Thursday, October 26, 2006

Church-State Alliances.... Or the Lack Thereof

Just in case you were curious, the ecclesia-political dance isn't particular to these shores.

Facing a Sunday runoff, the Brazilian president Lula da Silva has kickstarted his leftist party's old ties with the liberation-theology crowd while his opponent "has had to deny rumors he is a member of Opus Dei" -- an insinuation that, apparently, can cause some waves in the world's largest Catholic country....
Corruption scandals that dogged Lula's first term and some of his economic policies had disenchanted many clerics and the faithful. Lula, who is ahead in polls, is now seeking to rekindle their support with assurances that Brazil's first working-class president will do more to fight poverty than his conservative rival.

"Their support used to be unconditional. But now there are negotiations, and you can see support coming Lula's way again," said Prof. Ruda Ricci, a sociologist and religion expert.

Opinion polls now show Lula with over 60 percent of the votes, leading his challenger Geraldo Alckmin by over 20 points. In the first round on October 1, Lula finished with a seven-point advantage over Alckmin.

Lula, a former union leader, and his Workers' Party have roots in Christian groups that cater to the poor and promote Latin America's home-grown liberation theology, which combines religious teachings with calls for social justice.

Both Lula and Alckmin are Catholics, as is about 70 percent of the population in this country of 185 million. It is rare for a presidential candidate not to be a Catholic.

Ricci said many poor Catholics in rural areas still see the bearded Lula "as a sort of neo-Moses guiding his people toward liberation" and always vote for him.

But he added that it is crucial for the president to regain the allegiance of opinion-makers like priests and religious social movements to obtain more votes.

Commentators say Alckmin has done little to win over the Catholic left in the run-up to this election, betting instead on support from the conservative circles of the church, which has been only modest. He has had to deny rumors he is a member of Opus Dei, an ultraconservative Catholic organization.

"If it was a Lula campaign trick, it worked. To those in more liberal Christian communities Opus Dei is the ultra-right threat, and they firmly associated Alckmin with it," said another religious specialist who did not want to be named.

As an institution, the Catholic Church in Brazil does not support any candidate. But since the first round Lula has received the formal backing of notable "political bishops," like Pedro Casaldaliga and Mauro Morelli.

Carlos Alberto Libanio, a prominent Dominican friar known as Frei Betto, issued a public statement calling to reelect Lula. He defended the president's record despite a slew of scandals and praised social programs.
Meanwhile, in Britain, some in the upper ranks have gotten the vapors from their American brethren and are threatening electoral pain for Labour:
Catholics are threatening to inflict serious ballot box damage on Labour over admissions quotas for faith schools, it emerged.

The church is galvanising the country's two million Catholic voters to fight Government moves to require new schools to reserve places for non-believers.

In an unprecedented campaign, parishioners have been asked to write to their MPs expressing "outrage" at the proposals.

The church is already warning that many will withhold support from MPs who fail to fall in line during an expected Commons vote next month.

Catholic voters, often traditionally Labour, are numerous in key marginal seats in London, Birmingham and the North West.....

Leading Catholics have condemned the shake-up as "prejudiced" against the church and insist their schools already promote integration.

Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, has warned that forcing schools to adhere admissions quotas risks alienating the Catholic church.

He has written to all 2,000 Catholic head teachers in the country urging them to lobby their MPs to oppose the plans.

They in turn have sent letters home to parents mobilising them to join the campaign against the admissions overhaul.

Meanwhile bishops have urged local priests to use the pulpit to raise awareness of the planned changes.

Laura McCann, policy officer for the Catholic Education Service, said: "We are currently being deluged with support from the Catholic community, including many phone calls and emails from parents, teachers, governors and parishioners who have written to their local MPs."

"Many are telling us that their disquiet over the Government's proposal and the lack of consultation could well be felt at the ballot box in future."

And, not to be outdone, John Allen speaks to this week's meeting between a leader of Italy's "theo-dem" school of approach and lead Vatican theocon Lopez Trujillo.

By the by, there's something to be said about the increasingly cataclysmic campaigning over a Missouri stem-cell initiative -- an ad war which has now reached sideshow levels with Jim Caviezel's employment of the Arimaic he picked up whilst playing Mel Gibson's Jesus.

Until I get around to it, let Thomas the AmP be your guide.