VATICAN CITY — The vice president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference today sought to downplay the fact revealed on Thursday by the Register that a missionary council for indigenous people closely connected to the bishops had received funding from the pro-abortion Ford Foundation.
Bishop Mário Antônio da Silva of Roraima told reporters at the Vatican Friday presser that, “as Christians and Catholics, we defend life from conception to natural death, so we’re against abortion.”
For this reason, he said the Church in Brazil is “of course concerned about the way investments that come to various entities are used.” As far as he was concerned, though, the funds received for the Amazon are “used to promote life” and to “promote the lives of women, children, pregnant women, families and the elderly.”
He said he did not know about “donations made by various foundations” such as the Ford Foundation, but said organizations such as the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples, which is known as CIMI, “promote life.”
From 2006 until 2018, the Indigenous Council of Roraima, a local branch of CIMI covering Bishop da Silva’s region, received $1,164,906 from the Ford Foundation.
Mauricio López Oropeza, executive secretary of the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), an organization that has been assigned the primary role in managing the Amazon synod, said REPAM is a “network, not an institution,” and consequently “doesn’t have its own resources.”
REPAM was founded by CIMI and other organizations, some of which are also receiving funding from the Ford Foundation.
Lopez told reporters that they needed “to write a letter to Cardinal [Claudio] Hummes,” the president of REPAM and the general relator of the synod, “for more information” on whether it receives such funds. He added that this is a “pro-life synod” trying to protect life that is “at stake, endangered.”
Paolo Ruffini, the president of the synod’s Commission for Information, also weighed in, saying he did not know about the “funding processes” of the Ford Foundation. But he asked somewhat irritably: “Is it better for the Ford Foundation to use that money for non-Christian purposes?”
The Register reported on Thursday findings made by the Brazilian journalist Bernardo Küster that the Ford Foundation, which overtly campaigns for abortion rights and promotes gender ideology, had given organizations closely associated with REPAM millions of dollars since 2006.
Archbishop Roque Paloschi, the president of CIMI, did not deny it, saying instead that all of CIMI’s financial records and his own bank accounts have passed government and parliamentary scrutiny. None of CIMI’s or REPAM’s financial records and expenditure is accessible to the public.
Bishops Voiced Concern
But synod sources have told the Register that revelations of the Ford Foundation’s funding caused considerable commotion among synod participants on Thursday, forcing discussions to run late into the evening.
A number of cardinals and bishops are said to have voiced their consternation at the news, with some saying they were mystified why the REPAM organizations received funds from the Ford Foundation when they were already well financed, largely through the Church in Germany. Concern was also allegedly expressed that synod organizers were “going too far and not in the direction of Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment.
These reactions were not mentioned at today’s Vatican briefing, where communications are being tightly controlled.
Last-minute changes were made to today’s lineup. The president of Brazil’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte, was scheduled to appear, but, according to sources, he said he had to make a trip outside Rome and wasn’t available.
Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, the president of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America (CELAM), a key co-founder of REPAM, was also slated to attend, but he, too, did not appear and was replaced by Lopez.
Vatican spokeswoman Sister Bernadette Reis told the Register the changes were made "due to the fact that it was a 'vacation day' and some of those who had been invited chose to be present elsewhere."
Also for the first time since the beginning of the synod, which runs through Oct. 27, Cristiane Murray, the deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, did not chair or attend the briefing, even though she was on the premises. Appointed to the position in July, Murray is a co-founder of REPAM and a close friend of Cardinal Hummes.
Sister Reis said Murray did not chair it was because Friday's presser was classed as a press conference and stated as such the day before, rather than a press briefing, and press conferences are normally chaired by the director of the Holy See Press Office.
The reports of the 12 small working groups were published today, all of which expressed openness to the ordination of married men in view of priest shortages in remote Amazon regions.
Although the matter dominates much of the reports, it was not raised at today’s briefing, possibly because the text had been made available only shortly before the briefing and had not been translated.
Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the synod, said the small working group reports were “not final” but a “first step.”
Other Topics of Discussion
Instead, the focus of the news conference was mostly on the proposal for an Amazonian liturgical rite, specifically proposed by Italian language group B.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and a member of that language group, said the proposal to have an Amazonian rite where the indigenous people can “express the liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual heritage” was derived after much listening.
Such a rite would “enrich evangelization,” Archbishop Fisichella believes, “expressing the faith that is unique to every culture.”
Archbishop da Silva spoke about “integral ecology,” saying it is a “serious proposal” of Pope Francis, one where life “considers all creation” and has an “intergenerational focus, not just about our life today but also future generations.” The synod, he said, “is helping us grow.”
Colombian Capuchin Sister Daniela Adriana Cannavina spoke of the importance of contemplation and consecrated life in the Amazon, as well as “interculturality encouraging one another to move out of their comfort zones.” She also spoke of the need to give women an “increasing role” by assuming more pastoral activities and leadership in the Amazon, where women already undertake much of the work of parishes.
“We don’t want to repeat a clericalist approach or attitude,” Sister Daniela said. “Religious life is a place of service; we should continue along [the] path of communion,” and women “must be formed through sound spiritual and theological catechesis” and so “contribute to change.”
In response to a question from journalist Diane Montagna, Ruffini reiterated that he believed the naked pregnant female statue, which appeared to have been worshipped in various locations in and around the Vatican by indigenous people, represents a “symbol of fertility and life.” He also warned against seeing “evil where there is no evil.”
But despite having promised a few days earlier to confirm exactly what the statue meant according to the indigenous people who brought it, Ruffini was unable to do so.
Earlier in the week, Father Costa insisted it was not a statue of the Virgin Mary, leaving many to speculate that it was a pagan statue of some kind, such as a Pachamama, a fertility goddess revered by indigenous people.
Concern therefore remains that the Amazon people were publicly revering a pagan idol in the Vatican, an act that would violate the First Commandment.
Bishop da Silva was also asked if remarks made by an Amazon chief of his Roraima Diocese, Jonas Marcolino Macuxi — that those present at the synod do not represent the majority of the indigenous in the Amazon — were accurate. Chief Marcolino told a Oct. 5 Rome conference, held by the Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute, that a “dictatorship” of missionary workers teaching liberation theology had sought to prevent development in the region, thus keeping indigenous people in poverty and misery.
Bishop da Silva, who said the Macuxi tribe is one of the most important of Roraima’s 12 indigenous peoples, said he did not know the “reason for that statement” that the synod views were not representative. He said that from what he could see, all the tribes in his diocese were “very grateful” for the Church and “placed value” on the Church’s willingness to “fight for the Earth, education, culture, traditional ways of life and integration with other communities.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
This articles has been updated to include new comments from the Vatican.