Don Paulo Evaristo Arns is out of the São Paulo archidiocese. It is
the end of an era.
The Catholic megacommunity of São Paulo (more than 6 million souls and over 250
parishes), the largest bishopric in Brazil, has a new pastor. He is Don Cláudio Hummes,
63, who was chosen by Pope John Paul II to replace cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, 77, an
extremely soft spoken and gentle Franciscan, but a very opinionated one, who has become a
mythic figure doing battle with the generals of the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985) and
the Vatican’s conservative hierarchy starting with His Holiness the Pope.
Together with Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga from São Félix do Araguaia in the Amazon he
has led for two decades the progressive wing of the Brazilian Catholic Church. Don Arns
leaves his post without making his own successor. Archbishop Hummes didn’t make the list
of eight names he had presented to the Vatican in response to a request from the Holy See.
Despite reports showing Arns and Hummes in two political opposing fields, both bishops
have more in common than their religious order (Franciscan), and being born in the South
of the country from German parents.
Don Hummes was born on August 8, 1934 in Montenegro, state of Rio Grande do Sul, in a
large family with 14 siblings. He was ordained priest in 1958 and became bishop in 1975.
He is an expert in ecumenism and has a Ph.D. in Philosophy.
In an interview with conservative daily O Estado de S. Paulo, soon after his
nomination was made public, archbishop Hummes sent a message to Paulista Catholics:
"Pray for me and don’t look at me with any kind of prejudice because I intend to be
the bishop of every one."
Don Hummes points to "immense poverty" as the biggest challenge he expects to
face in São Paulo. He also talks about a change in the way the Catholic Church does
business, in "new manners of acting and talking to the post-modern populations."
He stresses that all laic movement should be encouraged including the booming Catholic
Charismatic Renewal and the left-leaning social-aware Comunidades Eclesiais de Base
(Grassroots Ecclesiastical Communities), which were the apple of the eye of his
To those who ask about his political change from socially engaged at the start of his
work as a bishop to a more spiritual and conservative approach, the new archbishop says he
is adapting himself to the times. "I don’t feel unfaithful to myself," he
declared. "What has changed," he told O Estado , "is the political
conjuncture, our kind of analysis, our type of response."
As a bishop in Santo André, in the greater São Paulo ABCD, where he worked from May
1975 to July 1996, before being transferred to Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern
state of Ceará, he opposed the military regime and backed workers strikes. He had a
special role in the 1978 metalworkers’ strike, which was led by Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, who was a runner-up in the last two presidential races. Don Cláudio even allowed
Lula da Silva to make political speeches during his masses.
When the leadership of FIESP (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São
PauloSão Paulo State Industries Federation) asked him to intermediate a strike
negotiation with workers he adamantly refused, arguing: "The church cannot have the
role of mediator because it is firmly behind one side, that of the workers."
"He was spectacular, he was our support," recalls Jair Meneguelli, House
representative from the PT (Partido dos TrabalhadoresWorkers Party) and former
president of CUT (Central Única dos TrabalhadoresUnified Workers’ Central).
"Don Cláudio has a beautiful character," declared Lula upon knowing about
the Pope’s selection. "I am very happy with his choice. He was extraordinary in every
respect. He entirely supported our families and workers."
The archbishop’s short stay in Fortaleza he took the place of liberal Don
Aloísio Lorscheider, who was sent to Aparecida do Norte, a kind of Catholic Gulag
was not without conflict with the more progressive clergy. A group of priests even signed
an open letter criticizing his work. Don Arns leaves in São Paulo a large contingent of
priests tuned with his more socially aggressive methods and some fear that new shocks will
He has been thought as a moderate since the 1995 CNBB (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos
do BrasilNational Conference of Brazilian Bishops). Responsible for the Family
Pastoral Work he helped organize Pope John Paul II recent visit to Rio. He also got closer
to Rio’s conservative cardinal Don Eugênio de Araújo Salles, one of the most powerful
prelates in Brazil. Salles turned 75 in 1995. One year older than Don Paulo he also
presented his resignation to the Pope, but there is no sign that John Paul II is looking
for someone to substitute him.
During the ’70s Don Hummes was considered a member of the progressive wing of the
Church, but his choice by the pope was being celebrated by the more conservative clergy.
Don Cláudio himself avoids labels telling that he is a pastor who follows the Pope’s
directives. Renowned Dominican friar Betto, who worked closely with Don Hummes and who
knew first-hand the prisons and methods of the military regime, believes that the new
cardinal hasn’t changed and that people who think differently are in for a surprise. To
call him today a conservative is an injustice, says Frei Betto, one of the leaders of the
religious left: "This is an unfair label. It wasn’t he who changed, but the
Frei Betto should know. Despite all the pressure against him since 1978 he was
maintained until today as head of the Pastoral Operária (Workers Pastoral Program) in the
ABCD region with total backing from Don Hummes. "There is much more in common between
Don Cláudio and Don Paulo than our vain philosophy let us believe," says Frei Betto,
adding: "I am willing to make a bet. He always had lots of affection for Lula. I will
even bet that he voted for Lula."
The new archbishop believes that social problems in São Paulo have worsened
considerably since the ’70s. While workers fought for better salaries two decades ago, he
points out, today they are striving to just get a job. He faults the neoliberalism adopted
by the President Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration for the country’s rampant
unemployment. And he defends the Movimento dos Sem Terra (The Landless Movement), arguing
that people should be encouraged to organize themselves to defend their rights. He also
seems to approve land invasionsan action often taken by the landlesswhen he
reminds that the Church defends private property, but "with social
Says the new archbishop: "Church’s primary mission is religious. It is to bring
people Christ’s teachings. To accept Christ, however, has a social consequence because He
preached love of the neighbor. Who adheres to Christ is invited to help and to share with
everybody and most of all with the poor and the oppressed who are victims of the social
organization. Private property is defended by the Church as a secondary right. The primary
right is the universal destination of the goods, meaning that the earthly goods are for
Don Hummes believes that the tendency is for polarization between conservative and
progressive, charismatic and grassroots communities to dissolve. "The Church is a
unity and diversity at the same time," he argues.