On May 26, 1969, one year ago today, Father Henrique Pereira Neto was brutally murdered in Recife, Brazil his only crime being an active concern for social justice and the liberation of men.
No isolated instance, Father Pereira Neto's death must be seen as part of a wider picture of systematic terror. The crippling of a Catholic student leader, the imprisonment and beating of others, including nuns and priests, the deportation of North American and European missionaries, the baseless accusation brought against several Brazilian bishops, even the attempted suicide of a tortured Dominican friar --these are "instances" which add up to a campaign of terror against the Catholic Church.
Nor is the church alone singled out for such treatment. Indeed even more repressive measures are still accorded those who do not have such ready access to world public opinion as do leaders of Catholic movements and members of the hierarchy.
We cannot be silent. The Holy Father has spoken of his own "duty-bound intervention" and declared that the Church cannot tolerate the commission of atrocities and tortures, especially in a country that calls itself Christian.
As North Americans we cannot be silent for our nation and Brazil are linked in myriad ways, including direct support of persons and agencies alleged to be involved in repressive actions.
As Christians we cannot be silent not only because we believe that injustice anywhere diminishes freedom everywhere but particularly because of the unique bonds of friendship and mutual esteem that have developed, especially in recent decades, between the Church in the United States and that in Brazil.
THEREFORE, as the Committee for International Affairs of the United States Catholic Conference:
WE DENOUNCE the reported campaign at widespread imprisonment, detention, threats, harassment and even torture directed against our fellow men and particularly our fellow Catholics in Brazil;
WE CALL UPON the appropriate international agencies, whether of the United Nations or the Organization of American States, to conduct a thorough on-site investigation into the charges of systematic terror and torture; and
WE URGE the immediate cessation of all U.S. assistance, private as well as public, to the government of Brazil should these most grave allegations be substantiated.
"The Church," the Holy Father said to Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, "Must know how to make its own the anger of the poor and the non-violent, the revolt against injustice." The Church in the United States still has that freedom to denounce injustice and magnify the voice of the oppressed. To do less would be to shirk our responsibility.