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.

 

The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638)

First title page. Source: Houghton Library, Harvard University (photograph by the author)

WILKINS, John, The Discovery of a World in the Moone. Or, A Discourse Tending to Prove That ‘Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in That Planet [eBook via archive.org]. London: Printed by E[dward]. G[riffin]. for Michael Sparke and Edward Forrest, 1638.

Original condemned citation: A Discovery of a new world, or a discourse tending to prove that ’tis probable there may be another habitable world in the moon, with a discourse concerning the probability of a passage thither. London: Printed by John Norton for John Maynard, 1640; first condemned in French: Le Monde dans la Lune [Divisé en deux livres. Le premier, prouvant que la Lune peut estre un monde. Le second, que la Terre peut estre une planette.] [Translated by Sieur de La Montagne]. Rouen: Jacques Cailloué, 1655.

Condemned: April 25, 1701.

§4: Books by non-Catholics dealing in any way with religion (unless in total agreement with Catholic dogma).

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