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Brazilian Dialogue

Renewal of Facism

What a century we've just left behind! Imperialism, fascism, communism all locked in mortal combat. Unfortunately, the official church frequently sided with fascism.

It did so on a grand scale in Spain and Portugal, and on a lesser scale in places like Quebec, ostensibly as the antidote to communism. In Brazil, with the fascist coup d'état by the military (with U.S. help) in 1964, the fascist tendencies among some church leaders came to the fore. The most egregious demonstration of this was a remark by the Archbishop of Diamantina (in Minas Gerais) defending the torture of prisoners: "You're not going to get information with bon bons!"

In fact this same bishop denounced several dozen of his fellow bishops as communist sympathizers, infiltrators in the church. When these charges got big play in the media he upped the numbers: nearly 100 bishops were crypto-communists! Of course, this was ridiculous on the face of it and the media dropped the matter, bursting the bishop's bubble.

Fortunately, there were always great bishops to teach that a prime goal of religion is to work for justice and that its fruits would be peace and prosperity. One of these in Brazil, Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, had lived through the Spanish Civil War in which his priest-uncle was killed, one of thousands of clergy. Nonetheless, Casaldaliga recognized that fascism was part of the problem and certainly not the solution. In Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends felt the need to create the Bekennende Kirche, the Confessing Church, when he couldn't convince his evangelical confreres that their dalliance with Nazism was diabolical.

A fortunate development for Italy was that the young priest Montini, an ardent foe of fascism and influential with the university students and older intellectuals, became Pius XII's right-hand man. This won for the church some degree of credibility with the Italian people disillusioned after Mussolini's downfall.

We can hardly underestimate the hope and courage that Archbishop Romero's defence of the people gave to Third World Christians and to Christians of the First World: a little man taking on the fascist might!

Today, as we commence our journey into a new century, fascist tendencies are showing themselves anew, especially in the United States. And not only in the government and the military establishment but also among the populace. Any people that gives its political leader a 90 per cent approval rating (President Bush after 9/11) tempts such a leader to become a new Duce, Führer

Since all temporal power (political, economic, financial) now emanate from the U.S., a renewal of fascism is most dangerous. Can the U.S. church (or, rather, will it?) raise up leaders like Bonhoeffer, Montini, Casaldaliga, Romero, Dom Helder?

This is a moment in history that calls for greatness. Montini (Paul VI) raised up many great bishops. Will the current college step up to the plate, in good American fashion, and get a hit for justice, maybe a home run for peace?

Al Gerwing