Viewing cable 07VATICAN85

07VATICAN852007-05-06 13:05:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vatican
DE RUEHROV #0085/01 1261305
P 061305Z MAY 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 VATICAN 000085 
E.O. 12958: DECL:  5/6/2017 
REF: 06 VATICAN 269 
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CLASSIFIED BY: Peter Martin, Political Officer, Vatican, State. 
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 
¶1. (SBU) Pope Benedict XVI travels to Brazil May 9-13 to open a 
plenary session of the council of Latin American and Caribbean 
bishops conferences (CELAM).  The three most recent continental 
meetings (Colombia 1968, Mexico 1979, and Dominican Republic 
1992) provided direction for the Catholic Church in the region 
for many years to come.  This meeting in Aparecida, Brazil 
figures to do the same.  Issues high on the agenda include the 
rise of evangelical Protestantism, poverty, civil engagement, 
family issues and the environment.  Above all, in appearances 
before the conference and his opening of the gathering, Pope 
Benedict hopes to rekindle the faith in Brazil and Latin 
America, reestablishing the strength of the Church in this 
Catholic heartland.  He aims to prove that despite his attention 
to Europe, Islam, and other issues, Latin America remains a 
focus for the Holy See.  Highlights of the pope's schedule 
appear in paragraph seventeen.  End Summary. 
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Catholicism in Latin America - Key for the Holy See 
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¶2. (SBU) Eighty-year-old Pope Benedict has not traveled much in 
his pontificate, and only once outside of Europe, but he made a 
visit to Latin America a priority.  The region holds obvious 
import for the Holy See as home to a third of the world's 
Catholics - some 450 million people.  This reality is reflected 
in the Vatican bureaucracy.  It is the only geographical region 
for which the Vatican has a special commission, providing policy 
guidance for the pope in close collaboration with Latin 
America's bishops.  Latin Americans feature prominently in the 
Vatican hierarchy.  Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, an Argentinean, 
occupies the number three position as head of general Church 
affairs.  Latin American cardinals head the powerful 
Congregation for the Clergy, the Council for the Family, and the 
Council for Health Care. 
¶3.  (C)  But the region also feels neglected by the Vatican. 
There had been talk of electing the first Latin American pope 
after the death of Pope John Paul II.  Many Latin Americans were 
disappointed when it didn't happen.  Then Benedict's initial 
focus on the spiritual roots of Europe, the challenge of Islam, 
and ecumenical relations (working to heal the ancient rift with 
the Orthodox) suggested to many that Latin America was not on 
the front burner for the Holy See.  Brazilian Monsignor Stefano 
Migliorelli, a Vatican official leading preparations for 
Benedict's trip, admits that the perception is deeply rooted. 
There's no doubt that it played a "key role" in the pope's 
decision to go to Brazil, he told us.  The pope needs to show 
Latin America that it counts. 
Why Brazil? 
¶4.  (C) The Brazil trip and CELAM meeting offer the pope a 
chance to demonstrate his interest in the region, and for him to 
put his mark on the Latin American Church.  His task is to 
reconnect with the people.  Brazil  - and much of Latin America 
- is like mission territory, Migliorelli said, using the 
Catholic term for lands that haven't been systematically exposed 
to the faith.  "We have to approach this like evangelization - 
starting from scratch," he continued.  And Brazil is the key to 
the Latin Church, Migliorelli told us, both because of the huge 
number of Catholics there, and the fact that from the Catholic 
perspective it suffers from many of the problems (evangelical 
sects, poverty, environmental challenges) that one sees in other 
parts of the region.  When meeting with South American cardinals 
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two years ago, it was Pope Benedict who chose the location of 
the meeting, telling the group he wanted to hold it at the most 
popular Marian shrine in Brazil. 
Family Values and Political Issues 
¶5. (C) In preliminary meetings and messages leading up to the 
CELAM gathering, the pope has focused mainly on internal Church 
issues such as promoting vocations to the priesthood and 
safeguarding Catholic moral teaching on marriage and family 
life.  The region's bishops have been more political in their 
pre-conference discussions.  In his appearances before the 
conference begins, the pope is more likely to focus on broad 
questions of faith and morals, while his message to the 
conference may become more concrete, reflecting the concerns of 
the bishops.  His message will undoubtedly set the tone for the 
rest of the conference, one top Vatican official told us.  "The 
bishops won't be able to take a different route after the pope 
has set out his priorities," he added. 
