Blessed Dom Helder Camara ?
14-Dom-Helder-CamaraOn Sunday, May 3, 2015, Abp. Fernando Saburido, Archbishop of Olinda e Recife (Brazil), officially opened the diocesan phase of the investigation for the beatification of his predecessor, Abp. Helder Camara (1909-1999). On February 25, 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had authorized the official opening of the process for Dom Helder Pessoa Camara (in the picture), who was declared Servant of God, and May 3 was the date chosen with the approval of the bishops who make up the Northeast-2 region of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. Born on February 7, 1909, in Fortaleza (capital of the State of Ceará in Northeastern Brazil), Helder Camara was ordained a priest on August 15, 1931, in Rio de Janeiro. He was appointed Bishop of Sarde in 1952, and in 1955 Auxiliary Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro. From 1952 to 1964 he was Secretary of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB). Abp. Helder Camara was appointed Archbishop of Olinda e Recife on March 12, 1964. At the age of 75, in 1984, he submitted his resignation of Pope John Paul II and actually retired the following year, upon the appointment of his successor. Abp. Helder Camara died on August 27, 1999, in Recife. On May 2 of this year, Vatican Radio presented the man whom “they used to call ‘the bishop of the poor’, or else ‘the Red bishop’ or ‘the agitator’” as a “great figure of liberation theology in Latin America”. Who was Dom Helder Camara? The very progressive magazine Golias describes him as a “young priest destined for a great, fine career, and seduced by the demon of politics. He joined the group of Integralistas, an organization very similar to Fascism, which was finally annihilated in 1938 by President Getulio Vargas. After that, Dom Camara completely distanced himself from that movement and the integralist ideas that inspired it, in particular after he read Integral Humanism by Jacques Maritain, which prompted him to break entirely with the intransigent Catholic movement [that refused to compromise with secularizing trends].... “Endowed with very real organizational talent, Abp. Helder Camara accepted in 1955 the position of Secretary of the Conference of Brazilian Bishops. He also directed Catholic Action in Brazil and participated in the creation of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM). In Rio, he enjoyed the confidence of a great number of influential people, not to mention the esteem of President Juscelino Kubitschek, who reportedly asked him to serve in his cabinet. Throughout this period he paid special attention to social questions.... “At the Vatican Council, he resolutely sided with the reforming majority and was militantly opposed by one of the stars of the conservative minority, Abp. Geraldo de Proença Sigaud, a religious of the Divine Word Congregation, Archbishop of Diamantina, a close associate of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri and Abp. Marcel Lefebvre. In 1964, he became Archbishop of Olinda e Recife.... “Closely associated with the non-violent movements, and fond of citing two non-Catholic ‘saints’, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he wanted to implement pastoral care that was centered on the preferential option for the poor. He changed the content and style of the formation of his priests so as to give priority to social action, which earned him sharp criticism in Rome. In 1977 he participated in the Latin American Conference of Bishops on non-violence. He received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Louvain (1970), Chicago (1974), Amsterdam (1975) and Uppsala (1977). His involvement in the social issues of the day earned him a great deal of criticism. His usual response was: ‘When I feed the poor, they say that I am a saint. But when I ask why the poor have no food, they treat me like a Communist.’ Abp. Helder Camara embodied in himself the evolution of a Church that was initially conservative toward prophetic witness.” On August 30, 1999, a few days after his death, Christian Dutilleux penned a panegyric of “the Red bishop” that was published in the leftist newspaper Libération: “The young priest very quickly threw himself into the social activity of the Church. Helder Camara became one of the first ‘agitators’ (he liked that term) who shook the Church out of its lethargy by participating in 1952 in the foundation of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference (CNBB). Every year it assembles the bishops and defines the national priorities of the Church. That was a subversive act, then, in Brazil: confronting power, the Church thus took on a political structure capable of conducting campaigns.... “By its strength, the CNBB also reduced the power of the Roman Curia over the bishops. Dom Helder saw the big picture. The young prelate in fact became one of the kingpins of the reform of the whole Church and of the Second Vatican Council.... “In Latin America, the Church was in a state of turmoil. The progressive wing began to side with ‘liberation theology’. The bishops were, for once, by way of exception, ahead of their time. They met in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 and laid the foundations for a Latin American Episcopal Conference that decided to place the Church at the service of the poor. Things changed dramatically with John Paul II. In 1979 his emissaries tried to thwart a new Latin American conference that was to take place this time in Puebla, Mexico. The Vatican then considered liberation theology as a perverse substitute for Marxism. Nevertheless the progressives managed to impose their views, thanks to Dom Helder.... John Paul II bet on the long-term trends. He took advantage of the retirement of the ‘rebel generation’ to staff the bishops’ conference with docile prelates, who often came from the Charismatic Movement. Promoters of ‘pop Masses’ in which the people dance and sing silly ditties about ‘Christ’s aerobics’. The times, they were a changin’!”


