A split over competition for Brazil’s conservative Catholics

A bitter split within the conservative Brazilian (and international) Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) organization shows a move toward stricter forms of contemporary Catholicism, but also how different organizations cater to different niches in Brazil’s religious market, writes Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions, CESNUR) in a special issue of the Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review (7:2, 2016) on Roman Catholic new religious movements. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908–1995) founded the TFP in Brazil in 1960. It had a core of male celibate full-time members and was active both religiously and politically. Associated with the traditionalist Catholic milieu and disavowed in 1985 by the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, TFP refused, however, to follow traditionalists when they proceeded with the consecration of bishops and thus broke with Rome. At the death of Corrêa de Oliveira in 1995, the TFP found itself in an ecclesiastical environment that had become more open toward groups in the strict niches of the religious market. But the founder’s death also provoked a break within the movement over its very nature, which had been a matter of internal debate. Some leaders wanted it to become a religious order or society and created the Heralds of the Gospel while managing to keep the (now lesser used) TFP label for them to use in Brazil, even as others have kept the name in other countries.

The Heralds of the Gospel have grown very rapidly, Introvigne writes. They have thousands of celibate members in nearly 80 countries, and several of their leaders have been ordained as priests. They focus on religious activities and support the statements and speeches of Pope Francis. On the other hand, the old TFP, led by a group of eight older members (the fundadores, founding members), also with an international following, seems to be increasingly disturbed by Pope Francis’s statements—while still declaring their submission to him. They remain active in political campaigns on issues dear to them. According to Introvigne’s analysis, the continuers of the old-style TFP are filling the strict (and ultra-strict) niche of the religious market, while the Heralds of the Gospel attract people belonging to the moderate-conservative niche, which gives them access to a much larger audience. In Brazil, Introvigne concludes, both play a role in the restructuring of the intra-Catholic religious market.

(The Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review is a subscription-based online journal, https://www.pdcnet.org/asrr/Alternative-Spirituality-and-Religion-Review)