When Brazil Censored the Church

As you have probably heard by now, Brazil elected a new president on Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a far-right populist, often compared to Donald Trump but in reality probably closer in his platform to the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.

You might be shocked to learn that Brazil even has such borderline fascistic elements given the prominent Brazilian stereotypes among non-Brazilians. These might include things like futebol, tropical sun, caipirinhas, Carnaval, samba, and a general sense of multi-racial diversity and harmony. While all of these may certainly be parts of what makes Brazil Brazil, they are also stereotypes that only scratch the surface of a vast nation-state of almost 210 million people.

What’s less understood among foreigners or non-experts is how complex the politics and demographic make-up of Brazil are. One case in point is that up until quite recently, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship. This took place from 1964 until 1985, after which a transitional period followed for three years until 1988, when a new, fully democratic federal constitution was ratified. The twenty-one-year era of dictatorship was defined by a high level of suppression of free speech; harassment of intellectuals, artists, and dissidents; and torture. Even the Catholic Church, and especially its more progressive, pro-poor and -labor wing, was not immune to the regime.

Notably, this was also one of the few times in history when the Catholic Church deferred to a government in a predominantly Catholic nation, its role reversed from censor to censored. In the case of the military dictatorship in Brazil, a government official was tasked with reviewing O São Paulo, the most influential Catholic newspaper in the country at that time. In 1975, in the mainline Protestant magazine Christian Century, James Bruce reported,

Every Thursday afternoon, before presses can roll to produce the archdiocesan newspaper of Latin America’s largest city, a delegate from federal police headquarters in São Paulo arrives at the printer’s office and begins reading proofs. Using a felt tip pen and rubber stamp, “VETADO,” [vetoed] he gleans the grayish columns for offensive items before returning the proofs to an editor, who fills the censored gaps with overset and sends the sterilized weekly to the presses. (940)

Although O São Paulo was, at the time, the Catholic Church’s only externally censored publication, it speaks to the shifting dynamics between church and state that occurred during the twentieth century. Even in a predominantly devout Catholic nation such as Brazil, the status quo lay with the generals at the top.

Whether any similar practices of censorship will re-emerge under President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s administration are yet to be seen. But due to the incendiary rhetoric and hardline “law-and-order” policies espoused during his campaign, rights-watch organizations in Brazil and around the world are undoubtedly on high alert.

Bruce, J. (1975). “Brazil: Muzzling the Outspoken Church.” Christian Century, 92 (34), 940-942.

 

Scarlet and Black (1831)

Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

STENDHAL (Henri Beyle), Scarlet and Black: A Chronicle of the Nineteenth century. Translated by Margaret R.B. Shaw. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1983; 1953.  

Original citation: Le Rouge et le noir. Paris:  A. Levasseur, 1831.

Condemned: June 20, 1864 to 1900.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals.

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

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Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

HUGO, Victor, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Translated by Walter Cobb. New York: Signet Classics/Chamberlain Bros., 2005.

Original citation: Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1831.

Condemned: July 28, 1834.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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Madame Bovary (1857)

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Source: HathiTrust (digitized by Internet Archive; original from Duke University)

FLAUBERT, Gustave, Madame Bovary. Translated by Francis Steegmuller. New York: Random House, 1957; 1950.

Original citation: Madame Bovary, moeurs de province. Paris: Michel Lévy, 1857.

Condemned: June 20, 1864.

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§8: Books which declare duels, suicide, or divorce as licit, or that deal with Freemasonry;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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OPERA OMNIA (All Works, 1600)

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Source: HathiTrust (digitized by and original from the Getty Research Institute; see link below).

BRUNO, Giordano (1548-1600), Iordanvs Brvnvs nolanvs De vmbris idearvm : implicantibus artem quaerendi, inueniendi, iudicandi, ordinandi, & applicandi : ad internam scripturam, & non vulgares per memoriam operationes explicatis. Parisiis [Paris]: Apud Aegidium Gorbinum, sub insigne Spei, è regione gymnasij Cameracensis, 1582.

Original citation: Opera omnia (all works).

Condemned: February 8, 1600.

§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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Dellon’s Account of the Inquisition at Goa (1687)

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Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).
DELLON, Charles (Gabriel), Dellon’s Account of the Inquisition at Goa. Hull: Printed by Joseph Simmons for I. Wilson, 1812.

Original citation: Relation de l’Inquisition de Goa. Leiden: Daniel Van Gaasbeeck, 1687. (Also available for print-on-demand purchase via the Bavarian State Library.)

Condemned: April 24, 1690.

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§8: Books which declare duels, suicide, or divorce as licit, or that deal with Freemasonry.

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Candide, Or Optimism (1759)

Source: Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

VOLTAIRE (François-Marie Arouet), Candide and Other Stories. Translated by Roger Pearson. Oxford and New York: The World’s Classics (Oxford University Press), 1990.

Original citation: Candide, ou l’Optimisme. Traduit de l’allemand de Mr le docteur Ralph. [Cramer: Geneva, Switzerland], 1759; first condemned in Italian: Candido, o l’Ottimismo del signor Dottor Ralph tradotto in italiano. [Geneva], 1759.

Condemned: May 24, 1762.

§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;

§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;

§9: Books which professedly discuss, describe, or teach impure and obscene topics.

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A Narrative of Iniquities and Barbarities Practiced at Rome in the Nineteenth Century (1844)

CIOCCI, Raffaele, A Narrative of Iniquities and Barbarities Practiced at Rome in the Nineteenth Century. London: J. Nisbet, 1844.

Original citation: L’Inquisition à Rome en 1841, ou iniquités et cruautés exercées à Rome sur la personne de Raphael Ciocci. Paris: Paulin, 1844.

Condemned: August 8, 1845.

§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;

§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way.

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