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  • The "Beauty of Inequality" and the Mythos of the MedievalBrazil and the Forging of Global Catholic Traditionalism

This paper recovers the untold story of the Brazilians whose reactions to perceived modernization and secularization helped create today's transnational Christian Right. Catholic traditionalism at and after Vatican II has gained intermittent notoriety in the years since the Council—yet this notoriety has almost always focused around North Atlantic reactionaries. I show that prominent members of Brazil's ecclesial and lay hierarchies worked at the Council to anchor an embryonic, anti-modern Catholic conservatism, rooted in pre-conciliar corporatism and mysticism. They organized the forces of conservatism at Vatican II; generated ideological and logistical groundwork for a global Catholic traditionalist groundswell in the Council's aftermath; and anticipated the cross-denominational linkages of religious and political issues that would come to comprise late-twentieth century neoliberalism and the New Right.

Este artigo recupera a história, até agora desconhecida, dos brasileiros cujas reações à modernização e à secularização percebidas contribuíram para a criação da direita cristã transnacional de hoje. O tradicionalismo católico durante e depois do Concílio Vaticano II ganhou notoriedade intermitente desde que a reunião ecumênica tentou introduzir reformas na igreja; mas esta notoriedade quase sempre se enfocou em reacionários do Atlântico Norte. Mostro aqui que membros proeminentes das hierarquias eclesiásticas e leigas no Brasil trabalharam para ancorar, durante o concílio, um conservadorismo embrionário, anti-moderno e enraizado no corporativismo e misticismo pre-conciliares. Estes brasileiros organizaram as forças conservadoras no Concílio; prepararam terrenos ideológicos e logísticos para uma lenta onda de tradicionalismo católico mundial depois do Concílio; e anteciparam os vínculos que uniriam cristãos de várias denominações em prol de causas religiosas e políticas que constituiriam o neoliberalismo e a Nova Direita do final do século XX.

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Today, the city of Campos dos Goytacazes, an hour's flight from bustling Rio de Janeiro, feels relatively sleepy and unsung. Yet for decades the city has been the seat of international controversy and a globally celebrated center for ultra-traditionalist Catholicism.1 As a diocese, Campos but recently reconciled with the Vatican—for here, in the aftermath of the second Vatican Council, a core group of reactionaries rebelled against Rome's authority and fractiously insisted on a fundamentalist approach to doctrine and practice.2 Initially led by bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer (1904–1991), this group situated Campos, and Brazil, at the heart of a traditionalism that helped to shape not only the battles of Vatican II, but the polarizing agenda that would define Catholic reaction worldwide for decades to come.

In 2015, I met with Mayer's successor, Fernando Ârias Rifan, the current bishop and apostolic administrator who has overseen the post-2002 rapprochement with the Vatican. In a room crowded with figurines of medieval crusaders and ersatz chivalric insignia, Rifan explained his community's ongoing resistance to Vatican II. He and others in Campos adhere to the Latin Mass, execrate doctrinal, liturgical, and stylistic "innovations" (Rifan also calls them "abuses") in the Church, and venerate Mayer's memory. Narrating the history of how Mayer and others in this low-profile outpost mutinied against the Vatican, Rifan confirmed what I had seen in the documentary record of the movement: that the development of renegade traditionalism here, as elsewhere, stemmed from an abhorrence of modernization, based in a desire to save mysticism, hierarchy, and supernatural mystery—idealized as pre-modern and even medieval—from perceived secularization and rationalization.

As Rifan recalled, he, Mayer, and their allies in Brazil and abroad had reacted in particular to the Novus Ordo Missae—the 1969 Vatican-mandated liturgical reform that they interpreted as (in Rifan's words) a "desacralization," a loss of "magisterium," and an attack on "mystery, beauty, and good taste." In a sense, Brazil's Catholic conservatives were outraged by what they saw as an unholy disenchantment in the world—a desanctification that transcended mere style to threaten ancient hierarchies and the heritage of a "Christian civilization" perfected, according to its modern devotees, in the medieval past. This concern for enchantment or mystery, for the condition of the supernatural in the modern world, would form the backbone of Catholic reaction in Brazil and beyond.3 Brazilian activists, working both publicly and behind the scenes, played an important role in shaping that reaction. Drawing on pre-conciliar Catholic conservatisms, and cooperating with activists from elsewhere, they elaborated supernaturalism, considered a lost medieval virtue, as part of a common litany of issues that would define global responses to Vatican II and link local Catholic reactionaries to a broader, [End Page 106] emergent series of movements and institutions, auguring a new configuration of religious conservatism in the late twentieth century.

Rifan's medieval-themed décor, then, surpasses mere kitsch. Medieval or neo-medieval imagery and nostalgia motivated not only Rifan and his allies, but a generation of Brazilian activists who strove to "save" Catholic heritage from what they saw as the depredations of post-conciliar progressivism. Beyond overseeing the Campos-based rebellion against the Vatican, Mayer cooperated with other Brazilians to outline and promote a national and transnational politics of Catholic reaction to Vatican II, to modernization, and to perceived secularization. Mayer himself is perhaps the most famous of these Brazilians, having gained some international notoriety in 1988, when he was excommunicated alongside French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for performing illicit consecrations at Ecône, Switzerland.4 Individual fame notwithstanding, however, Mayer is representative of a cohort of traditionalist Catholics in Brazil who conspired, more than twenty years earlier, to set a course for the rupture at Ecône. Alongside other Brazilian clerics—most notably Geraldo Proença Sigaud (1909–1999), bishop of Jacarezinho and later Archbishop of Diamantina—and organizations (especially TFP, or the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, founded in 1960 by lay activist Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira), Mayer played a major, in some sense pioneering, role in the national and transnational politics of Catholic traditionalism, in particular during and after Vatican II. Yet Mayer, Sigaud, and even the rather sensational TFP are often marginalized in the historiography of the global rise of Catholic reaction and arch-conservatism.5 This essay seeks to write these actors into that broader historiography, highlighting their activism at Vatican II as part of the construction and evolution of transnational Catholic traditionalism.

Mayer, Sigaud, and Oliveira began collaborating in the 1930s, paving the way toward their vigorous, and vital, arch-conservative activism at Vatican II. In 1960, the bishops and Oliveira crowned their longtime collaboration with Reforma Agraria: Questão de Consciência, an anticommunist battle-cry for Catholic renewal and against wealth redistribution. The book's preface declared its "position radically against the neopagan avalanche of socialism . . . undermining our luso-Christian spiritual patrimony."6 Such crusading on the part of Sigaud, Mayer, Oliveira, and TFP reverberated in mid-century Brazil. They made headlines as representatives of social and political conservatism based in Catholic traditionalism, and gained political influence with the military regime and among security forces.7 Yet their activities also had significant repercussions internationally; they helped to shape and sustain global, Catholic and Christian reaction to modernization and secularization.8 In this essay, I will focus on Mayer, Sigaud, and TFP as important leaders in a constellation of protagonists who, at the crossroads of the Second Vatican [End Page 107] Council and in its aftermath, sought to set the agenda of international Catholic traditionalism and eventually of Christian conservatism. By no means did the Brazilians treated here single-handedly generate present-day Catholic traditionalism; but they did play a signal, historiographically undervalued role in its genesis. The bishops (especially Sigaud) and TFP organized against changes they feared would come out of Vatican II, even as the Council itself unfolded. The Council, as is well known, developed into a watershed, a focal point for diverse currents in the Church, revealing the complex, variegated, and often interrelated factions within the episcopate—none of whom, it bears mentioning, truly sought the wholesale secularization feared by traditionalists. In the months and years that followed, through tumultuous Church politics and their own changing relationships (including Sigaud's break with TFP, as well as Mayer's increasing distance from the Vatican), these leading Brazilian reactionaries would continue to agree on a basic set of issues; more importantly, they would participate in the formation of a platform of grievances that came to define Catholic and broader Christian arch-conservatism. These included anti-communism; moralism; anti-ecumenism; defense of hierarchy per se; anti-statist dedication to private property and free enterprise; and vociferous defense of the primacy of the supernatural in a world perceived to be secularizing.

