Brazilians are not letting what they perceive as attacks against Pope Francis go unanswered.
Several bishops in the biggest country in Latin America have stepped forward in recent weeks to demonstrate their full support of the pontiff. They have been joined by a group of young Brazilian Catholics who launched a campaign on social networks, “Francisco, I am here,” which they hope to expand around the world.
Pope Francis “does an immense good for the church,” Cardinal Sergio da Rocha said.
On Aug. 26, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote a public letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up or ignoring serious allegations against former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Archbishop Viganò charged that the pope knew all about Archbishop McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians and alleged that Pope Francis removed sanctions against Archbishop McCarrick applied by Pope Benedict XVI. He even called for the pope’s resignation.
Those allegations provoked outrage among many who supported Archbishop Viganò, but they also provoked a wave of public pronouncements in defense of Pope Francis from bishops worldwide. In the United States some bishops saw the charges as credible and called for a thorough investigation. Others dismissed Archbishop Viganò’s allegations as the grumbling of a frustrated ex-Vatican official. (The pope recalled the archbishop from his post as the apostolic nuncio to the United States in 2016.)
In Brazil, many bishops saw this sequence of events as sufficient reason to publicly show their support.
Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, archbishop of Brasília and president of the country’s episcopal conference, said that Pope Francis “does an immense good for the church.” He sent a personal letter to the pope and said in a video posted on the Vatican News website that Brazilian bishops “are very close” to Francis.
“It is very important that our message is an expression not only of what the bishops of Brazil feel, but of the church in Brazil, that has a great affection for Pope Francis,” the cardinal said. “We support his initiatives, we welcome his teachings and we hope to grow, more and more, in communion with the successor of Peter.”
While some bishops chose to release formal letters of support, others adopted an innovative strategy.
Cardinals Odilo Scherer and Orani João Tempesta, who are in charge of the most important Brazilian archdioceses, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are among the supporters of the #FranciscoEstouAqui campaign. Signis Brasil Jovem, an international association of Catholic communicators, started the campaign in September.
Signis also sent a letter to the pope signed by young communicators and many of the presidents of Signis national chapters around Latin America and the secretary general of Signis World.
Cardinal Scherer posted a video with the campaign’s hashtag on his Instagram account, saying that “Pope Francis received the mission of keeping the church united, through Catholic faith and mission.”
Therefore, “at a time when the church is experiencing difficulties, we show support to the work of the pope and should, each one on his or her part, keep working, too,” he says. Cardinal Tempesta also shared the hashtag on his Instagram profile, with a short text encouraging his followers to support and pray for this campaign and for the pope.
“Francisco, I am here” is an initiative of 15 people who gathered in a meeting of young communicators.
The coordinator of Signis Brasil Jovem is 26-year-old Ricardo Alvarenga. He told America that “Francisco, I am here” is an initiative of 15 people who gathered in a meeting of young communicators.
“Talking about the current situation of the church, with a strong persecution against the pope and the publication of much fake news about him, we thought it was necessary to take action,” he said.
Mr. Alvarenga is aware of the irony of creating a campaign of Catholics to show support for the pope. “But we understand that we live in an increasingly polarized society. There is almost a ‘culture of hate,’ and people are frequently engaging in fierce disputes. We felt it was necessary to express our support so that the pope can continue to reform the church.
“Pope Francis is dismounting in structures of power that were untouchable. This creates discomfort in a part of the church and even of society,” he said.
Some regional sections of the episcopal conference also sent letters of solidarity to the pope. Although not explicitly mentioning the Viganò case, bishops of the Northeast Regional 3 affirmed that they are “aware that the church is experiencing a particularly painful and difficult moment.” They said these issues really “afflict their hearts,” so they wonder how much Pope Francis must be suffering.
Bishop Pedro Carlos Cipollini of the diocese of Santo Andre, in the suburbs of São Paulo, was one of the first Brazilians to speak out after the Viganò dossier was released. In his letter, Bishop Cipollini said that this recent crisis is an attempt to “shake Peter's boat,” but that the pope is, in fact, “the keeper of graces and blessings from above to govern the church.”
“I want to reaffirm my faith in the Petrine ministry,” the bishop said. “At the heart of this crisis is doubt about this ministry which was desired and instituted by Jesus and which will last for the duration of the church.”
Gathered in the city of Manaus at the end of August, 58 bishops from the Amazon region also wrote a letter to the pope, signed by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes—a close friend of Jorge Mario Bergoglio since he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and the person responsible for his choice of the name “Francis.”
According to Cardinal Hummes, it is necessary to reaffirm communion with the pope at a time when he suffers so many attacks. “We are immensely grateful for his ministry and shepherding,” he writes.
“We are in favor of a transformation in the church, which has been led by Pope Francis. We must overcome all divisions and find a common path in this direction.”
On the eve of the bishops’ synod on young people, which will take place in the Vatican from Oct. 3 until Oct. 28, the coordinator of the “Francisco, I am here” campaign says he is very happy that many Brazilian bishops are writing in support to Pope Francis. “We have to join efforts and show to the whole church that the pope is not alone,” Mr. Alvarenga said.
The group’s next major goal is to expand its visibility in Latin American countries like Peru and Mexico and to reach Asia. In January 2019, during World Youth Day Panama, they intend to hand over to the pope a multimedia file with all the videos and text messages they will have received.
“We do not stand against anyone,” Mr. Alvarenga said. “But we are in favor of a transformation in the church, which has been led by Pope Francis. We must overcome all divisions and find a common path in this direction.”