SAO PAULO, Brazil — “In many countries the CEDAW protocol has been approved, but Brazil will go down in history as the first and only in which such protocol was approved with the support of the Catholic bishops’ conference.”
With these blunt words, Father Luiz Carlos Lodi, one of Brazil's most influential pro-life leaders, summarized the awkward episode that has placed the world's largest episcopal body, the Conferencia Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil (CNBB) at odds with countless Brazilian Catholics and pro-lifers.
The episode started in late April, when the Brazilian Senate announced it was going to discuss the approval of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women — known as CEDAW — and its controversial new protocol, which grants the committee that monitors nations’ compliance with CEDAW with the authority to hear complaints from individuals and groups about national legislation and policies that allegedly contravene the U.N. treaty.
Since the CEDAW monitoring committee has consistently reflected a radical feminist ideology bristling with contempt for family, motherhood and religion, 72 Brazilian archbishops and bishops — including two cardinals — on April 27 sent a collective letter to the Senate requesting the delay of the discussions and the rejection of the protocol.
In recent years, for example, the CEDAW committee has criticized Ireland's anti-abortion laws (even though the CEDAW treaty itself makes no mention of abortion) and criticized the influence of the Catholic Church on Irish society; criticized Belarus for establishing a Mother's Day because it promotes damaging “sex-role stereotypes"; called on China to legalize prostitution; and urged Libya to reinterpret the Koran to conform with “the provisions of the convention and in the light of the current social environment.”
In their April 27 letter, the Brazilian bishops stated that CEDAW was imposing “an ideological perspective at odds with Brazilian laws and cultural values that defend the sanctity of life,” and warned that approving the CEDAW protocol would mean “to relinquish Brazil's legal and political sovereignty.”
The letter was circulated and signed during the bishops’ general assembly in Itaici, near Sao Paulo, where more than 250 bishops gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the bishops’ conference.
The letter had such an impact that CEDAW promoters immediately convened a public hearing for May 21, inviting a roster of feminists and pro-abortion speakers as well as a CNBB representative, Archbishop Aloysio José Leal Penna of Botucatu, head of the CNBB's Commission of Life and Family.
Father Lodi, who attended the hearing, said that “strangely, Archbishop Penna pronounced a neutral discourse, filled with words but very imprecise in its content. Whoever listened to it would have had the impression that it supported the CEDAW protocol or at least did not have objections to it.”
Archbishop Penna's only demand to the senators regarding CEDAW was to keep in mind that “nothing will preserve more the physical or mental integrity of women than a fair distribution of income.”
Father Lodi said that “when the most aggressive feminist, Sen. Sílvia Pimentel, decided to respond point by point to the letter signed by the 72 bishops, Archbishop Penna interrupted her and said that the document she was preparing to criticize was not the official position of the CNBB, which was expressed, instead, in the statement he had read.”
In late May, a pro-abortion organization known as CFEMEA highlighted Archbishop Penna's remarks, saying in its newsletter that “all distortions and misconceptions [about the CEDAW protocol] were dissolved. Moreover, the Archbishop of Botucatu … Aloysio José Leal Penna, admitted that [the letter signed by the 72 bishops] was a mistake of the CNBB and does not represent the official position of the bishops.”
On June 5, the day the Senate voted on the CEDAW protocol, Bishop Manoel Pestana Filho of Anapolis accompanied Father Lodi to lobby senators to vote against approval.
Sen. álvaro Dias read a letter from Bishop Filho requesting consideration of the April 27 letter, and Sen. Mauro Miranda, in turn, read the list of the 72 bishops who had signed it.
But Sen. Emília Fernandes stood up immediately and several times read the May 21 remarks of Archbishop Penna that claimed the April 27 letter was “a mistake.” The Senate subsequently ratified the CEDAW protocol.
“Unfortunately, in the process, the words of Archbishop Penna, repeated by Sen. Emília Fernandes, saying that our letter was a mistake were very influential,” Bishop Filho said. “Without the intervention of Archbishop Penna, the ratification of the protocol, although possible, would had been much harder.”
Jerson Lourenço Flores Garcia, leader of the largest pro-life organization in Brazil, the “Movimento da Defesa da Vida,” subsequently wrote to the president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Jayme Chemello of Pelotas, requesting clarification of the CNBB's official position regarding the CEDAW protocol.
The same request was made by international leaders such as Jorge Scala, an Argentinean attorney who is regional coordinator of the Latin American Council for Life and Family.
But both Bishop Chemello and Archbishop Penna defended the ambiguous statement issued by the conference in May, insisting that it was the official position and crafted with advice from “the best experts.”
Contacted by the Register, Archbishop Penna again referred to the statement and said he was not giving any interviews about the incident, which he said he considered “closed.”
Nevertheless, the archbishop told the Portuguese edition of Vatican Radio that “I want to make very clear that my position as representative of the Commission of Life and Family of the Brazilian bishops’ conference was expressed after consulting some 10 advisers who were gathered in Brasilia for that purpose.”
In the interview, Archbishop Penna also said that the CEDAW protocol “has nothing to do with matters of abortion or life. It is just a protocol, with a committee, which is responsible for receiving accusations referred to violations of women's rights.”
Pro-life leader Scala responded that whoever advised Archbishop Penna that the CEDAW protocol was acceptable was “completely misinformed or ill-intentioned.”
In a letter to Archbishop Penna, the Argentinian attorney listed all the interventions around the world that the CEDAW monitoring committee has made that demonstrate clearly an anti-life and anti-family agenda.
“This committee, without any legal knowledge and with a clear ideological bias, will be monitoring and forcing changes to Brazil's constitution and laws, unfortunately with the support of the Brazilian bishops’ conference,” Scala wrote. “The damage has been done already.”
Alejandro Bermúdez is based in Lima, Peru.