Liberation theologians and evangelical Christians don't agree on much, but they do agree that they don't much appreciate Father Marcelo Rossi, the Brazilian pop-star priest.
Some have speculated that the rise of the charismatic renewal in Brazil and Father Rossi's more spiritual and more joyful-looking style have helped speed the decline of liberation theology.
“His presence in the media is a way to put himself above Jesus Christ,” said Dominican Father Alberto Betto, a prominent liberation theologian.
“It is not enough to bring people to church, it is necessary to send them to the poor,” said Father Betto. “But I don't see Father Marcelo among the poor; so he is just perpetuating the status of the rich.”
Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan priest and the most well-known liberation theologian in Brazil, was even more acerbic, describing Father Rossi as the Brazilian equivalent of a “dumb blonde,” and as a “byproduct of the market economy, which provides the sort of druglike joy that people want [in order] to forget the commitment to the poor. He is not committed to the poor.”
Father Rossi responded that a large number of the people who feel renewed by his Masses and songs “are very poor people, those who suffer most.”
Father Rossi's superior, Santo Amaro Bishop Fernando Antonio de Figueiredo, went further. He told the Register that profits earned by Father Rossi — which he, as a diocesan priest, is entitled to use in any way he wishes — go to help the fledgling Diocese of Santo Amaro, which was created in 1992 without a cathedral, a seminary or many resources.
“Father Marcelo has no personal belongings. He is the most detached person I have ever met,” said Bishop Figueiredo.
Protestants Cry ‘Thief!’
Not surprisingly, some Protestants have also joined in the criticism. Edir Macedo, leader of the Universal Church of God's Kingdom, recently wrote in his newspaper, Folha Universal, that Father Rossi “is a thief of evangelical songs and style,” and that “he is trying to recover Catholicism's wasted time by imitating us.”
Father Rossi did not attempt to hide his amusement. “Who can claim the copyright for praising the Lord in a spirit of celebration and joy? The first Christian community did it — they would have the copyright,” he said with a smile.
On a more serious note, Father Rossi said “I have nothing against evangelicals, but I want Catholics to remain in our Church.”
— Alejandro Bermudez