

In Brazil, accusations of fostering a military coup are especially sensitive, given that the country was actually run by a milutary government following a coup d’état from 1964 to 1985, justified by what was described as a “National Security Doctrine” cited by other military governments around the world.

The conspiracy cited in the new investigation allegedly involved several politicians and members of the armed forces that were close to Bolsonaro. Documents, phone messages, and other materials obtained by the police during the operation allegdly demonstrate that they had an elaborate plan, and even a draft declaration announcing the military coup.

Warrants were issued for four former assistants of Bolsonaro, three of them members of the military. One of the detained conspirators, Filipe Martins, was the aide who presented the draft of the coup declaration to Bolsonaro.

Born in the city of Sorocaba, in São Paulo state, Martins, a foreign affairs graduate, became an admirer and a pupil of Olavo de Carvalho, a far-right Catholic thinker who lived in Virginia and was considered by many to be one of the major ideologues of Bolsonaro’s administration.

A fan of former Trump aide Steve Bannon, he was known among Brazilian diplomats as “Sorocabannon.”

Silva has never made a secret of his connection to such figures, including Olavo de Carvalho. On election day in 2022, he posted on his social media a picture of himself praying at the church. A Brazilian flag was seen in the altar (the flag became a campaign symbol for Bolsonaro).

Silva also became involved in the pro-life movement years ago. In 2018, he gave a speech against the potential depenalization of abortion in Brazil in the Supreme Court. On social media, he’s followed by a number of pro-Bolsonaro members of congress and local politicians.

Silva has appointed as his attorney Miguel Vidigal, who heads the Union of Catholic Jurists and is connected to the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, inspired by the founder of the Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP).

His posts regarding the inquiry received thousands of comments, most of them favorable to the priest. Among the messages of solidarity appeared one sent by his colleague in the Diocese of Osasco, Father Douglas Pinheiro Lima.

“Obviously, being reasonable and living in a communist country… sooner or later would be two things colliding. And that’s what happened to him. Soon, many others among us will be the victims,” Lima wrote.

Since the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro and his supporters have insisted that Lula is a communist and that he plans to follow the steps of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, going after pastors and priests. Now that Silva is being investigated, many Bolsonaro supporters argue that it’s the beginning of a wave of religious persecution.

The Diocese of Osasco released a declaration saying that it was informed of the operation on social media and that it doesn’t have any information on the case.

“The diocese will always side with justice, collaborating with the authorities to solve the case,” it said.