The 1964-1985 Brazilian military dictatorship spied on Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, worried he was “subversive” and an “undesirable Spanish communist”.

– Authorities wanted Casaldáliga expelled from country for denouncing corruption and oppression of poor, indigenous

Casaldáliga – who died August 8 at the age of 92 of complications from Parkinson’s after 52 years of service to the poor and disenfranchised of the Brazilian Amazon – was the object of at least a thousand reports from the National Intelligence Service (SNI), the De Olho nos Ruralistas website revealed August 17.

Casaldáliga, a Claretian missionary, arrived in Brazil in 1968. Already in 1973, the Brazilian authorities were looking to expel him from the country for denouncing what they called “problems… of internal order in regions of our country in the developing phase”, including corruption on the part of large landowners and the slavery and murder of poor workers and the indigenous.

The priest – who was appointed Bishop of São Félix do Araguaia, in the state of Mato Grosso, in 1971, and served in that role until 2005 – had published a book of poetry in his native Spain, Clamor Elemental, that caught the eye of the dictatorship.

That was for having denounced the exploitation “of man against man” in the region and for having cited the revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

So bothered was the SNI by Casaldáliga’s prophetic voice that it indicated to the Brazilian Justice Ministry and federal police that it was willing to give up its only copy of the book in order to expedite the priest’s expulsion from the country – a threat that was never carried out.

– Priest colleague reveals “constant threat” from government and big landowners

The SNI spying against Casaldáliga continued until at least 1989, four years after Brazil’s nominal transition to democracy and one year after the adoption of the 1988 Constitution which guaranteed civil rights.

The vigilance was not only political: the Brazilian authorities also attempted to undermine the bishop in the Church, with agents requesting that copies of Clamor Elemental be distributed “secretly” among cardinals and bishops, in one report, and sent to the members of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference “keeping confidentality as to the sender”, in another.

“Words like ‘guerrilla’ and ‘revolution’ were words that led anyone to be persecuted”, Fernanda Queiroz de Menezes, a researcher specialising in Casaldáliga’s ministry with a Master in History from the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), explained to De Olhos nos Ruralistas.

“I always thought that Dom Pedro had a very great intellectual coherence”, Queiroz de Menezes continued, noting that the Brazilian dictatorship’s almost “psychotic” obsession with elements of the opposition intensified even more in the case of a bishop who never stopped using poetry as a way to show his political commitment.

Casaldáliga “always had a strong position on these issues, on the issues of land; he never had any doubts about his support of the squatters and the indigenous people and the defence of nature”, the researcher said.

Augustinian friar Gabriel López Blanco, who lived and worked with Casaldáliga in the 1980s, said that pastoral workers in São Félix faced a “constant threat from above, from the government, and also from below, from the big landowners”.

“We jokingly said that all of us in the prelature had to take beautiful photos of us for when we became martyrs. It was an anguish that was lived all the time in the pastoral team”, López Blanco recalled.

More on Novena on Bishop Casaldáliga:

Renovation movement ‘We Are Church’ praises Bishop Casaldáliga as “model disciple of Jesus and his Gospel”

Liberation theologian Boff pays tribute to Bishop Casaldáliga: “An exemplary shepherd and a courageous prophet”

Bishop-prophet Casaldáliga, in his own words (II): “The 21st century will make an option for the excluded or it will not be Christian”

Bishop-prophet Casaldáliga, in his own words (I): “We need to radicalise the search for justice, peace, human dignity and equality”

Pedro Casaldáliga, Spanish-born ‘bishop of the poor’ in Brazil and hero of liberation theology, dies at 92


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.