Brazilian Catholic reactionaries and their allies coalesced around this last, critical element. Like the other themes mentioned above, the loss of enchantment and mystery, of the quotidian presence of the supernatural, greatly disturbed those who saw themselves as the "baluartes" (bastions) of Catholic traditionalism. At Vatican II and thereafter, TFP leaders joined Sigaud and Mayer in agitating for mystery and magisterium; indeed, the Brazilians were in some ways the prime (and heretofore unrecognized) impetus behind organized conservative resistance at Vatican II.9 After the council they continued this work, and sought to foment cooperation across both national and denominational borders. They persisted, at least in part, thanks to the friendliness toward their endeavors of Brazil's dictatorial government (1964–1985). In this essay I will address the first aspect of this story—Brazilian conservatives' orchestration of reaction at Vatican II, and the focus of that reaction around the key issues of magisterium, the supernatural, hierarchy, and nostalgia for an imagined medieval past when those values reigned unquestioned.

I. "Parabens, Excelência, parabens": Sigaud, Mayer, the TFP, and Organizing Conservative Reaction at Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council, an event whose historic proportions were of course immediately evident, quickly became the site of much maneuvering, caucusing, and speculating among participants and observers, all interested [End Page 108] in the outcomes of this high-stakes meeting. The most conservative Church fathers, alarmed by the reformist plans of a developing majority, eventually formed a group calling itself Coetus Internationalis Patrum (International Group of Fathers).10 This rather shadowy coalition had one clear and distinguishing feature: Sigaud was its leader and the person who did the most work to further its cause. In this work he was supported by close cooperation not only with Lefebvre but—more significantly—with Sigaud's compatriots: Brazilian TFP activists and Mayer. Together, they launched a well-organized attack on Catholic progressivism and change within the Church—belying contentions that conservatives lacked mobilization and organization.11 Among other issues, this attack centered around the anxieties mentioned above regarding the supernatural and magisterium as crucial sites for the preservation of tradition.

The above-quoted phrase "parabens, Excelência, parabens" ("congratulations, Excellency, congratulations") comes from one of many letters from like-minded clerics and supporters who, throughout Vatican II, wrote to Sigaud to commiserate with him or (as in this case) effusively congratulate him on his work in championing conservative causes at the Council.12 Recognition and praise came from across the world of Catholic traditionalism—near the end of the Council, for example, Hungarian priest Luiz Kondor, famed for championing the veneration of Fátima, informed Sigaud that "I particularly accompanied your Excellency's work" in organizing conservatives, seeking Russia's consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and ensuring the papal pronouncement of Mary as Mother of the Church.13

These supporters' enthusiasm underscores their recognition of Sigaud as the lead organizer of the Church's conservative wing in Rome. Indeed, some tempered their excitement with expressions of anxious relief that a defender had emerged to form and lead an anti-progressive caucus. Writing to Sigaud, they referred to this caucus as "your faction."14 Some conservatives, in Rome and abroad, seem even to have looked to Sigaud as a sort of beleaguered paladin, venerating him as a martyr-cum-spiritual leader of the cause. As one priest wrote to Sigaud in 1963, "may you have a good [return] trip to the Council and may it not be a journey for pleasure alone. I await your guidance; that is why I am so worried about the . . . results of the Council." Another supporter, expressing solidarity with Sigaud's resistance to liturgical changes, affirmed his (the priest's) intent to retain the old ways, and appealed to Sigaud as a protector: "in case of any difficulties I will count on Your Excellency in Rome."15

Sigaud had been vital to Coetus from its formative stages. Planning notes for the faction, in Sigaud's hand, show how he laid out schematics for the group's structure, meetings, publications, activities, and finances.16 Indeed, much of the group's surviving documentation—including invitations and [End Page 109] suggestions for membership—appears written by Sigaud; correspondence was often signed "Geraldo Proença Sigaud, Archbishop of Diamantina, acting for Coetus Internationalis Patrum." Sigaud even spearheaded ill-fated efforts to gain official recognition for Coetus at the Council. Perhaps most impressively in terms of orchestration, Sigaud drafted instructions for his fellow conservative fathers, outlining the topics and arguments they should take up in their interventions. For example, when it came to the hotly debated schema on religious freedom (which set off loud anti-ecumenist alarm bells in conservative circles), Sigaud delineated a meticulous plan, with very specific instructions, for interventions by Lefebvre, Jean Prou, Luigi Carli, and Mayer. "Your topic," he told the latter, "is the following: Only God has absolute dignity. To the extent that man joins himself with God, he has dignity. . . . The Devil . . . has lost dignity . . . the Schema does not defend [Catholic] religious liberty against the threats of communism and Islam."17

Sigaud did not always proclaim his leadership role in Coetus. This may have derived from diffidence or from a politic sense of reserve—Coetus' status at the Council was forever uncertain, and Sigaud constantly fretted about tactics. Thus even when he himself wrote Coetus invitations to other Council Fathers, he sometimes did not include his name as the group's leader. Such solicitations from Sigaud were relatively constant, given the desire to influence more participants at the Council. Yet as late as October 1964, when Sigaud drafted a summons for select council Fathers to "meetings every Tuesday at 5 pm . . . to study the schemata . . . in light of the traditional doctrine of the Church," he did not name himself as one of those whose "distinguished patronage" graced the meetings.18

Even so, Sigaud did directly acknowledge his own leadership role from time to time. His sense of the significance of his activities was so strong that he wrote to his friend and collaborator Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, "it is extremely difficult to bear so much responsibility alone, and I would so like to have Dom Mayer with me in these crucial moments."19 Sigaud echoed these sentiments rather pathetically in a letter to Mayer. "In these moments," the former complained, "I feel your absence very keenly, you . . .who might give me your counsel. . . . At this moment I am all alone in Rome."20 These were admissions to intimate collaborators—but Sigaud also considered his own leadership more broadly notable. In a letter to Brazil's foreign minister in late 1965, Sigaud waxed rather casual, presuming a general knowledge of his role as spearhead: "It must be known to your Excellency that by a series of circumstances I saw myself obligated to take the initiative to organize among the Conciliar Fathers a group that the worldwide press has dubbed 'the minority' and which has played a major role. . .. I am the director and general secretary of this group, on which the result of the conciliar work will depend."21 [End Page 110]

At this point, correspondence with Oliveira and with Mayer represented more than idle chatter on Sigaud's part. Mayer, the withdrawn, deeply conservative bishop of Campos, and Oliveira, the leader-for-life of the newly-minted TFP, were Sigaud's intimate collaborators (one might even say co-conspirators) and advisors in this critical period of conservative mobilization. The men were longtime stalwarts of Brazil's Catholic Right, whose intellectual substance they had shaped together in the 1930s via the periodical O Legionário.22 This alliance had thus lasted decades when, in 1960, Oliveira founded TFP. A lay organization, the society convened veteran leadership (like Oliveira, Sigaud, and Mayer themselves) and thousands of young, male recruits, who were called to defend traditional Catholicism via protest, a cultivated, militaristic monasticism, spectacular pageantry (in medievalesque garb), proselytizing, and even the practice of arcane defense techniques. TFP would eventually spread across dozens of countries; its story lies beyond the scope of this article. Critically for our purposes, the organization was founded as a response to the threats perceived to be impending with the onset of Vatican II; in 1960 the TFP crystallized an anti-modern conservatism that Oliveira, Mayer, and other leading tefepistas had developed over decades.

