Posted on May 17, 2023

Black Priests Criticize ‘Pact of Whiteness’ After Bishops’ Conference’s Election in Brazil

Eduardo Campos Lima, OSV News, May 9, 2023

After the election of the new leaders of Brazil’s bishops’ conference April 24, two Afro Brazilian priests released a public letter criticizing the fact that most of them are white and affirmed that the Brazilian church’s “power structure” is tainted by “racism” and by a “pact of whiteness.”

During the bishops’ conference (known by the Portuguese acronym CNBB) general assembly in Aparecida April 19-28, Archbishop Jaime Spengler of Porto Alegre was elected conference president for the next four years.

Archbishop João Justino de Medeiros Silva of Goiânia was chosen to be CNBB’s first vice president, and Bishop Paulo Jackson Nóbrega de Sousa of Garanhuns will be the second vice president. Bishop Ricardo Hoepers of Rio Grande was elected to be the new secretary general. All of them are white.

“Looking at the faces of the elected bishops, how can we not discuss the racism that exists in the power structure that still dominates the Catholic Church in Brazil? How can we not debate the silent existence of a pact of whiteness in the Brazilian Church?” Fr. Geraldo Natalino and Fr. David Santos, two activists for Black people’s rights in Brazil, asked in a letter released April 25.

Natalino and Santos called the majority of white bishops among CNBB’s new leaders “an absolutism of whiteness.”

They added that most Black priests in Brazil work in parishes in deficit. “Church racism needs to be fought,” the authors affirmed in the letter.

Although there are no precise numbers concerning the Brazilian church’s racial reality, the number of Blacks among the country’s 483 bishops was recently estimated at 37.

Among priests, Afro Brazilians also are a minority. A study on the clergy conducted in 2018 showed that 67% of the 27,300 Brazilian priests said they are white. Fifty-six percent of Brazilians (the country’s total population is 216 million) say they are Black, which is the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa.

Those are unacceptable disparities in Santos’ opinion. {snip}

He told OSV News that the problem begins in the poor neighborhoods, “where the presence of the Black people in the Catholic parishes is weak, given that most of them migrated to evangelical churches.”


“The CNBB should conduct a study in order to find out why the Afro Brazilian people massively abandoned the Catholic Church,” he said.

CNBB’s new leaders must address that crisis and take several measures, like increasing the church’s closeness with Black communities, Santos stressed.