Brazil: Conservative Catholics Take to the Web

Source: FSSPX News

The growing phenomenon of Catholic influencers – Christians using digital tools to disseminate their vision of Catholicism – is the theme of a recent study sponsored by the Brazilian episcopate and published by Ideias & Letras. The bishops are particularly concerned about the influence gained by conservatives on the web.

It is on the Instituto Humanitas Unisinos (IHU) site, run by the Jesuits of the University of Vale dos Sinos, that Joaquim Giovani Mol Guimaraes, president emeritus of the Pastoral Commission for Communication of the Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and auxiliary bishop of Belo Horizonte, presented the results of the research which worries the Brazilian episcopate.

In his contribution, entitled “Digital Influencers or Catholic Evangelists,” the prelate intends to alert his colleagues and public opinion against the growing presence – at least numerically – of conservative Catholics bluntly denouncing the ravages of progressivism within the country, when it comes to evaluating the reforms implemented in the current pontificate.

Mol Guimaraes, who does not have excessive affection towards traditionalists, deplores the influence of sites which, “although presenting elements linked to popular devotion and faith, nonetheless express a personal vision of what they believe to be the truth, even if it means being moralistic and manipulative.”

And the bishop distinguishes between the “good” distributors of content via the internet – to whom he awards the title of Catholic evangelizers – and the “bad,” who are reduced to the level of simple “digital influencers.”

The criterion for making this discernment is clear, even caricatured: it is necessary that “the discourse and the praxis [of those who use the web in this way] be imbued with the vision of the Church which is that of Pope Francis,” explains the auxiliary bishop of Belo Horizonte. 

It is appropriate to place the debate in its Brazilian context. In 2018, when future president Jair Bolsonoro, decried by part of the press as a man of the extreme right, ran for head of state, groups of conservative Catholics went online, not hesitating to target the country's Conference of Bishops and sometimes even Pope Francis, for their alleged support for the school of thought embodied by Jair Bolsonaro's opponent, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The investigation sponsored by the Brazilian episcopate thus singles out lay Catholic Bernardo Küster and Fr. Paulo Ricardo, two fervent supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro. Both are followed by several million of their compatriots on the web. For researcher Alzirinha Souza, these two Catholic influencers “ended up creating a parallel magisterium.” 

Bishop Mol Guimaraes, for his part, denounces their “undue and unfounded” criticism of the structure and institutional hierarchy of the Church, as well as a form of “narcissism.”