Over the last couple of months, the Brazilian-born group Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) has landed in the public eye, drawing attention for its hostility to Pope Francis and rejection of the Church’s stance towards those marginalized in society. Despite this attention, the Church in the United States has largely ignored the group. It is time for a response.
TFP have proven to offer a seductive platform in the US, despite being largely ignored elsewhere. When the “Pachamama thief” Alexander Tschugguel went on tour to the US, many flocked to see him at events organized by the traditionalist group. TFP’s gambit of appealing to Marian proclivities and seeming to defend family values, often through smaller groups that bear different names, has allowed for it to garner a strong presence in American Catholic circles.
The situation in the US, therefore, is stark. TFP’s presence is greater now in North America even than it was in Brazil before it was condemned in 1985. And as the Brazilian case proves, silence on behalf of the Church is no option.
Maybe it is time for the US bishops to respond? They could take the lead of their counterparts in Brazil, who not only outwardly condemned TFP but made it clear that it is out of communion with the Catholic Church.
TFP was founded in 1960 by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a figure of import in the Brazilian intellectual and political right who would then go on to support the country’s dictatorial regime. However, already during its infancy in the 1960s, TFP began garnering attention in Latin America. The group’s avid opposition to any reform that bore the semblance of a “socialist plan” and its accusations regarding “communist” infiltration within the Church—through liberation theology—made them into bastions of a traditional order.
By the time the Second Vatican Council was drawing to an end, TFP and its then-leader, Correa de Oliveira, had shown themselves to be not merely protectors of the “true Church,” but rather ardent critics of what the Church began preaching. From protectors of traditions they became their fiercest opposers, rejecting Vatican II as a “Marxist” invention and the current Church as adulterated by “worldly” realities.
Their traditionalism, as is often said about the movement more broadly, was not so much about loyalty to the Church, nor even its protection. Rather, it was a negation of the Church and its earthly mission in favour of a wholly different theology and political theory—one that quite explicitly contradicted the Magisterium.
TFP’s political stance, and mobilization within Brazilian Catholic circles, began to raise concern in the country’s episcopal conference (CNBB). So much so, that in 1973 there was already talk of a possible “condemnation” on behalf of the Brazilian bishops. At the CNBB’s thirteenth general assembly, TFP was the order of the day. And it was at this point that the group began presenting itself as “persecuted” for its loyalty to the “true Church,” even casting doubt on the authenticity and the veracity of the faith of other groups, such as the charismatic Cursillos that would then inspire charismatic movements worldwide.
TFP’s defence was that its critics were “socialists,” afflicted by a thought not in line with Catholic teaching.
Press releases and articles published in 1973 show TFP’s denial of the problem, constantly reiterating the threat posed by the enemies of the Church that had began their “infiltration.”
By 1985, the CNBB’s concerns took the form of an outright condemnation. The Brazilian bishops accused TFP of postering a cult of personality around Corrêa de Oliveira with the aim of undermining the legitimacy of the Brazilian Church. It was advised, by the episcopal conference, that Brazilian catholics ought not to associate with the group.
In response, TFP at first denied any instance of a “condemnation”—still today, in fact, certain members of TFP say that it was merely an “unsigned note,” despite it being issued from the stationary of the CNBB and published on several of Brazil’s most renowned national newspapers.
The group then picked up its older line of defence, accusing the bishops of acting out of their “communist sympathies,” and in effect choosing to side with “worldly ideologies” over Catholic teachings. One just has to read D.W. Lafferty’s recent posts on TFP (one, two, and three) to deem this defence lacklustre.
Between 1985 and 1995, the year of Corrêa de Oliveira’s death, TFP lost all influence, as they had been deemed out of communion with the Catholic Church by the Brazilian bishops. The traditionalist movement was then further weakened by a lengthy and costly legal battle with its splinter group, the Heralds of the Gospel, founded and led by Corrêa de Oliveira’s personal secretary Mgr. João Scognamiglio Clá Dias.
The Heralds were considered by the Brazilian supreme court to be the “legitimate” inheritors of Corrêa de Oliveira’s legacy. TFP, in Brazil, were then forced to take on the name Instituto Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
In October of this year, the Heralds were put under a papal investigation for suspicious practices surrounding their finances and the structure of its religious institutions. The group rejected the Vatican probe, and thus denied papal authority in matters that concerned them.
TFP, or rather the “Plinio Institute” as it is commonly known today, is considered by many in Brazil, including its episcopal conference, of scant importance.
Recently, the group has cast its support in favour of the country’s national populist president, Jair Bolsonaro. Where Peter Is reported on the links between figures close to Bolsonaro and the international traditionalist critics of Pope Francis. But the group in Brazil is today largely associated with antiquated monarchists with little political credibility.
However, despite its negative status in Brazil and weak presence in European politics—with the slight exception of France, which the group have used as the base for their intellectual work—TFP have been seen to be a significant contender in North American ecclesial affairs.
After all that has surfaced about TFP and its “thought”, despite the precedents of their Brazilian bishops colleagues—and brothers—the US episcopal conference has shown scant interest in assessing the group. As has been reported by many, including by this website, TFP plays a significant role in the North American Church, especially in grassroots mobilization against the current pontiff and his call to help those in need.
TFP in North America seems itself to have learnt its lesson. In the US, it appears under various names and under the banner of many causes, masking itself behind more of a laity-led strategy. Its distance, at least in the public eye, from members in positions of ecclesial and journalistic authority may help in protecting it. It seems like they have benefitted from reading up on the history of their counterparts in Brazil.
Maybe it is time that the US bishops, too, look to their brother bishops in Brazil. Maybe it is time that it is not only the traditionalists who look to the past for answers and strategies. Maybe it is time for the US Church to react to what is an ever-increasing movement that has an avowed intent of going against the Throne of St. Peter and Catholic teaching.
After all, as St. Ambrose said, “where Peter is, there is the Church, there is God.”
Photo: TFP Band at the March for Life rally in front of the US Supreme Court, 2015. By Elvert Barnes. Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
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Daniele Palmer is a freelance journalist. He studied history in London and is preparing a PhD on French Political Thought. He currently works from Rome as the Vatican correspondent for Where Peter Is.