Portuguese Catholics have blasted a cardinal and a bishop for their “disappointing and undesirable conservatism”.

– “Disappointed, displeased and embarrassed”

A total of 22 Catholics of all ages wrote this week to the Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Clemente, and the Bishop of Aveiro, António Manuel Moiteiro, to express their displeasure at both prelates having signed a manifesto “in defence of educational freedoms”.

That manifesto was directed against the introduction in Portuguese schools of a new subject entitled “Education for Citizenship and Development”, which is designed as a secular alternative to Catholic-based religion classes.

In their open letter – sent also to the president of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, the nuncio in Lisbon and to the Episcopal Commission for Christian Education and Doctrine of the Faith that Bishop Moiteiro leads – the 22 lay public servants, teachers, doctors, architects, lawyers, journalists and artists denounce that Clemente and Moiteiro’s support for the manifesto has “disappointed”, “displeased” and “embarrassed” them “very much… as citizens, Christians and Catholics”.

“The signing of this manifesto is a disastrous form of civic engagement” and “an aggression against Catholics who do not identify with the document”, the 22 Catholics decry.

– “Politically and pastorally irresponsible”

The 22 Portuguese Catholics remind Cardinal Clemente and Bishop Moiteiro that in the proposed “Education for Citizenship” subject “there is no hint of any topics that might be, in themselves, inappropriate or in any way unsuited to the formation of young people or, on another level, not in line with Christianity or Catholic doctrine”.

Rather, the syllabus lends itself to the development of “human integrity, solidarity, civism and decency”, the Catholics write, as anyone can see from an exercise of “mere common sense and civic responsibility”.

The letter signers acknowledge the the bishops’ opposition to the new subject is founded in their concerns over secular bias in the material and, also, that the discipline promotes “gender ideology”.

However, “in line with Pope Francis” and defending the “equal dignity [of] men and women”, the Portuguese Catholics point out that gender equality “is not an ideology”, but rather “a guideline for individual freedom, respect among all… and the rejection of discrimination and social exclusion”.

“One has to ask if there is anything more Christian and fraternal than this program of life”, the letter signers observe.

At the same time, they insist that “citizenship is not an option, but rather a right and a duty of all, from which Christians should not only not be exempt but also must strive for its materialisation”.

“We want to stress to our bishops that their association with the manifesto was unnecessary and politically and pastorally irresponsible”, the Portuguese Catholics emphasise.

– “A new sign of the very worrying rapprochement between the Church and the far right”

The letter signers call Cardinal Clemente and Bishop Moiteiro’s signing on to the manifesto “a new manifestation of a disappointing and undesirable conservatism and a new sign of the very worrying rapprochement (sometimes alignment) between the Church and political forces well-identified with the right and even with the far right”.

“We do not want an instrumentalised Church or [a Church that is] in any way an accomplice – as in moments past – with the dark clouds that thicken in many countries of all continents due to the emergence of political radicalisms” fanned by extreme right-wing forces, the letter signers urge.

They also warn that the only possible result of a surge of the far right – whether enabled by the Church or not – is “chaos, dictatorships, wars, poverty, inequality, pain and suffering”.

To avoid any hint of complicity between the Church and the far right, the Portuguese Catholics issued a “challenge” to their bishops “to think better about the paths we follow, asking ourselves where Jesus Christ is in the choices we make, whether in our daily lives or in the government of the Church”.

“Is he [Christ] a force of faith for good, a motivator for transformation and solidarity, or is he a distorted instrument or pretext for political legitimacy?”, the Portuguese lay faithful interrogate their pastors.

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