¶6. (U) Below, we have outlined some of the themes that will 
serve as a backdrop for the pope's appearances, and the topics 
that he and the bishops will address. 
Growth of Evangelical Protestantism 
¶7. (SBU) When John Paul II made his first trip to Brazil in 1980 
Catholics accounted for 89 percent of the population.  According 
to the 2000 census, they had fallen to 74 percent, with the 
total in some major cities under 60 percent.  Each year, 
millions of Latin American Catholics leave their churches to 
join mostly evangelical congregations - a departure actively 
encouraged, according to the Catholic Church, by the pastors of 
these new flocks.  According to one analysis, while the Catholic 
Church focuses on "saving souls," many of the evangelical 
churches tackle day-to-day problems while making just enough 
doctrinal demands to satisfy the Latin American thirst for 
mysticism.  Pope John Paul II described their activity as 
"sinister".  One of Benedict's main tasks will be to reawaken 
the Catholic community and encourage resistance to what he has 
called "poaching" by "sects". 
The "Threat" of Liberation Theology 
¶8. (SBU) Another major contextual issue for the visit is the 
challenge to the traditional Church played by liberation 
theology.  Pope John Paul (aided by the current pope when he was 
Cardinal Ratzinger) made major efforts to stamp out this Marxist 
analysis of class struggle.  It had come to be promoted by a 
significant number of Catholic clergy and lay people, who in a 
political compromise sometimes sanctioned violence "on behalf of 
the people."  The more orthodox form of liberation theology that 
sided with the poor and oppressed had undergone a reductionist 
reading that the Vatican sought to correct.  To a large extent, 
Pope John Paul II beat down "liberation theology", but in the 
past few years, it has seen a resurgence in various parts of 
Latin America. 
¶9. (C)  In March this issue came up again when the Vatican 
office for doctrine (Benedict's old stomping grounds) issued a 
note critiquing Basque priest Jon Sobrino's writings on Jesus 
Christ.  Sobrino, a Jesuit who worked for many years in El 
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Salvador, was one of Latin America's best known liberation 
theologians.  The publication of the Vatican notification so 
close to the Aparecida event was a clear message to the Church 
in Latin America.  Still Migliorelli says, "we don't plan to 
bring up" liberation theology formally in any of the papal 
addresses.  "Everyone knows the situation," he went on.  The key 
is simply for the clergy to be trained more effectively to 
explain the Church's position to the people, he concluded. 
Clerical Woes 
¶10. (C) Indeed, Migliorelli said, the crisis of the clergy is a 
major factor in the region.  The priest shortage in much of 
Latin America is far worse than that in the United States.  By 
some accounts there are ten times fewer priests per capita than 
in the U.S.  What's more, Migliorelli lamented, their level of 
education is often very low, and they often don't adhere to 
standards of clerical discipline (celibacy, regular offering of 
the sacraments, etc.)  Although Benedict will be aiming at the 
laity on this trip, Migliorelli admitted that the clerical issue 
also requires attention. 
Economic Issues 
¶11. (C) A preparatory gathering in Rome for the CELAM meeting 
gave a hint of the interest in economic issues that many of the 
bishops present shared.  At a press conference following the 
event, the bishops complained about the "unjust distribution of 
wealth and the abysmal differences in the distribution of 
resources" in their region.  They asked how this could happen 
when the majority of Latin America's presidents, business people 
and professionals claim to be Catholics.  Migliorelli noted that 
the Holy See was equally concerned about the great gap between 
rich and poor in Brazil and much of Latin America, and said it 
was something the pope would certainly address.  He didn't 
expect the pontiff to get into the weeds of trade policy, but 
said that equitable trade in the era of globalization was also 
part of the economic context. 
