A liberal Brazilian monk ordered last year by Rome to observe 12 months of penitential silence for his "divergent" theological writings has been granted an amnesty of one month by the Vatican hierarchy.
Franciscan priest and scholar Leonardo Boff learned the Vatican had lifted the regime of "obedient silence" late Saturday evening, minutes after he said an Easter weekend mass in a hillside shantytown near here in the mountain town of Petropolis. The order of silence had not precluded him from saying mass.
The Rev. Boff, who had maintained public silence for 11 months, told reporters yesterday that Rome's action was "an Easter gift."
A spokesman for the Brazilian Bishops' Conference said today that clergy were "very content" that the order was suspended early and on Easter eve.
The decision was handed down by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had demanded that Boff withdraw from public life in May 1985 for his criticisms of the Catholic hierarchy and for certain teachings on liberation theology considered "dangerous" to Catholics with little or no religious education. Liberation theology is a liberal Christian doctrine popular in Latin America that emphasizes social change in favor of the poor.
The amnesty, which frees Boff to attend conferences, grant interviews, and resume his writings, appears to have ended a dispute that had helped divide further the Brazilian clergy, one of the Catholic world's largest, already fissured with dissent.
The amnesty came three weeks after a delegation of senior Brazilian bishops went to Rome for a special meeting with Pope John Paul II. The bishops said they did not discuss Boff's punishment in their sessions at the Vatican. They did acknowledge discussion of a Vatican document on liberation theology that is due to be released in April.
Boff was summoned to Rome for a "colloquium" in September 1984 to explain a controversial book he had written three years before, "Church: Charism and Power," which had angered a number of church conservatives, including Rio's influential Cardinal Eugenio Salles.
Two other prominent members of the Brazilian hierarchy, cardinals Aloisio Lorscheider and Paulo Evaristo Arns, had shown support for their fellow Franciscan by accompanying Boff to Rome.
Despite such support, six months after the inquiry, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Karl Ratzinger, condemned the book for promoting "a certain revolutionary utopianism, foreign to the church."
After last May's order of silence, 10 Brazilian bishops signed a letter calling the punishment a blow against "human rights."
However, Boff accepted Rome's discipline, declaring, "I would rather walk with my church than walk alone with my theology." He duly retreated from the public eye, grew a beard, ministered in the Petropolis slums, and shooed away reporters.
To the ire of some conservative clergymen, Boff went to Nicaragua to preach and, on the eve of the Extraordinary Synod of world bishops in Rome last November, he published a children's book on St. Francis of Assisi, with unmistakable references to liberation theology. However, he released it with the permission of his Franciscan superiors.