On April 7, 2015, Corrispondenza Romana, the website of the Italian historian Roberto de Mattei, asked the question: “Who was Dom Helder Camara, really?” And it answered in a not very hagiographic way with a documented investigation. Here are a few of the more enlightening excerpts: There has been a lot of talk these days about Dom Helder Camara, whose process for beatification was recently approved by the Vatican.  For the average Italian, the figure of Helder Pessoa Camara (1909-1999), Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janiero and then Metropolitan Archbishop of Olinda e Recife, is practically unknown. Who was Dom Helder? Propaganda bordering on the  ridiculous The only information about Abp. Camara that has filtered into the local press comes from such biased propaganda factories that I do not hesitate to describe them as bordering on the ridiculous. For example, I remember very well the reaction of the press at the time of Dom Helder’s death in August 1999. The Italian media vied with each other in eulogizing him, conferring on him grandiose titles like “Prophet of the poor”, Saint of the favelas”, “voice of the Third World”, “Saint Helder of America”, and so on.  It was a sort of canonization by mass-media. This same propaganda machine seems to have been reactivated with the opening of the beatification process, authorized by the Vatican on February 25 of this year.   Some information  on this subject will do no harm (…) From JUC to PC.  Brazilian Catholic Action In 1947, Father Camara was appointed Assistant General of Brazilian Catholic Action, which,  under his direction, began to slide towards the  left, in some cases to the point of embracing Marxism-Leninism.  This drift was evident especially in the JUC (Juventude Universitária Catòlica), to which Camara was particularly close.  Luiz Alberto Gomes de Souza, former secretary of the JUC, writes: “The activity of the militants in the JUC… led to a commitment which gradually proved to be socialist.” The Communist Revolution in Cuba (in 1959) was welcomed enthusiastically by the JUC. According to Haroldo Lima and Aldo Arantes, JUC directors, “the renewal of the people’s struggle and the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 suggested to the JUC the idea of a Brazilian revolution.” The leftward drift was facilitated by the involvement of the JUC with the UNE (União Nacional de Estudantes) which was close to the Communist Party. “As a result of its militancy in the student movement,” Lima and Arantes continue, “the JUC was driven to define a wider political agenda for the Christians of today. At its Congress in 1960 it ended up approving a document… in which it proclaimed its adherence to democratic socialism and to the idea of a Brazilian revolution.” During the leftist government of President João Goulart (1961-1964) a radical faction formed within the JUC, initially called O Grupão (The Great Group), which later was transformed into Ação Popular (AP) which in 1962 ended up declaring itself Socialist.  At the 1963 Congress, the AP approved its own Statutes, in which “socialism was adopted and the socialization of the means of production was proposed.”  The Statutes contained, among other things, praise for the Soviet Revolution and an acknowledgment of “the decisive importance  of Marxism in revolutionary theory and praxis.” This drif, however, did not stop there. At the 1968 National Congress, Ação Popular, declared itself Marxist-Leninist, changing its name to Ação Popular Marxista-Leninista (APML).  And since nothing remained to separate it from the Communist Party, in 1972 it disbanded and joined the Communist Party of Brazil. Throughout this evolution, many militants of Catholic Action ended up participating in the armed struggle during the years of leftist terrorism in Brazil. Contrary to the advice of many Brazilian bishops, Abp. Helder Camara was one of the most enthusiastic and staunch defenders of the drift to the left within the JUC. Against Paul VI and other eccentricities  In 1968, when Pope Paul VI published the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Abp. Helder Camara openly sided against the Pontiff, describing his teaching on contraceptives as “an error destined to torture wives and to disturb the peace of many homes.” In a poem that truly caused a scandal, the Archbishop of Olinda e Recife also satirized the women “victims” of the Church’s teaching who, according to him, were forced to give birth to “little monsters”: “... you must procreate! Even if your child is born without intestines, with rickety limbs, an enormous head, hideously ugly!” Helder Camara also defended divorce, approving the position of the Orthodox Churches, which “do not rule out the possibility of a second religious marriage for those who were abandoned (by their spouse).” Questioned as to whether this would prove the secularists right, he replied: “What difference does it make who claims the victory, as long as you are right?” The boisterous Archbishop also publicly demanded the ordination of women as priests.  