In letters to Mayer and to "my dear Plínio," Sigaud sought to confer with each on the unfolding plans to influence the Council. Referring to "battles" in Rome over particular schema (especially those on the critical issues that would become the fodder of Christian conservatism), Sigaud was wont to ask for logistical support and ideological collaboration. As he put it in a letter to Oliveira on the status of Coetus, "Tell me your [and Mayer's] opinion . . . What should we do now?"23 On several occasions, Sigaud even advocated an official Conciliar role for Oliveira, lobbying skeptical administrators to sanction Oliveira as a lay auditor or guest. When a dubious Council gatekeeper questioned whether Oliveira "really deserved the high praise that [Sigaud's] letter contained," Sigaud argued that Oliveira was distinguished as "a Brazilian thinker highly specialized in the knowledge of communism," whose book The Freedom of the Church in the Communist State "had already sold 108,000 copies." Qualifications aside, Sigaud was aware of "rumors of Integralism" or worse yet of fascism on Oliveira's part, and struggled to combat them. In 1965, the archbishop assured Sebastiano Baggio (then serving as Apostolic Nuncio in Brazil) that the TFP leader was not in fact a fascist or an Integralist and thus should be recognized as an official auditor at the Council. While continuing to offer advice to Sigaud, Oliveira pressed for this more formal "advocacy" role; Sigaud, in turn, appealed not only to the Council's leaders, but to other Brazilian fathers, including political adversaries. He was frustrated to find that Dom Agnelo Rossi "did not have any personal objection" to Oliveira's participation, but would not support it because it might offend adherents of Brazilian Catholic philosopher Alceu Amoroso Lima as well as [End Page 111] other Brazilian bishops. To Sigaud, in other words, the tacit intransigence of progressives like Lima blocked Oliveira from gaining an official advisory capacity.24

Sigaud had close personal relationships with several other functionaries of the TFP—and he relied on the organization as a source of financial and personnel support. TFP leaders, in turn, saw Sigaud as a captain of their own crusade to set a globally conservative agenda for the future of Catholicism. In 1963, TFP second-in-command Fernando Furquim de Almeida wrote to Sigaud about their shared "chess game" of strategizing at the Council. Almeida took the opportunity to celebrate Sigaud's activism as "a sword thrust against the enemies of Our Lady, and your Excellency can imagine how happy we were to see such a thrust. . .made by someone with whom we collaborate."25 The medieval imagery of sword-thrusting and the reference to the Virgin were, as we shall see, important. These were, in fact, among the lynchpins of the nostalgic traditionalism that TFP and Sigaud promoted. More concretely, their partnership included fetching to Rome a cadre of tefepistas tasked with the legwork of Sigaud's conservative campaign—everything from messengering to printing leaflets to secretarial tasks.

Sigaud deemed this cadre essential to his success. "No matter what," he wrote to Oliveira, "Henrique [Barbosa Chaves, a TFP devotee] must come to help us." As he and Mayer were "studying" the future of Coetus as an official body, Sigaud wrote to Chaves himself of their shared cause: "My Dear Henrique . . . Your coming is indispensable."26 So indispensable did Sigaud consider the TFP presence that he activated the levers of his influence in the Brazilian government to finance and facilitate it. Writing to Brazil's foreign minister as both a friend and a Catholic, Sigaud stressed the expertise and dedication of TFP aides, whom he described as a unique pillar of the conservative strategy in Rome. Coetus had, he noted, depended on them for years as a cohort of "specialist" agitators, matchlessly capable of this work.

The reason that we cannot resolve the issues of [Coetus] merely with Italian aides is obvious. First, it is a question of trust. My [TFP] team has been working with me for several years now, and has already done its work with great efficiency and discretion in the past three sessions. It is also a question of economy, because all of the people I have in mind work from sheer dedication [to our cause]. And that I do not find here [in Rome]. And the Brazilian operatives are specialists, each in a different area of the Council. . . . The backbone of [Coetus] has been and must continue to be these trusted operatives from Brazil.27

These machinations, in 1965, were part of a years-long strategy of bringing TFP staffers to Rome. Oliveira, who had traveled to the Vatican at the Council's outset, recalled arriving in Italy with ten assistants, who remained [End Page 112] for the duration of the first session. The operation grew relatively sophisticated—TFP brought an accountant to monitor finances at this improvised headquarters, and the militants often worked through the night to edit and then distribute messages from Sigaud and the conservative caucus. Because the conciliar fathers were housed haphazardly in seminaries and other facilities around the city, there existed no formal and efficient means of reaching them all. TFP's dawn runs to distribute literature thus critically facilitated the conservative bloc's mobilization.28 This importance was confirmed by no less an authority than Lefebvre himself, who became the most internationally celebrated leader of the post-Vatican II backlash. Lefebvre called the TFP members in Rome Coetus's "directorial committee."29

TFP members, including Oliveira himself, would later claim that TFP was in some ways even more "directorial" than Sigaud. The TFP strategy, recalled Oliveira, prescribed radical measures to "resolve once and for all the tragedy that the Council was setting in place." For example, according to the organization, Mayer and Sigaud "neglected" to carry out one dramatic tactic proposed by TFP:

Dom Sigaud and Dom Mayer were to enter fully outfitted in the middle of the session, pass in front of all the gathered prelates and, in front of the dais of Paul VI, break their mitres and throw them on the floor in front of the Supreme Pontiff. The members of the TFP would be waiting outside with all of the press, which would be advised of this event or of some impending explosion. Then the two bishops, leaving the session with a prepared speech—prepared most likely by Dr. Plínio—would launch this bomb into the media, turning the eyes of the whole world to the error that was being committed [at the Council]. This explosion would do away with the "spell" that had been cast over many at the Council, and the two bishops would leave the event as heroes.30

This never came to pass, of course, and the "spell" preventing a conservative takeover of the Council remained unbroken. Sigaud's apparent unwillingness to go along with this plan proved portentous: in 1970 he would officially distance himself from TFP, citing his own acceptance of the military's conservative agrarian reform as well as TFP's increasing tendency toward direct confrontation with the Pope.31 Sigaud himself remained staunchly anticommunist and culturally traditionalist (even, as we shall see, denouncing liturgical and stylistic practices to the dictatorship); yet he chose not to defy the Novus Ordo or Rome itself in the way that Mayer would, and their divergent paths represent different conservative responses to the perceived crisis of Church culture and Papal authority in the aftermath of the Council. United, that is, in their efforts to prevent liturgical or democratic change at Vatican II, the old Legionário allies varied in their negotiation of [End Page 113] the post-conciliar challenge that faced all traditionalists: balancing reverence for the papacy with execration of current papal policies.

Nevertheless, the record of reactionary collaboration and organization described above are historiographically important. Several versions of this story have suggested that conservatives were taken by surprise at the council's progressive tilt, and thence stemmed the failure of opposition to various changes in the Church.32 It is true that Coetus as a whole suffered from unsteady and sometimes untraceable membership; but a dedicated core of activists and leaders, principally Brazilian strategists and operatives, anchored the organization. Indeed, TFP seems to have anticipated the Council's tenor and planned organized activism as early as the first session. According to early notes shared by Sigaud and TFP leadership in advance of the council, "formal action is necessary. . . . It is necessary to organize on a global level a fight against the [progressive] doctrines and the authors of those doctrines, especially within the clergy and the religious orders."33

II. "The Importance of the Supernatural Milieus": Medieval Mystery versus Modern "Mundanização"

The cause shared by Sigaud, Mayer, and TFP in Rome recapitulated battles they had engaged at home in Brazil, crystallizing in the critical context of Vatican II several extant currents of traditionalism, and thus linking a suite of issues that would come to define Christian conservatisms across the world: moralism, anti-ecumenism (and contradictory varieties of anti-semitism), anti-modernism, defense of hierarchy, anticommunism, anti-statist capitalism and later neoliberalism, and—perhaps most palpably at Vatican II and thereafter—defense of the supernatural as everyday reality. Within and outside of Coetus, Sigaud cooperated with, represented, and organized those at the council who shared some or all of these foci. This litany, stressing what Sigaud, Mayer, and Oliveira envisioned as the core of the Church's past and future, synthesized traditionalisms past and anticipated the currents that would define them thereafter. Together, these Brazilian champions of "Our Lady" (especially as the Virgin of Fátima) sought to revive mythical traditions of chivalric Marian knight-errantry, idolizing medieval notions of warriorhood, gender, and palpable divinity. Accordingly, TFP ideologues, alongside Sigaud and Mayer, promoted a strain of Catholic conservatism that would concomitantly preserve rigid hierarchy, mystery, magisterium, and divine enchantment as hallmarks and indeed mainstays of Church and social authority.

