One would not be mistaken to assert that, although Brazil constitutes the largest Catholic country in the world, the Brazilian clergy comprises one of the main ruling groups that have done its uttermost to undermine the rule of law in this country. While some clergymen, to be fair, do favour the rule of law, other prefer to instead promote in its place an understanding of ‘class struggle’ based on radical Marxist principles of revolutionary socialism.
Those of such an ideological orientation believe that private property and free initiative are routes to hell, the only corrective of which is a violent socialistic revolution to lead the nation toward a sort of “tropical paradise” or “God’s Kingdom on Earth”.
In the 1950s, for example, a group of ‘religious’ people decided to establish the Ação Católica Brasileira – ACB (Brazilian Catholic Action). The ACB embraced a radical Marxist orientation that sought to abolish the democratic Constitution of 1946.
To achieve such an objective, the ACB’s leader, a Franciscan friar called Thomas Cardonnel, created the concept of “established disorder”, which he enunciated as follows: “We can never insist enough on the need to denounce natural harmony and class collaboration. God is not so dishonest, so false as to produce a certain kind of social peace consisting of the acquiescence of all in an unnatural injustice. Violence is not only a fact of revolutions; it also militates against the maintenance of a false order”.
An even more extreme organization was created in 1962 by a segment of the ACB: the Ação Popular – AP (Popular Action). The AP constituted in the 1960s, in the words of American historian Thomas C. Bruneau, “the most revolutionary organization in Brazil”.
Its 1966 booklet entitled Estratégia Revolucionária (Revolutionary Strategy) openly advocates for “guerrilla warfare and a plan to establish pure socialism”. Similarly, its 1966 booklet Documento Básico (Basic Document) declared: “The Popular Action basically opts for a policy of revolutionary preparation, consisting of mobilization of the people based on the development of their levels of consciousness and organization, and securing this mobilization in terms of a struggle against the domination of capitalism (international and national).”
With the advent of the military regime in April 1964, Catholic institutions were discovered sheltering guerrillas who believed they could replace it with communism. Church buildings such as the Cristo Rei, a Jesuit seminary in southern Brazil, provided accommodation for ’emissaries’ of ‘armed groups’ involved with terrorist activities throughout the country.
In October 1969, the police found a Catholic orphanage that also served as storage space for chemical products used in the manufacture of explosives by a terrorist organization called Forças Armadas de Libertação Nacional – FALN (National Liberation Armed Forces).
This reality of extreme radicalism has not changed very much over the years. On the contrary, many are the Catholics who still believe the ‘oppressed’ class is committing a ‘sin’ when not rebelling against the ‘system’. In doing so, they would regard the desire conveyed in papal encyclicals for harmonious coexistence between social classes to be “self-deception”.
According to Leonardo Boff, a leading contributor to liberation theology in the country, the capitalist system is to be compared with “the 666 of the whore of Babylon.” He thus states: “There is no cure for this system. It must be overcome.” Boff believes the world must face a “final apocalyptic confrontation of the forces of good [communism] and evil [capitalism], and then the blessed millennium”.
The violent suppression of capitalism, he argues, would represent the advent of “God’s Kingdom on Earth, and the advent of a new society of a socialistic type”. And since his apocalyptic vision of the ‘Day of Judgment’ is clearly based on the emergence of violent confrontation between social classes, he openly advocates for the use of the Catholic Church as a means of revolutionary support and indoctrination.
As Boff explains: “The subordinated classes solicit the Church to aid them in their search for greater power and autonomy in the face of the domination they suffer. They ask the Church to support and justify the breakdown of the ruling classes and lend itself to revolutionary service.
“Yet, the faithful are present on both sides; the Church is inevitably affected by class conflicts and so may serve a revolutionary function or serve as a strengthening force for the ruling classes. These two possibilities are not free choices or options.”
Boff refuses in this sense to accept the possibility of any peaceful coexistence between different social classes. For him, every religious person has the moral obligation “to rouse the working class to an awareness of class struggle and the need to take part in it”.
He would not regard it as a ‘sin’ for a person to physically attack another person from a supposedly ‘oppressive’ social class, since this would be committed by those who are ‘oppressed’ and how in the struggle to remove social inequalities.
Under this type of radical thinking, suggests Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI: “The desire to love everyone here and now, despite his class, and to go out to meet him with the non-violent means of dialogue and persuasion, is denounced as counterproductive and opposed to love.
