An ultra-traditionalist Brazilian religious association has rejected a papal inquiry into their group as “completely illegal”.
Pope Francis has placed the Heralds of the Gospel under special measures, appointing a commissioner, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, to take control of the association.
This came after the Vatican's congregation for religious life investigated the group for “shortcomings” regarding pastoral care, congregational practices, and the formation of its religious members.
Questions were also raised regarding the group’s internal governance and the management of its funds. The Brazilian cardinal’s brief is to continue with the inquiry and propose reforms. But the president of the Heralds, Felipe Eugenio Lecaros, is reported to have told the Cardinal Assis: “We do not recognise Your Eminence as the ‘commissioner’ of the Heralds,” according to Spanish Catholic publication Vida Nueva.
In a separate press release, the group stated that the investigation is “absolutely invalid and completely illegal”, adding that the decision to call for an apostolic visit was a “basic mistake” and accusing the Vatican of behaving “ferociously and arbitrarily”.
The Heralds grew out of the traditionalist group, Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP) founded by Brazilian politician and activist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
Corrêa de Oliveira considered himself a bulwark against all forms of progressive politics and thought, and opposed the Second Vatican Council.
Corrêa de Oliveira’s thought, considered the spiritual foundation of the Heralds, is also being utilised by those opposed to the Synod of Bishops gathering on the Pan-Amazon region, including in some parts of the Catholic media.
Pope Francis and Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil, walk to a meeting of cardinals in the synod hall at the Vatican Feb. 20, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
On 23 October, the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register published an article by a member of the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute, Juan Antonio Montes Varas, describing an indigenous statuette, considered by some Amazonian Catholics as “Our Lady of the Amazon”, as a symbol of pagan worship.
Corrêa de Oliveira is also cited as the inspiration for a Pan-Amazon synod watch website which is running a hostile campaign against the synod gathering.
The Heralds are renowned for their medieval-looking dark brown tunics with a large cross on their chest, and black riding boots. Lay members practise celibacy. They are made up of 200 priests and 2,820 consecrated members and are present in 78 countries.
Founded in 1998 and receiving pontifical approval in 2001 under John Paul II, the Heralds were the first private association of faithful to receive Vatican approval in the third millennium.
In Brazil, the group is known for going into the country’s favelas after the Protestant evangelicals in an effort to reconvert those who chose to abandon Catholicism.
But it is also strongly linked to groups in the Church which oppose the reforms of Pope Francis. In 2017 the group was embroiled in a bizarre incident when a video surfaced of their leader and founder describing an exorcism performed by a Heralds’ priest.
In the video, Mgr João Scognamiglio Clá Dias tells fellow priests that the devil had told the exorcist that Francis was “my man” and that Satan said the Pope was “stupid” and “does everything I want”. The video, and the probe that ensued led to the resignation of Dias. Those close to their ex-leader defended him, arguing that the Vatican had misunderstood the group’s intentions and that the video was “taken out of context”. The Heralds’ act of defiance against the Pope’s decision has similarities with the Knights of Malta’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Vatican probe into the order at the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, Delio Siticomatzi Camaiteri, from the Ashanica, an indigenous group in the Amazon speaking to reporters today, said: “I see you a little restless, perhaps you don't understand what the Amazon needs. Do not harden your heart, we believe in one God! Do we have our rituals? Yes, but we must integrate them with the heart that is Christ. What unites us is Jesus Christ.”