In other words, Brazilian leaders at Vatican II busily developed a foundation for neo-conservatism that drew on decades of Catholic anti-modernism and on Brazil's own recent right-wing history.34 To Sigaud, as to the TFP, the [End Page 114] primary zones of contention were those with implications for the Church's role in a world perceived to be secularizing. The Brazilians campaigned for conciliar measures that would at least hold the line against modernization, secularization, and any yielding of Church primacy and hierarchy in the face of multiple sources of egalitarianism and social change. These measures included vociferous denunciation of communism; papal and conciliar consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; resistance to religious freedom, considered a plot to unravel Catholicism; and the reaffirmation of sexual and moral strictures, especially clerical celibacy. Sigaud saw himself as envoy and to some extent arbiter of these conservative foci. Thinking categorically on these and other fronts, he informed TFP leader Oliveira in late 1965 of his (Sigaud's) decision to take a brief rest, to "save" himself for critical "upcoming battles: religious freedom, Schema XIII [on the Church in the modern world], . . . and the Celibacy of Priests."35

Among the elements in this foundation for neo-conservatism—in a sense, the glue binding them together—lay a fascination with mysticism and an everyday sense of the divine. Echoing the nostalgic yearnings of diverse Catholics who had struggled with their faith's place in the modern world, Sigaud, Mayer, and their collaborators at the TFP (and, eventually, the Society of Saint Pius X and other ultra-conservative organizations) advocated a return to medieval cultural and religious forms.36 This logic adhered to a sort of fundamentalist organicism, in which spiritual and religious hierarchies, including the constant sense of God's supernatural power and the rightful authority of Church officials, guaranteed ecclesiastical, social, and economic inequalities and quashed protest, strife, or rebellion. The "perfect" Middle Ages had epitomized this ideal order, based in a worldview that emphasized the spiritual over the physical. The TFP therefore spectacularized medievalesque pomp, gaining fame from the 1960s onward for flamboyant street demonstrations where members sported capes, tunics, knee-high boots, and other elements of a habit designed by Oliveira to evoke medieval chivalric orders.

Oliveira's costumery intended symbolic evocation of bygone mysticism; but the organization equally agitated for more direct restoration of mystery and enchantment. Within TFP, Plínio cultivated a mythos of his own supernatural powers, complete with rather cult-like veneration of himself and his mother.37 More publicly, tefepistas propagated zealous veneration of the Virgin of Fátima as a mystical touchstone of "divine origin" for militant anticommunism. The cult of Fátima held coterminous attractions: the Virgin's alleged 1917 warning about the "errors" of Russia; and the deeply felt sense of the Virgin's physical presence in the world. Oliveira declared the apparition "one of the most important—perhaps the most important—message that Our Lady has given across all of history," precisely because it combined condemnation [End Page 115] of Russia, supernatural corporeality, and the additional mystery of sacrifice (the deaths of two of the children who saw the Virgin). As Plínio put it, these were "victims who associated their pain and the sacrifice of their lives with all the mystery of Fátima and all the fecundity, of a supernatural order, that Our Lady wished to give the events at Fátima."38 Fátima thus grounded the urgency of anticommunist struggle in the miraculous, tangible manifestation of the divine, and the sense of divine order that mandated not only mysticism but earthly suffering, notably that of the most humble.39

If Fátima represented a specific, supernatural rallying point for traditionalists, TFP's, Sigaud's, and Mayer's efforts at Vatican II sought more broadly to buttress the sense of God's miraculous presence, consistent with the philosophical nature of the council's debates. As we shall see, they sought to preserve the supernatural and its everyday reinforcement of hierarchy via a focus on the details—priestly comportment, clerical vestment and self-presentation, liturgical guidelines, the role of the vernacular in the mass, and the relative splendor of episcopal accoutrements. The focus on these issues stemmed, however, from wider alarm and moral panic about materialism and secularization. Both registers of anti-modern supernaturalism united the members of Coetus, and Mayer and Sigaud became orchestrators of resistance, before, during, and after the Council, to feared innovations in religious thought as well as practice.

Such resistance formed part of the decades-old (if not older) struggle to reconcile Catholicism with modernity, especially industrial modernity, which James Chappel has outlined as the "search for a Catholic alternative to modernity." Popes, priests, and philosophers had long denounced the "materialism" of the modern West. Sigaud called this a "crisis of identity" in "Western human culture," and focused in particular on what he perceived to be the death agonies of spiritually enchanted life. The "crisis," Sigaud argued with increasing vehemence, revolved around "secularization"—an evaporation of faith in the supernatural and a removal of the mysteries of the divine from everyday life. Sigaud continually excoriated this new worldview, despairing in the aftermath of Vatican II that materialism had generated "a world closed in on itself" rather than open to the supernatural mysteries channeled by the Church, such that "the human project does not extend beyond things which are observable and tangible."40 Mayer, likewise, lamented this "New Morality", complaining as early as 1953 that rationalism, modernism, and secularization created a "viscerally anti-Catholic naturalism" that negated the "importance of the supernatural milieus" and "hands Man over to himself."41 For both bishops, as for their TFP allies, the antidote to this mundanization lay in championing the supernatural at and after the Second Vatican Council.

At Vatican II, Sigaud perhaps best summarized this orientation in an elegy for "Medieval Man" (Homo Medii Aevi), whom he described, with [End Page 116] characteristic wistfulness, as possessed of an "extremely robust" sense of the daily divine and of hierarchical authority. Channeling Pope Pius XII (whom Sigaud and TFP venerated above perhaps any other pontiff), the Brazilian Archbishop deplored any softening in the Church's attitude toward non-Catholics. Accordingly, he was a principal voice of opposition to De Libertate Religiosa, the schema affirming religious freedom, which he tried to defeat both by direct intervention and by organizing the interventions of other conservatives.42 Denouncing any such measure, Sigaud argued it would further impair "the masses'" sense of divinely-granted human dignity and speed a crisis of authority already plaguing "our age." Typifying the nostalgia characteristic of the traditionalism promoted by Sigaud and Coetus at the council, he longed for an enchanted past:

Medieval Man and Man under the so-called "Ancien Regime" had an extremely robust, living sense of the dignity, both natural and supernatural, of men. Today our materialized and proletarianized urban masses often have absolutely no sense of human dignity. And how strong can that praiseworthy sense of dignity be given that irreligious and insubordinate spirit in the face of paternal authority, civil and divine, which so pertains to our modern age?43

For Sigaud, then, the Church's "paternal" authority lay under threat from modernity, materialism, and "proletarianization," which had deadened mass cultural awareness of correspondence between the worldly and supernatural planes. As another Brazilian bishop and Sigaud ally put it, the problem was that "today's life" encouraged people to focus on the earthly, on "mundane necessities" where, instead, "spirit and body . . . should be ruled by a supraterrestrial" sensibility [supraterreno].44

Sigaud's attitude was entirely consistent with his close collaboration with TFP and its leaders, who saw themselves at the forefront of Catholics in the Americas and Europe angling for a return to a mythical, organicist medieval social order. For tefepistas, Sigaud's "Medieval Man," like his era, represented the perfection of social, economic, and political order, which had deteriorated ever since. That deterioration, TFP philosophers argued, derived from modernity's fading sense of the supernatural and correspondent increase in rationalism, secularism, and related, misguided egalitarianism. Before and during the council, TFP leaders attempted to channel this message into heavily didactic position papers and talking points designed to orchestrate conservative responses to the upcoming schemas. According to one twenty-two page exposition, apparently intended to help guide Sigaud's and others' interventions, the enemies of the Church sought:

. . . the destruction of the Church and the implantation of a naturalist order. This rationalist order touches all the aspects of human life, and it places all those aspects in conflict with the order of the Revelation, of the Church, and [End Page 117] of Catholic Society. This naturalist order, radical and universal, is [what we call] the Revolution. This process began at the end of the Middle Ages, and has continued in the form of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the destruction of the Papal States, modernism, and communism.45

For TFP, the lost sense of wonder, of the Revelation as order-determining reality, had led to the many, linked evils of the modern world, from "moral corruption" to "individual, hysterical, sensual dances" to communism itself. The key, these conservatives argued, lay in remaining true to or restoring a vision of the world where supernatural power affirmed the rightness of medieval hierarchy; in the words of one preparatory document, modernity and perceived democratization made it "necessary to teach the beauty of inequality." Responding to ecumenism, to progressive Catholicism, and to egalitarianism at the Council, Sigaud and TFP called for "rechristianization" and "rebuilding Catholic society" via emphasis on "private property," anti-modernism, inequality, authoritarianism, and "reform of customs." This process, they hoped, would revivify medieval sensibilities, particularly when it came to the distinction between an obedient, mystically-oriented Catholic subject, and a disobedient, rational/modern, democratic subject. (This was despite the fact that prominent progressives, far from advocating rationalization and secularization, sought their own, devout mode of incorporating the supernatural power of the faith into modern life.)46

As we shall see, Sigaud, Mayer, and TFP focused on liturgical and practical minutiae as a crucial arena within which to re-inscribe the rightful inequalities between priests and laypeople. Yet the bishops and their TFP allies explicitly extended this "rechristianizing" emphasis on inequality to the material realm—that is, to hierarchies that went beyond the ecclesiastical, though the two were considered inextricable. At the council and over the course of his life in and out of TFP, Oliveira's sometime lieutenant Orlando Fedeli reviled "socialist and liberal egalitarianism" and the threat of "a society without classes" and without private property. Recurring to Leo XIII and Pius XII, Fedeli, like other tefepistas, would affirm that such egalitarianism was not only anti-Catholic and anti-Christian, but fundamentally evil: it "deforms the plans of God" who "created men similar but not equal, and that must be a good thing." This line of thinking, advocating less restricted capitalism, scorned egalitarianism and social justice efforts, which would cause "the perturbation of all the classes in society, a hateful and insufferable slavery for all citizens . . . talent and ability deprived of stimulus, and as a necessary consequence, wealth stagnating at its sources."47 Oliveira himself drew medievalism further into this celebration of capitalist inequalities. Rhapsodizing about the value lost with the decline of age-old chivalric and hereditary aristocracies, the TFP founder affirmed the rightness of "just and [End Page 118] proportional inequalities among men" and "maintaining the distinction of classes."48 Sigaud, in the aftermath of the Council, directly advised the faithful to eschew egalitarianism. Instead, Catholics should cultivate "humility, recognizing one's place and the superiority of others," always remembering that "class belongs to the very nature of humanity."49

Democracy itself, in fact, epitomized those "modern errors" which a healthy sense of divine order would cure. The Church, ever the source of that supernaturally-based order, must re-emphasize its transcendent, ethereal nature so as to guarantee its own authority and the safety of traditional hierarchy. At Vatican II and in post-conciliar activism, Sigaud, Mayer, and TFP set out to accomplish this mission, prescribed by generations of Catholic authoritarianists. "It is essential," read a draft of Sigaud's preparations for the council, "that pious persons comprehend the importance of the Catholic Order as the great external grace which guarantees sanctification and salvation to the multitudes"—a role which required constant vigilance, guardianship of the sacred and the sanctified against the worldly. "It is necessary," he continued, "to remind the faithful that between the Church and the world there is necessarily a conflict."50

III. The Devil in the Details: "Ep iscopal Splendor" and "A Character of Mystery"

TFP, Sigaud, and Mayer held that this reminder of the Church's supernaturally granted, supernaturally packaged role as guarantor of hierarchy, order, and salvation must consist in attention to detail—the little things which were the stuff of everyday ritual and its trappings. When tefepistas wandered the streets of São Paulo in medieval garb, that is, they did so not for pure love of the crusades or of pageantry, but because costume, corporeal deportment, and symbology mattered to their cause. Accordingly, changes proposed at and after Vatican II to priestly vestments, to the liturgy, and to the trappings of Catholic celebrations and sacraments alarmed these Brazilian conservatives not only for sentimental reasons but because such changes must, they argued, doom the world to modern secularization, the Church to irrelevance, and society to socialist materialism. This argument, a fulcrum of Brazilian activism at and after Vatican II, epitomized these activists' central place in post-conciliar traditionalism. Like-minded allies also rallied around this view, and the importance of such details would become a tenet of Catholic resistance to the "new" Church for decades thereafter (indeed, even today).51 At the Council, Sigaud, Oliveira, the gathered tefepistas, and particularly Mayer granted special emphasis to this line of thinking; and afterward, from marches in São Paulo and New York to rebellion in Campos to consecrations at Ecône, they continued to make the visual and aural fundamentals of [End Page 119] Catholic practice a sort of last line of defense, for reasons they consistently articulated in terms of order, tradition, hierarchy, and supernaturalism.

If it was "necessary to teach the beauty of inequality," this must be done via insistence on Latin mass (never the vernacular), the maintenance of episcopal finery, the preservation of distinct ecclesiastical costume and of sacerdotal monasticism/aloofness—in other words, via constant, intimate reminders of the Church's magisterium, its monopoly on quotidian access to the supernatural. Sigaud thus railed against any and all reforms to centuries-old symbols, accoutrements and paraphernalia, and did so for years after he left Rome.52 Sigaud came to look upon progressive bishop Pedro Casaldáliga as a nemesis, and in a 1977 denunciation written to dictatorial authorities, Sigaud accused the Casaldáliga of promoting communism by (concomitantly) questioning the "Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff and of the bishopric."53 Sigaud concluded by describing the quotidian transgressions by which Casaldáliga robbed Catholic practice of both mystery and hierarchy, thus promoting mundane egalitarianism and—by extension—communism:

In sum, [Casaldáliga] breaks with the Liturgy and carries this rupture to an unbelievable extent. He refuses to use his ring, his crozier and his mitre. And at his ordination, which was done on the banks of the Araguaia River, in place of a mitre he used a straw hat; in place of a crozier, a simple oar was used. This is supposed to signify his option for the poor and the oppressed. Such is the extremity of the doctrinal position which Dom Pedro Casaldáliga defends: socialism tinged with communism.54

TFP lobbyists in Brazil and in Rome agreed wholeheartedly, likewise focusing on the details of Church life as the essence of institutional sanctity and authority. Fedeli, for example, argued that proposed changes to priestly vestments and living arrangements were not "reforms" designed to "adapt the Church to the times, but [were] the Revolution." Among these measures he listed not only major questions like priestly celibacy, but the more minute issues of tonsure, votive candles, cloistering, and what Fedeli generally called the "secularization of priests."55 The crux of the issue, according to a late 1960s TFP pamphlet, was that such changes constituted a "Revolution within the Church"—one which sought the concomitant dissolution of enchantment, episcopal and ecclesiastical pomp, and the Church's power. It was, the pamphlet underscored, "an annulment of the authority of the bishopric."56

It was Mayer, however, who became the most visible exponent, before, during, and after Vatican II, of attention to detail in preserving both enchantment and magisterium. He summed up this relationship in the clearest of terms: opposing the Council's potential opening to ecumenism and non-Catholics, Mayer wrote to Sigaud that they must together reaffirm exclusivity, hierarchy, and ritualistic tradition. "We must reprove [the schema [End Page 120] on ecumenism] as an attack on the spirit of social hierarchy which is the spirit of the Church . . . it is necessary that this social hierarchy also [continue to] be reflected in the solemnities of the Church."57 In other words, social hierarchy must not only be preserved, but must be constantly performed in order to be preserved. Incensed by proposed changes to costume, to ritual practice, and especially to the language of the mass, Mayer inveighed against any and all "innovations" in the details of ecclesiastical and liturgical paraphernalia. As early as 1953, he had passionately defended "legitimate inequality" (desigualdade legítima) as part and parcel of the Church's coterminous strengths: its authority and its everyday supernaturalism. Alarmed at suggestions that the Church should become "egalitarian in its organization, simple and democratic in its discipline, liturgy, customs, and in the ways of being of the members of the Hierarchy," Mayer denounced such thinking as a "laicization of the clergy" (laicização do clero).