“If one holds that a person should not be the object of hate, it is claimed nevertheless that, if he belongs to the objective class of the rich, he is primarily an enemy to be fought. Thus the universality of love of neighbour and brotherhood become an eschatological principle, which will only have meaning for the ‘new man’, who arises out of the victorious revolution.”
Boff, who left the priesthood in 1992 but is still a prominent Catholic figure (he is currently the editor of Vozes, Brazil’s leading Catholic publishing house), has explicitly declared in his 1987 book O Socialismo Como Desafio Teológico (Socialism as a Theological Challenge) that the highly oppressive former communist regimes in Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet Union, “offer[ed] the best objective possibility of living more easily in the spirit of the Gospels and of observing the Commandments”.
Returning from a visit to the former Soviet Union in 1987, and so just a few years before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, he argued that these notoriously oppressive regimes were rather “highly ethical and morally clean”, and that he had not noticed any restrictions in those countries on freedom of expression.
When Boff was summoned in the 1980s by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Vatican, Brazil’s only two cardinals, Dom Aloisio Lorscheider and Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, accompanied him to the interrogation.
Responsible for matters of Catholic faith and doctrine, this body of the Church wished for Boff to better explain his strange concept of “ecclesial division of labour” by which the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was to supposedly engage itself “in the gradual expropriation of the means of religious production from the Christian people”. The fact that the country’s only two cardinals accompanied him to the interrogation was interpreted as an ‘unprecedented support’ for his radical positions.
One of these two cardinals, Evaristo Arns, has for decades lobbied in the Vatican for the ‘positive work’ supposedly conducted by the Comunidades Eclesiásticas de Base – CEBs (Ecclesiastical Base Communities) throughout Brazil.
This cardinal is a staunchest supporter of the CEBs, although Tommie Sue Montgomery, a senior research associate with the North-South Center at the University of Miami, describes them as actually constituting “the most subversive institutions the Latin American church has developed”. Since the 1960s, she explains, CEBs have been used in Latin America as a medium through which the radical message of revolutionary Marxism is ‘preached’ to the popular masses.
Through Bible-studies, homilies, and priest-parishioner dialogues, Catholics are persuaded by their church leaders to accept a ‘theology’ that condemns capitalism and, accordingly, the rule of law as mere political mechanism for the supposed perpetuity of ‘capitalist oppression’. And it is in Brazil where CEBs were most multiplied; where this way of “reformulating the Christian message” has made “the greatest impact”.
Although the penetration of revolutionary ideas in the Brazilian church can be reasonably understood in light of the apparent socio-economic exploitation, Catholic priests who embrace such putative remedies may in actual fact be offering people the exchange of one kind of exploitation for another, indeed one which, given the empirical evidence, appears to be even worse.
According to Stéphane Courtois, the editor of a seminal book on the subject entitled Le Livre Noir du Communisme (‘The Black Book of Communism’), Marxist-inspired regimes were directly responsible in the twentieth century for the killings of at least 100 million people. These Marxist-inspired regimes were far more proficient at the ‘art’ of killing innocent people than at promoting any form of ‘social justice’.
Naturally, the interest that some radical extremists have in infiltrating at the Catholic Church is not so hard to explain. No revolutionary undertaking can possibly be successful in a deeply Catholic country like Brazil without the support of the powerful clergy.
As with numerous other Latin American nations, the Catholic Church “can still legitimate or discredit given values and attitudes with profound impact on the prospects of the people”.
Recognising this, the Cuban-Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara once declared: “When the Christians have the courage to commit themselves completely to the Latin American revolution, the Latin American revolution will be invincible.”
One such radical extremist infiltrated into the Catholic Church is Carlos Libânio Christo, or Frei Betto, a friar from the Dominican Order who accuses all people tortured in the Cuban gulags, or executed by its communist government, or who managed somehow to escape from that country-island, to be, without exception, either a criminals or deeply selfish people.
For this is exactly what this priest has suggested in a January 4, 2004, article published by Brazil’s leading newspaper Folha de S. Paulo : “If Cuba is so advanced socially, why do some people attempt to escape from this country? Well, does not Brazil also have three million of its citizens living outside its borders? The only difference is that the Cuban economy is socialist and does not accept individuals doing tourism outside the country; that is, it does not accept the evasion of capital for the purpose of individual gratification. This, however, does not stop any Cuban citizen from travelling overseas at the expenses of the state for scientific, artistic, commercial, or diplomatic reasons.