Addressing a group of bishops during Vatican Council II, he insistently asked them: “Tell me, please, whether there are any truly decisive arguments preventing the admission of women to the priesthood, or is it a male prejudice?” And it didn’t matter that the Vatican Council II later precluded this possibility. In Camara’s opinion, “We must go further than the conciliar texts, since we are competent to interpret them.” His eccentricities did not stop there. In a conference held in the presence of the Council Fathers in 1965, he stated: “I think that man will artificially create life, and will manage to bring the dead back to life and… will achieve miraculous results in reinvigorating male patients through grafts of monkey prostate glands.”     Siding with the U.S.S.R., China and Cuba Dom Helder specifically took a stance in favor of Communism (even though he sometimes criticized its atheism) consistently, many times. One infamous occasion, for example, was his speech on January 27, 1969, in New York, during the fourth annual conference of the Catholic Program for Inter-American Cooperation.  The speech so clearly took the international Communist line that it earned for him the nickname “the Red Archbishop”, which stuck forever afterward. After harshly rebuking the U.S.A. and its anti-Soviet policy, Dom Helder proposed a drastic reduction of the American  armed forces, while calling on the U.S.S.R. to maintain their military capacity so as to be able to confront “imperialism”.  Aware of the consequences of this strategy, he defended himself in advance: “Don’t tell me that this approach would leave the world prey to Communism!” After his attack on the U.S.A., Helder Camara sang the praises of Mao Tse-Tung’s China, which at that time was in the middle of its “cultural revolution”, which caused millions of deaths.  The Red Archbishop formally requested the admission of Communist China to the United Nations along with the expulsion of Taiwan.  He finished his speech with an appeal in favour of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who at that time was supporting bloody guerilla warfare in Latin America.  He also asked for Cuba to be re-admitted to the OAS (the Organization of American States) from which it had been expelled in 1962.... Liberation Theology Abp. Helder Camara has also gone down in history as one of the champions of the so-called “Liberation Theology” condemned by the Vatican in 1984. Two statements sum up  this theology. The first, by Dom Helder’s compatriot, Leonardo Boff: “What we propose is Marxism, historical materialism, in theology.” The second, by the Peruvian, Gustavo Gutiérrez, founding father of the same current: “What we mean by liberation theology is participation in the revolutionary political process”.  Gutiérrez also explains the significance of this participation: “Only by going beyond a society divided into classes, … [and by] eliminating private ownership of the wealth created by human work, will we be able to lay the foundations for a more just society.  This is why efforts to plan a more just society in Latin America are tending more and more towards socialism.” Friend of the Poor and of Freedom? Perhaps the biggest falsehood about Helder Camara was the one that presented him as a friend of the poor and defender of freedom. The title “defender of freedom” fits very badly someone who celebrated some of the bloodiest dictatorships of the twentieth century, first Nazism, and then Communism in all of its variants: Soviet, Cuban, Chinese…. But the title “friend of the poor” does not fit at all a man who supported regimes that caused such horrible poverty that they were described by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as “the shame of our times”. A careful analysis of Latin America—country after country-clearly shows that where the policies proposed by Dom Helder were put into practice, the result was a considerable increase in poverty and popular discontent. In places where the contrary policies were applied, the result was a general increase of wealth. Let one example stand for them all: agrarian reform, of which Dom Helder Camara was the chief promoter but which on the contrary proved to be “the worst failure of public policy in our country” according to Francisco Graziano Neto, president of INCRA (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrària), who can hardly be accused of bias, since that was the organization in charge of implementing the agrarian reform. Indro Montanelli1 was right when he said: “The Left loves the poor so much that every times it comes into power it increases the number of them.” If Helder Camara is beatified, his thurifers will speak of nothing but the “Blessed Theology of Liberation”; if he is canonized, there will be nothing left to do but to rehabilitate, after all due repentance, Marx, Mao and Castro. (Sources: fides/radiovatican/apic/golias/liberation – French translation by benoitetmoi; corrispondenzaromana, English translation from the Italian – DICI no. 315 dated May 15, 2015)
  1. Italian journalist and essayist (1909-2001), a witness and an insightful, caustic participant in almost a century of the intellectual life of the Italian Right, for forty years editor-in-chief of the Corriere della Sera and founder of Il Giornale.