The proper response, he contended, would be a reaffirmation of priestly and episcopal pomp and circumstance, as well as the preservation of Latin as the language of mystery and of exclusive access to supernatural truths. Defending priestly vestment, he wrote that "it is highly appropriate and consistent . . . that [the clergy] have a habit which is totally distinct from that which the simple faithful customarily wear." With yet more verve, he affirmed the rightness of the "ambience of majesty and aristocratic distinction which surrounds the Hierarchy" of the church. Bishops, he acknowledged, might "be pastors and not princes,"

but exteriorities reveal the nature of institutions [and] thus the higher the position, the more solemn must be the atmosphere which surrounds it. The bishop holds princedom in the Church of God, . . . a dignity more eminent than that of temporal princedom. Thus, the Bishop has the obligation to surround himself with the splendor appropriate to his office.58

In order that "social hierarchy . . . be reflected in the solemnities of the Church," Mayer invoked one of the issues that would become the heart of traditionalist Catholic reaction worldwide: the Latin, or Tridentine, Mass. Coetus responded to the reformist suggestion that Latin bewildered most congregants, who might even confuse the mass with the "profane rites" of pagans, witches, and other non-Catholics.59 Mayer agreed that Latin was impenetrable to most contemporary Catholics, but argued that this constituted a virtue; it made the mass rightly incomprehensible to the laity. In a well-publicized proclamation at Vatican II, he contended that "the use in sacred affairs of a language that is not vulgar and, therefore, not accessible to everyone, adds to the dignity of the mass, conferring upon it a certain character of mystery." This air of mystery and sense of the sanctity of Catholic Latin would explicitly serve the purpose of reminding lay Catholics of their place [End Page 121] in the institutional and cosmological hierarchy. They must be reminded, in daily practice, of the supernatural capacity conferred by ordination, and thus their own spiritual subjugation to the power structure of the Church itself. As Mayer put it, "the use of the sacred language pedagogically aids the faithful to assimilate the essential difference between themselves . . . and the priesthood conferred by the Sacrament of Ordination, uniquely capable of genuine sacrificial action."60

IV. "Demythification, Desacralization, and Dealienation": Sacred Hierarchy and Conservatism beyond Vatican II, beyond Brazil, and beyond Catholicism

By the 1980s, when Mayer was excommunicated, his diocese in Campos, Rio de Janeiro, had become an epicenter of traditionalism, the site of open conflict between the Vatican, its envoys, and local leaders and parishioners. Notably, the principal issue motivating Mayer, Fernando Rifan, and other holdouts was the Tridentine Mass itself. Introduced in 1570, this liturgy had endured nearly 400 years when it became the touchstone for anti-Conciliar sentiment far and wide; Mayer's early, vocal, and highly visible opposition to liturgical reform shows him at the vanguard, today forgotten, of global Catholic and Christian neoconservatism. Adherence to the Tridentine Mass represented an amalgam of issues that, by the time of the 1988 consecrations, was the backbone of conservative Catholic reaction to Vatican II and to progressive Christianity (including Liberation Theology) more generally: anti-communism, anti-statism, and dedication to private property and enterprise; moralism; anti-ecumenism; defense of a mythicized, organicist hierarchical order; and, as we have seen, a desire to preserve a worldview in which religion daubed quotidian life and practice with a patina of sanctity.

These, of course, were foci not unique to Brazil nor to Catholicism; Christian conservative groups across the Americas and even further afield began to coalesce and even cooperate around this very set of issues. TFP, Mayer, and Sigaud not only made a splash at home in Brazil; they also contributed, ultimately, to the coalescence of a transnational and even trans-denominational religious Right, based in a potent combination of anti-modernism, enchantment, free enterprise, and moralism. Remarkable convergences emerged, ideologically linking traditionalist Catholics in Brazil with counterparts worldwide, and even with like-minded protestants. Yet there were also much more direct routes to transnationalizing the conservative vision elaborated at Vatican II. Seeking propagation, TFP became TFPs; dozens of autonomous national chapters would eventually materialize in Europe and the Americas.61 In the United States, TFP gained strength as a redoubt of neomedievalist, supernaturally-inclined reactionaries. By 1989, the North American [End Page 122] branch claimed to have tens of thousands of members, at least some of whom subscribed to the idea that Plínio Corréa de Oliveira himself could perform divinely-ordained feats of an unearthly nature. (The founder was thought to lend "supernatural assistance" by identifying people with thau, a biblical concept reinterpreted by TFP to mean desire to "reject and want to react against the general decadence, the moral abominations, and the crisis shaking the very Church of God in our days.")62 Echoing the ideas set forth at Vatican II by Brazilian activists, the US group bound this supernatural power to biblical literalism and an idealization of the middle ages as perfectly, because supernaturally, ordered:

The TFPs do not wish a mere return of the Middle Ages. However, they do believe that the ruling principles of that historic epoch—which are found in the Decalogue—can and must be reestablished in society since they express the only proper order in human relations. . . . Therefore, the restoration of the fundamental principles which inspired a temporal order in the Middle Ages, as well as their full blossoming in institutions of the highest perfection, is not a 'dream' but a goal to which no authentic Catholic truly confiding in God can cease to aspire.63

Not satisfied with "authentic" Catholics, TFP yet more remarkably reached out to potential protestant allies. Brazilian TFP leadership sought a transdenominational conservative alliance that would share the fierce defense of the supernatural we have seen emerging among Brazil's conservative warriors at Vatican II. In the 1960s and 1970s, as debates about theological "modernism" and the values of "old-time religion" continued to wrack congregations in North America, Catholics struggled to interpret Vatican II and engaged in increasingly acrimonious debates.64 In this climate, Brazilian activists envisioned themselves as global leaders in a fierce fight to protect faith and the palpable (or, to use Sigaud's word, "tangible") realities of the supernatural from obsolescence. Invoking this very issue, TFP reached out to arch-conservative Christian groups in the United States. This was remarkable in and of itself, given TFP's ferocious anti-Reformation stance, the correspondent anti-Catholicism of protestant conservatives, and the anti-ecumenism of both. More remarkable, however, was the tenor of this linkage across national and denominational borders—the TFP sought to form a bond around shared passion for "our Christian Civilization," menaced by "rampant liberalism going on in the Church." An appeal—in English—from TFP leader José Lúcio de Araújo Corrêa to protestant arch-fundamentalists limned a shared struggle against innovation and progressive co-religionists. TFP, then, might enlist non-Brazilian, protestant allies in fighting the yoked evils of egalitarianism, secularization, and progressive Catholicism, all enemies of the hierarchically enchanted world of yore. "Catolicismo," wrote José Corrêa, referring to Plínio [End Page 123] Corrêa de Oliveira's magazine, combated reformist Catholics who aimed "not only at an egalitarian revolution within the Church, but also at the implantation of atheism, disguised under the cover of demythification, desacralization, and dealienation of the Church." Mythical mystery, holy enchantment, and divinely-sanctioned hierarchy ("alienation")—these were the hallmarks of a true, supernaturally-infused, properly ordered Christian society.