“As for those who deserted Cuba in search of the ‘American way of life’, I haven’t heard of any of these people trying to improve the conditions of the poor in the countries where they now are living. On the contrary, jails in the United States are packed with such Cuban escapees (evadidos).
“To live in Cuba requires altruism, as it does to live in a religious convent or monastery. The ‘ours’ leaves little space to the ‘mine’. And since selfishness is often the strongest human inclination, many are those who resist the idea of never getting rich to enjoy the mere superficialities (quimeras) that money promises”.
As can be seen, Betto is a ‘religious’ person who has an enormous faith in the government of Cuba, despite all the overwhelming evidences of ongoing human-rights violations in that unhappy country.
He believes that ‘altruistic’ Cubans would have the moral duty to completely renounce their personal freedom in order to subject themselves entirely to their country’s totalitarian state. Maybe because of this he also declared in a 2002 article published by America Libre that it is important for the leftists in Brazil “not to yield the naïve concept of making revolution through the ballot”.
Frei Betto has worked until recently as a special aide to the Lula administration on land-reform programs. Other Catholic priests who think exactly like him are still working at federal agencies such as the Instituto Nacional para Colonização e Reforma Agrária (National Institution for Colonization and Agrarian Reform – Incra).
In today’s Brazil, a basic problem stemming from the undeniable fact that so many Catholics have adopted radical Marxist categories to produce their social analysis is that Marxism, at least in its more revolutionary form, does not to favour either democracy or the rule of law.
In fact, the undertone of extreme violence generated by communist regimes around the world may represent a natural projection of Karl Marx’s understanding of law.
As everybody who knows and really understands the political writings of Karl Marx is able to confirm, what this German philosopher advocated is not the rule of law but rather the dictatorship of the so-called ‘proletariat’.
Marx believed that a classless (communist) society requires, as he put it, “a period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”. For him, this dictatorship was the only way the ideal of communism could be advanced. This is so because, as V.I. Lenin explains in a lecture delivered in 1919, Marx regarded ‘law’ as a mere mechanism “for holding the other subordinated classes obedient to the one class”.
The natural implications of this obviously undemocratic premise – which was summed up in the famous slogan of the former Soviet regime, “All power belongs to the Soviets” – are more accurately revealed in the following excerpt from a 1919 book published by English-speaking communists in revolutionary Russia:
“The proletarian state… is an organization of the dominating class (the dominating class here is the working class) and an organization of the violence over the bourgeoisie, as a means of getting rid of the bourgeoisie and of putting an end to it. He who is afraid of this kind of violence is not a revolutionist.”
As can be observed in any communist regime existing in the world, the practical application of Marxist conceptions of law does not tolerate any division of governmental powers. Because Marx saw ‘law’ only as an instrument of class domination, the judicial function was understood as being to safeguard the absolute interests of the class-dominated state. Thus, judicial independence and impartiality are regarded as ‘bourgeois myth’.
In his seminal work The Communist Theory of Law (1955), the legal philosopher Hans Kelsen comments that “the anti-normative approach to social phenomena is an essential element of the Marxian theory in general and of the Marxian theory of law in particular”. He properly interpreted Marx’s promise that lawlessness might lead to “perfect justice” as “a utopian prophecy”.
Indeed, it is worthwhile considering that all the most prominent jurists in the former Soviet Union considered the mere existence of law in a normative sense “a theoretically inconvenient fact”. They believed that Marx’s understanding of law pointed to a future society where all laws would have to disappear. They argued that, in Marx’s opinion, the function of any legal order is basically to hold subordinated classes obedient to the dominating class, no matter which one this might be.
But if a state of lawlessness is indeed the final stage of the communist ‘paradise’, which in Karl Marx’s vision necessarily predates “a period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”, one may here consider it absolutely fair to assume that in an overwhelming Catholic nation like Brazil, all the ongoing Marxist interpretation of “social revolution” by members of this influential Church can naturally constitute a serious obstacle to the realization of the rule of law in the nation.
Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and the author of the well-known books Teoria Geral do Federalismo Democrático (General Theory of Democratic Federalism – Second Edition, 2005) and Curso de Direito Constitucional (Course on Constitutional Law, Fourth Edition – 2005). His e-mail is: email@example.com