Deterioration of Society 
¶12. (SBU) In the lead-up to the CELAM meeting, Latin American 
bishops have also expressed their concern over the general 
"deterioration" of society in their region.  The president of 
Guatemala's bishops conference, Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, lamented 
omnipresent societal violence and described "societies that try 
to follow lifestyles of consumerism and hedonism" with little 
regard for social justice.  Challenges regarding crime, 
migration, and education will be among the issues that the 
region's bishops will bring to the discussion in Aparecida, and 
will undoubtedly find their way, at least in broad strokes, into 
the pope's remarks.  For the Holy See and the bishops, many of 
these ills can be traced to the dissolution of the family and 
the lack of attention to "moral values".  The pope and the 
bishops will undoubtedly make the family a centerpiece of their 
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¶13. (SBU) Other bishops will seek attention for environmental 
issues.  Recently, Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Peru said 
the region's wealth of natural resources and the variety of its 
cultures contrasted sharply with the "extreme poverty" in urban 
shantytowns, highland villages and Amazonian communities.  The 
archbishop said Andean glaciers were in rapid retreat leaving 
farmers without water "within two decades."  He decried the 
destruction of one-fifth of the Amazon rain forest and the 
continuing pillage that sees some 20,000 square miles disappear 
every year.  Again, the pope is unlikely to delve into the 
details of these issues as much as the bishops will, but he may 
well refer to them.  More than previous popes, Benedict has 
noted environmental challenges. 
Hot Spots 
¶14. (C) Monsignor Angelo Accattino, Holy See MFA lead on CELAM 
and several Latin American countries, acknowledged the Holy 
See's concerns and interest in Latin American hot spots such as 
Venezuela and Cuba.  But this was not the venue, he said, to 
engage on what he called "political issues".  He said the pope 
would not comment on controversial leaders, and didn't think 
regional bishops would do differently.  If we can help 
rejuvenate the Church with this visit, other issues (and 
leaders) will be easier to deal with, Accattino said.  When 
pressed, he acknowledged that in Cuba and Venezuela the issues 
at stake were based on human rights - fertile ground for the 
pope and bishops.  He maintained, however, that the pope would 
steer clear of all but the broadest questions. 
Brazil - Holy See Bilateral Issues 
¶15. (C) Brazilian diplomats here have told us that the Holy See 
has been laid back about bilateral issues.  When the Brazilian 
DCM approached the Vatican to ask what issues they might want to 
raise in the papal meeting with President da Silva, Holy See 
officials said they had no preference, only asking that Brazil 
let them know what their side would like to raise.  In the end, 
the Brazilians simply left the agenda open.  There had been talk 
of finalizing a concordat between the two sides (regularizing 
some Church-State issues), but all realized that there was no 
way to complete work on the document in time for the visit.  The 
Brazilians expect the pope will raise family issues in the 
bilateral context, as the government has some role in this area. 
 Our Brazilian contacts noted that Brazil's progressive stances 
on some homosexual partnership issues could attract Benedict's 
¶16. (C)  Four U.S. bishops, including the top U.S. Churchman at 
the Vatican, Cardinal William Levada, will attend the CELAM 
conference, suggesting that it may impact even beyond the 
boundaries of Latin America.  The participation of a Canadian 
cardinal also emphasizes the Holy See's vision of solidarity in 
the Americas.  The Holy See has placed great emphasis on the 
trip, anticipating that it will be an important moment in this 
pontificate.  Sources tell us that Benedict has sequestered 
himself in recent days to devote his full attention to 
finalizing his speeches, which will be delivered in Portuguese. 
In the end, the trip will be a success if Benedict is able to 
rekindle enthusiasm for the Catholic Church in Brazil, and also 
impact the wider region, focusing Catholics on "faith, family, 
and morals".  We expect a document to come out of the Aparecida 
meeting by the end of 2007, focusing on some of the more 
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concrete issues noted above. End comment. 
Papal Schedule 
¶17.  (U) Major events on Pope Benedict XVI's schedule: 
The complete schedule may be viewed at i/travels/2007 
/documents/trav_ben-xvi_brasile-program_20070 509_en.html 
- May 9, late evening arrival in Sao Paolo, official speech at 
the airport welcome ceremony. 
- May 10  Sao Paolo, meeting with President Lula, ecumenical 
encounter, lunch with the Brazilian bishops conference, (at 
Paceambu Soccer Stadium) meeting with young people. 
- May 11 Sao Paolo, Campo de Marte airfield, Mass to canonize a 
Brazilian saint (morning), meeting with Brazil's bishops at Sao 
Paolo Cathedral (afternoon), flight to Aparecida (evening). 
- May 12, travel to Guaratingueta for encounter with recovering 
substance abusers (morning), lunch with CELAM delegates, Shrine 
of Our Lady of Aparecida for prayer service(evening). 
- May 13, Mass with bishops to inaugurate CELAM meeting 
(morning), opening of meeting with key note address (afternoon), 
papal address and departure for Rome after formal farewell 
ceremony (late evening).