The War of the Aspergillum


By Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (*)


Agriculture, beware! Brazil, beware! Rough times are coming. Maybe some farmers will be skeptical. Rough times? How so? It is the bankers and politicians, not farmers, that yield big ransoms to terrorists.

I answer: It is not armed attacks that I foresee for you, but something more terrible. Something that will not destroy you, but simply turn your possessions over to others in whose hands production will plummet. As for you, you will plunge into the wretchedness of penury. Have you heard of the neutron bomb, the super-bomb that destroys men but spares their goods for the use of the victor? What we are talking about here is a kind of neutron bomb. Strangers will take your possessions. You will not be touched by the classic scythe of death, but swept by the iron broom of confiscation.

What weapon is going to do this? When it is used, men kneel before it and even bow their heads. It is called the aspergillum. What does this weapon discharge? Its charge is limpid and venerable. In it, as though imbedded, is an inestimable gift of the Church: The blessing of God. The aspergillum is an instrument the priest uses as he passes through the church sprinkling the faithful with holy water at the beginning of certain religious ceremonies. Holy, yes, according to the ceremonial of the Church. Mere tap water, I suspect, when the priest is a progressive hot-head.

I mention the aspergillum merely as a symbol. The real neutron bomb is the action of certain bishops and priests who have recently availed themselves of their sacred ministry almost exclusively to preach social revolution through socialist and confiscatory land reform. The communists are no more than little groups of intellectuals (including several pseudo intellectuals), very well-to-do people (including na­bobs) and politicians propped up by the media, but none of whom have a real following. From the point of view of political calculations, they amount to nothing. There would not be the least danger if they were the only ones crying for land reform.

The number to the right of which all these zeros line up — to become millions — is the progressivist clergy. This clergy is the great threat to the institution of private property in Brazil.

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In the early 60's, this threat was veiled. It was denounced in the book Agrarian Reform, a Question of Conscience, which I wrote along with the economist Luiz Mendonca de Freitas and Bishops Antonio de Castro Mayer and Geraldo Sigaud. Incidentally, Bishop Sigaud later became an advocate of land reform.

After 1964, Brazil had a period of peace, and most farmers dozed. But ever since 1964, the ranks of the episcopate have been continually swollen with new bishops, most of them favorable to agrarian reform. As a result, we have seen in recent years an even greater offensive coming from the ashes of agrireformism mixed with the heavy dust of negligence.

In 1980, the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) published the document "The Church and Land Issues," fomenting compulsory division of large and medium-sized rural properties. One hundred and sixty bishops approved the document.

Then I wrote the book I Am a Catho­lic: Can I Oppose Land Reform? This work, including a polished technical study by the intelligent and cultured economist, Carlos del Campo, was very well received: 20,000 copies were sold in only six months.

In spite of this, during the land invasions that followed, inspired and at times even promoted by the "Catholic left," some of the farmers were still indolent or disconcerted. Precisely the farmers, much stronger as a class than the movement of progressivist clergymen whose prestige has been undermined by their liturgical extravagance, permis­sive moral guidance, and noisy leftism.

Because of this inertia of so many farmers (except for some valorous idealists who are not always followed and thus attain successes smaller than they deserve), the leftist clergy, with the aspergillum in hand, have just taken another step. In Goiania, the Pastoral Commission on the Land (in charge of the CNBB's rural policy in all of Brazil) has thrown down the gauntlet by electing a new board of directors. The new president, Msgr. Moacyr Grechi, is a staunch agrireformist; the vice-president (the president's right-hand-man in this type of organization) is Msgr. Pedro Casaldaliga, the communists' dream bishop, the inciter of all kinds of divisions and invasions of land. The man is really dangerous because of his aspergillum, and not because of the literary flowers of his colorless poetry.

* * *

This provocation by the CNBB takes place in a highly charged ecclesiastical atmosphere. Archbishop Helder Carrara, yesterday's Casaldaliga, recently celebrated his priestly jubilee and received a letter from John Paul II. Here are some excerpts:

"Everyone knows and recognizes that the goodness of God has laden you with gifts, talents and piety. Adorned with these gifts, you have been able to carry out missions of inestimable value from your promising youth to this day…

"God and the brethren have been for you two poles of the same arc, emitting the luminous spark of love. You have always earnestly sought to offer God, the Creator of all things, everything you had: zeal, efforts and meditations, your whole life beginning with your priestly ordination through your most recent accomplishments."

Just now Archbishop Camara, through frequent television appearances, is striving to give new vigor to his demagogic charms withered by a long silence.

When in 1977 the Bishop of Cam­pos, Msgr. Antonio de Castro Mayer, famous for his anticommunist and anti-progressivist stands, celebrated his priestly jubilee, the Vatican kept silent. Only recently was that silence broken when, to the surprise of Bishop Mayer's friends, news came out that John Paul II had given him his resignation from the Diocese of Campos.

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I know that good friends sometimes purr: "The warnings and books of the TFP against land occupations are not enough." I feel like smiling… with sorrow. What do they want? Should we carry them on our backs? The antireformists of the cities and countryside are taking so long to organize into a vast united front. How can we effective­ly defend for them rights which they themselves do not defend?

Friends, what do you gain by grumbling against those who defend you and not acting against those who attack you?

Beware, for the war of the aspergillum rages on…


(*) “Folha de S. Paulo”, 5th October 1981