movements and events were happening in other parts of Brazil. The Church’s role was to empower and support organizers and movements by sponsoring the CEBs, as well as by speaking out publicly in defense of human rights. Regarding CEBs, the priest talked specifically in terms of raising “political and critical consciousness” in parish members. CPT workers referred mainly to the Church’s role in coordinating CEBs, and the CPT’s role in working more directly with the structured movements. One CPT leader said that the Church was committed to the poor specifically because of the violence done against the poor people by the military regime, and the CPT itself could be a strong juridical force against this violence. Although progressive Church forces were present in the city, most of their work took place in the countryside, where conflicts were the most extreme.
From the perspective of the movements, the Church was an important force in earlier decades precisely because of this violent repression. The MST leader interviewed stated that it was very difficult to organize during the 1980s and even the 90s when the MST was beginning in this region, because of persecution of workers, agents, and coordinators, which persists even to today in some cases. The action of the Church was important for initiating MST organization.
Specifically regarding liberation theology, a CPT worker described it as a movement that came from within the Church, put forth by its most progressive members, geared towards helping people stand up for their rights against the powers of the government. The Copserviços leader stated specifically that liberation theology was an element of both theory and practice for progressive Church members in earlier decades.
Changes in the Church, and why
The span of the Church’s support for social movements lasts until sometime in the 1990s, according to interviewees. The Copserviços staff member, a former priest, remembers the CNBB being very supportive of liberation theology during the 1970s and 80s, and said that support from the Church hierarchy in general was strong up until the early 1990s. The nun concurred with this rough timeline, saying that even up to about ten years ago, the Church was more involved with the common people, and social movements were a more direct consideration in determining the Church’s priorities.
As for where the Church stands today, interviewees generally confirmed that progressive strains remain, but said also that these trends are much weaker and narrower than they were in past decades. In the words of one CPT staff member, the Marabá diocese today still has “some of the old feeling”—some priests and nuns who are committed to the old causes and to the poor—but that the situation becomes “each time lesser, smaller” as time passes. In the diocese at large there is not at all a feeling of commitment to the poor, and there are even, according to another CPT worker, some Church leaders who actually organize in support of the power structures and against the small workers. The nun who was interviewed, on the other hand,
stated that the majority of Church workers are on the side of the poor, but that there are many fewer lay Sharp 10