Tension is increasing again between the Roman Catholic Church and the right-wing military regime in Brazil, but this time the main cause is political division within the church.
The archconservative archbishop of the east-central Brazilian city of Diamantina, Geraldo Sigaud, has publicly accused two fellow bishops of being responsible for "Communist infiltration" in the church. They are Bishop Pedro Casaldaiiga of the remote Mato Grosso town of Sao Felix do Araguaia and Bishop Tomaz Balduino of the central Brazilian city of Goias.
Bishop Casaldaliga has defended the rights of rural peasants and squatters being thrown off small plots of land by owners of large ranches. Bishop Balduino is president of a Brazilian Catholic missionary organization seeking to protect the rights of primitive Indians being overrun by land developers and homesteaders.
Archbishop Sigaud has turned over a large batch of documents relating to the two bishops to the papal nuncio, or Vatican ambassador, in Brazil, for forwarding to Pope Paul VI. Sigaud wants the pope to remove Casaldaliga and Balduino from Brazil.
Sigaud's anticommunist crusade has wrecked an attempt to unity Brazil's bishops despite their often serious individual political differences. Some Brazilian church leaders felt such a united front would help the church's overall cause in campaigning against what are perceived as injustices under the current government. For this reason, the last annual meeting of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil in February produced a final document that was mild in comparison to earlier church attacks against the government and its policies.
Furthermore, the open division among bishops seems to be leading to renewed government surveillance of churhc activities. Bishop Ivo Lorscheiter, secretary-general of the bishops conference, claims that Brazilian political police have been ordered to prepare confidential dossiers on priests and bishops throughout the country.
Bishop Lorscheiter says the dossiers contain questions such as: "Does the clergyman try to disfigure the person of Christ?" and he comments, "How is a poor security agent supposed to answer that?" he also says that political police are preparing a file on church property and investments. A "climate of poison" is being created purposely, Lorscheiter asserts.
Bishop Casadaliga, a Spanish citizen, says Archbishop Sigaud's "documents" against him are "a slanderous hodgepodge of cut-up publications which do not express my thinking." The accused bishop adds: "I am not a communist. I am against all violence and disrespect for human rights, whether it occurs in Latin America or Siberia." He says the only way he will leave Brazil is "if they deport me."
One piece of "evidence" Sigaud gave the nuncio was a poem Casalaliga had dedicated to Ernesto (Che) Guevara, the late Cuban guerrilla hero. Casaldaliga says Sigaud cited only parts of the poem. Casaldaliga does not deny he admires Guevara, "as I admire anyone who is capable of giving his life for a cause."
Sigaud contends that bishops Casaldaliga and Balduino are responsible for much of the recent tension between the church and the Brazilian government. Both bishops vehemently refute the charges. The two say such tension is a result of government policies which, in their opinion, trample the rights of peasant farmers, Indians and the urban poor, in favor of rich businessmen and landowners.
Sigaud once was active in a controversial ultraconservative Brazilian Catholic lay organization called Tradition, Family and Property. This group once sent Pope Paul a petition with 1.6 million signatures calling for action against alleged "Communist infiltration" in the church in Brazil. But Sigaud has since given up his membership.