TFP sought global leadership in this reactionary struggle, issuing a call to arms to re-institute medieval order and even medieval aesthetics. In a somewhat contradictory appeal, Corrêa thought to enlist the support of protestant conservatives by lauding TFP's penchant for pageantry that celebrated pre-Reformation Christian militarism. He glowingly described the notorious demonstrations staged by TFP youth in Crusades-style garb: "Putting on their scarlet capes, they go forth and raise high large red standards which have a golden lion with a cross in its midst—the symbol of a bold and noble struggle. . . The TFP [has] the spirit of the crusaders. . . well aware they are engaged in a holy struggle for God and for Christian Civilization."65

Brazilians' importance in the gestation of rightist Catholic reaction to progressive Catholicism, to reform, and to Vatican II itself was, in some ways, quite historically consistent. When it came to uniting anti-modernism, anti-communism, hierarchical authoritarianism, nostalgia for a mythic past, and glory in the notion of a beleaguered "Christian Civilization," Brazil was specially placed to facilitate the coalescence of these concerns. Unlike its neighbors to the North and across the Atlantic, Brazil had the requisite past experience of a Catholic- and fascist-inflected far Right that had combined anti-liberalism, anti-semitism, careful skirting of rote "racism" (interpreted in the most pejorative sense of the word, and deemed un-Brazilian), and disdain for modernity.66 We need look only as far as Bishop José Maurício da Rocha of Bragança, São Paulo, a conservative ally of Sigaud's at Vatican II who had, in a previous political configuration, supported Brazilian Integralism while denouncing "irritating laicization," the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the loss of a "supernatural vision" of the world.67 These characteristics allowed Brazil's Right to survive the demise of global fascism and continue, in the 1960s as in the 1930s, to champion organicist ideas tinged with the flavors of "third-way" conservatism. Indeed, these ideas had percolated at the highest levels of two authoritarian regimes: that of Getúlio Vargas (1937–1945) and that of the "bureaucratic" military dictatorship after 1964.68

As Vatican II unfolded and then was interpreted, Brazil was already deeply embroiled in the fierce battles that would divide Christians worldwide: the country was a home to celebrated progressive Catholics (like Dom Helder Câmara) as well as to arch-conservatives like Sigaud and Mayer. In 1958, the ex-fascist leader Plínio Salgado returned to national politics as a federal deputy, demonstrating the ongoing purchase, amid the upheaval in the national [End Page 124] Church, of a peculiarly Brazilian configuration of far-right traditionalism and anti-communism. Brazil, then, was not the only place where a peculiar configuration of religious Right concerns coalesced into what became the New Right; but at the very least Brazil and Brazilians stood at the crossroads of key Christian reactions in the twentieth century. [End Page 125]

Benjamin Cowan

Benjamin A. Cowan received his AB from Harvard University and his MA and PhD from UCLA. His interest in right-wing radicalism, morality, sexuality, and 20th-century imperialism has led him to research focused on Cold War Brazil, with a specialization in the cultural and gender history of the post-1964 era. His book Securing Sex: Morality and Repression in the Making of Cold War Brazil (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) won book awards from the Latin American Studies Association, the Southern Historical Association, and the Southeastern Conference on Latin American Studies. He has also published articles in American Quarterly, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, The Hispanic American Historical Review, Radical History Review, Latin American Research Review, and other venues. He is currently writing a second monograph illuminating the rise of the contemporary Right as a Brazilian and transnational process.


1. Ruby, The Resurrection, 105; White, The Mouth of the Lion; Coomaraswamy, The Destruction, 225n9, 228n48. Traditionalist websites and social media teem with hagiography of Campos, Mayer, and Rifan, celebrating them as antimodernist leaders "unique within the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church." See "The Campos Profession of Faith," available at; John Burke, "Latin Mass in Latin America," Una Voce Canada (n/d), available at, consulted 20 December 2017.

2. Definitions of conservatism are remarkably fluid. I use the term "right-wing" and "reactionary" here to refer to traditionalist Catholics who have rejected stylistic and cultural changes, maintained a staunch anticommunism and resistance to social justice initiatives. Traditionalists perceive themselves to be (and in some ways are) reacting against "progressive" currents more aligned with Liberation Theology, modifications in Church customs, minimal ecumenism, and occasionally more radical approaches to these and other issues. When I use the term "progressive" I refer to Catholic forces who, at the time of the second Vatican Council, were generally moderates wishing, in varying degrees, to accomplish the aggiornamento ("updating" the Church) set out by John XXIII as one of the meeting's principal goals. In Brazil, progressive forces were visibly represented by Dom Hêlder Câmara, archbishop of Olinda and Recife. One further note on terminology: I have used "conservative" generically in this essay, though scholars often distinguish "traditionalist" from "conservative" Catholics, the latter referring to more moderate dissenters. See Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 116–117; Dinges, "We are what you were," 259.

3. Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 26; Luebbers, "The Remnant Faithful," 234; Chappel, Catholic Modern; Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity, 4–6, 15, 18, 50.

4. Mayer was excommunicated latae sententiae; Pope Benedict lifted this excommunication in 2009.

5. Secondary literature to date has proven durably ambivalent about the role of the Brazilian clerics at Vatican II and afterward. Generally, scholars have focused on European conservative prelates at the Council; and even Brazilian sources have stopped short of granting Sigaud and Mayer leading roles as activists. See, for example, Menozzi, "El Anticoncilio"; Wilde, Vatican II; Caldeira, "Bispos conservadores"; Quadros, "O conservadorismo católico"; Alberigo and Komonchak, The History of Vatican II; Caldeira, Os baluartes da tradição; Perrin, "Il 'Coetus Internationalis Patrum'"; Baraúna, "Brasil"; Beozzo, A Igreja do Brasil; Araújo, "Católicos e política."

6. Geraldo Proença Sigaud, Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, and Antônio de Castro Mayer, Reforma Agraria: Questão de consciência (São Paulo: Vera Cruz, 1962), ii.

7. Cowan, Securing Sex, Chapter 2.

8. A generation of scholars have reinterpreted secularization and secularism as convenient mythologies of colonialism and of liberal democracy. I thus refer here to discourses of secularization, or fears of secularism, nominally agnostic liberalism, and/or disenchantment. Asad, Formations of the Secular; Cannell, "The Anthropology of Secularism."

9. See note 6.

10. Alberigo and Komonchak, The History of Vatican II; Beozzo, A Igreja do Brasil; Caldeira, Os baluartes da tradição; Perrin, "'Coetus'"; Fesquet, The Drama of Vatican II.

11. Several sources have suggested that right-wing Catholics were caught off-guard and failed to organize effectively at Vatican II. See in particular Wilde, Vatican II. My research suggests that, at the very least, right-wing mobilization developed quickly, when not planned in advance.

12. Bernardo [Peate?] to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, n/d, Arquivo da Casa das Redentoristas, São Paulo (hereafter ACRSP), Fundo Dom Sigaud (hereafter FSD), Pasta "Concílio Ecumenico Vat. II—D. Sigaud—Consagração do mundo a N. Senhora."

13. Luiz Kondor to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 4 January 1965, ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Concílio Ecumenico Vat. II—D. Sigaud—Consagração do mundo a N. Senhora."

14. Cássio to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 22 October 1965, ACRSP, FSD; Lydia Magon Villar to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 1 September 1965, ACRSP, FSD.

15. Carlos P. (Probst) to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 10 September 1963, ACRSP FSD; José M. F. Collaço, to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 7 July 1965, ACRSP FSD.

16. "ORGANIZAÇÃO" (handwritten note, 1965[?]) Arquivo da Mitra Arquidiocesana de Diamantina (hereafter AMAD), Caixa 83.

17. "Salesmes France—13 August '65—Mons. Sigaud," (13 August 1965) AMAD, Caixa 85.

18. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, invitation template, 2 October 1964, AMAD, Caixa 79.

19. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, 1 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79.

20. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Dom Antônio Castro Mayer, 3 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79.

21. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Vasco Leitão da Cunha, 2 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79.

22. Um homem, uma obra, uma gesta, 30; Coppe, "Em defesa da Ação Católica," 104–105; Zanotto, "É o caos," 43.

23. Zanotto, "É o caos," 43; Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Dom Antônio de Castro Mayer, 3 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79. Rodrigo Coppe Caldeira details some of this cooperation in a fascinating article on the subject, though he does not note the intimacy of this collaboration and Sigaud's direct appeals for direction. See Caldeira, "D. Geraldo."

24. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Dom Sebastião Baggio, 23 June 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79; Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Dom Sebastião Baggio, 14 July 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79; Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, 1 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79; Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 11 January 1964, ACRSP, FSD.

25. Fernando Furquim de Almeida to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, 12 December 1963, ACRSP, FSD.

26. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Henrique Barbosa Chaves, 2 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79; Sigaud to Oliveira, 1 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79.

27. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Vasco Leitão da Cunha, 2 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79. Emphasis added.

28. Príncipe dos Cruzados, "Atuação da TFP e de Dr.Plinio no Concílio Vaticano II. Um profeta no Concílio," consulted 1 October 2016,

29. Lefebvre, Do liberalismo, 101.

30. "Atuação da TFP."

31. "D. Geraldo Sigaud e a TFP: Comunicado de imprensa," Catolicismo 239 (November 1970), 8; Mattei, O cruzado, 77.

32. Wilde, Vatican II; Perrin, "Coetus"; Beozzo, A Igreja do Brasil, 88.

33. Draft response to Tardini, n/d, ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Posicionamento sobre diversos esquemas a serem votados."

34. A host of scholars have treated papal and European Catholics' responses to modernity, especially in the context of corporatism and fascism. Seminal works include Miccoli, "Chiesa e societa" Menozzi, La Chiesa.

35. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, 1 September 1965, AMAD, Caixa 79.

36. Chappel, Catholic Modern, 26–29.

37. Folena, Escravos; John T. Armour, "TFP: A Dangerous Cult," The Angelus (July 1983), 22; White, Mouth of the Lion, 181–182; "Heralds of the Gospel,", consulted 13 June 2018;

38. Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, "Jacinta de Fátima: sem o sofrimento nada de grande se faz" (Lecture, São Paulo, 19 February 1965).

39. Starling, Os senhores das gerais, 236.

40. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, "Sínodo Episcopal. A respeito do Sacerdôcio Ministerial. Esboço de argumentos que se discutirá na segunda reunião geral" (1971[?]), AMAD, Caixa 79.

41. Dom Antônio de Castro Mayer, Carta pastoral sobre problemas do apostolado moderno, contendo um catecismo de verdades oportunas que se opõem a erros contemporâneos, 2nd edition, (Campos: Boa Imprensa, 1953), 75, 79, 85.

42. "Comitatus Episcopalis Internationalis/ seu Coetus Internationalis Patrum/Animadversiones criticae in textum reemendatum," (28 May 1965), AMAD, Caixa 83; "Salesmes France."

43. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, "Sacrosancti Concilium Vaticanum, Sessio IV, De Libertate Religiosa" (21 September 1965), AMAD, Caixa 83.

44. Dom Carlos Eduardo de Saboia Bandeira de Mello, "Carta Pastoral Sôbre o Concílio Vaticano II" (Petrópolis: Vozes, 1961), 9.

45. Draft response to Tardini.

46. Progressives did not seek a secularized or rationalized world, nor a Church stripped of supernaturalism. Indeed, faith in everyday divinity inspired some reform-minded leaders' luminous visions of ecumenism, the early Church, and the role of the laity, among other topics. Dom Helder's own mysticism was expressed across the course of his life, including at the Council. (See Laurier, "Dom Helder Câmara.") Conservatives knew this, and thus the debates, however serious, had an air of mutual respect and even affection. See Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Dom Helder Câmara (s/d) ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Concílio Ecumenico Vat. II—D. Sigaud—Carta ao Santo Padre e seus rascunhos."

47. Sigaud to Câmara (s/d0; Orlando Fedeli, "Desigualdade & igualdade: considerações sobre um mito," Montfort Associação Cultural,, consulted 1 September 2018. The translation of the portion of Rerum Novarum quoted by Fedeli is my own.

48. Oliveira, Nobility and Analagous Traditional Elites, 25, 44.

49. Geraldo Proença Sigaud, lecture, Escola de Aperfeiçoamento de Oficiais, 20 August 1968.

50. "Rascunho," ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Concílio Ecumenico Vat. II—D. Sigaud—Carta ao Santo Padre e seus rascunhos"; Draft response to Tardini, 10, 19.

51. See, for example, Dinges, "Roman Catholic Traditionalism," 101–107; Sapitula, "The Formation and Maintenance," Philippine Social Sciences Review 62, no. 2 (2010): 315–343; Cuneo, The Smoke of Satan, 90–93; Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity, 13–14.

52. On post-Conciliar traditionalists and the sacred in Catholic material culture, see Pasulka, Heaven Can Wait; and McDannell, Material Christianity.

53. Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud to Ernesto Geisel, 30 March 1977, Arquivo Nacional, Coordenação Regional no Distrito Federal (hereafter AN/COREG), Fundo SNIG, AC-ACE-104214–77–002.

54. Sigaud to Geisel, 30 March 1977.

55. Orlando Fedeli, handwritten note (1963[?]), ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Concílio Ecumenico Vat. II—D. Sigaud—Carta ao Santo Padre e seus rascunhos."

56. Serviço Nacional de Informações, Agência Regional de São Paulo, "Informação no 1480/SNI/ASP" (28 November 1968), AN/COREG, Fundo SNIG, ASP-ACE-9411–81.

57. Dom Antônio de Castro Mayer to Dom Geraldo Proença Sigaud, n/d, ACRSP, FSD.

58. Mayer, Carta Pastoral, 50–53.

59. "Nomen Espiscopi" (1965[?]), ACRSP, FSD, Pasta "Posicionamento sobre diverso esquemas a serem votados."

60. Ralph Wiltgen, "As Vantagens do Latim na Liturgia Sãao Muitas—Diz Dom Antôonio de Castro Mayer, Bispo de Campos," Informaçõções Verbo Divino, 7 November 1962.

61. Exact figures for TFP are difficult to acquire. In the 1970s, there appear to have been at least 14 national TFPs, and the breakout organization Araútos do Evangelho claimed, ten years after the death of the founder, to have representation in 57 countries. Piccinatto, "Tradição"; Quadros, "O conservadorismo católico"; Ivan Padilla, "Catolicismo medieval," Época 370 (17 June 2005),,,EDG70724–6014,00-CATOLICISMO+MEDIEVAL.html, consulted 17 April 2018.

62. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property and The Canadian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, Let the Other Side Also be Heard: The TFPs' Defense Against Fidelity's Onslaught (Pleasantville, NY: TFP, 1989), 55.

63. Let the Other Side Also Be Heard, 8.

64. On debates between protestant "modernists" and conservatives, see (among others) Vicar, Christian Reconstruction; Dochuk, From Bible Belt; Ruotsila, Fighting Fundamentalist; Young, We Gather Together.

65. José Lúcio de Araújo Corrêa to Carl McIntire, 30 May 1974, Princeton Theological Seminary Library, Carl McIntire Collection, Box 37.

66. Deutsch, Las Derechas; Isaia, Catolicismo e autoritarismo; Bertonha, "A direita radical brasileira"; Mainwaring, The Catholic Church; Williams, "Integralism and the Brazilian Catholic Church"; Cowan, Securing Sex.

67. José Maurício da Rocha, "O Dever dos Brasileiros em Ordem à Futura Carta Constitucional," in Pelo Brasil (São Paulo: Typographia Paulista, 1933).

68. Cowan, Securing Sex; Lenharo, Sacralização; Schwartzman, Tempos de Capanema.

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