Now that the dust has settled after the Vatican’s summit on the Amazon, one unlikely result has been the surfacing of the connection between Pope Francis’ most avid traditionalist opposers and a broader organized network that has the aim of disseminating a particular brand of national populism.
Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), a group that originated during Brazil’s dictatorial regime and is known for its far-right attacks on “progressive” politics and nationalist defense of traditions, has been found to be one of the strategic and intellectual centers of the opposition against Pope Francis and his reforms. Not only have those intellectually close to TFP been supplying lines to certain elements of the conservative media, but it has also come to light that the group is close to the very activists and media organizations that have outwardly opposed Francis’s pontificate over the last several years.
The breaking point came when Bernardo Küster, a Brazilian social media figure known for his vicinity to the national populist president Jair Bolsonaro and outward rejection of Francis, was found to be the source of allegations of a “communist” and “pro-abortion” infiltration within the Vatican’s Synod on the Amazon. Küster himself claims that his own form of Catholicism derives from TFP and believes the teachings of the group’s founder, the traditionalist and dictatorial sympathizer Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, to be a potential font of renewal within the Church.
However, the relationship between TFP and opposition to Pope Francis is deeper. The organized opposition to Francis that emerged after his 2013 election and is represented by figures like John-Henry Westen of LifeSiteNews and organizations like Voice of the Family, are closely interwoven with the global branches of TFP. These anti-Francis traditionalists often prop up conferences and parallel summits in an effort to openly criticize what they perceive as the politicization of the Church under Francis. And what has recently surfaced is how TFP, and its many global branches and intellectual figures, are either instrumental to the organization of these events or even the very ones that set them in motion.
On October 4, on the eve of the synod on the Amazon, known traditionalist critics of Francis such as Westen, the Italian restorationist intellectual Roberto de Mattei, and Church Militant founder and far-right activist Michael Voris, met in Rome to discuss the “designs against the Catholic faith” that are “rooted in the current pontificate.” Present at this conference as one of the keynote speakers was José Antonio Ureta, a figure that is currently considered TFP’s most active intellectual guru and critic of Francis. Similarly, TFP’s global network — and especially its US branch, its most numerous and wealthy foothold — actively supported and publicized the event on its platforms and disseminated the conference’s material throughout its many local student and activist groups.
More recently, it has also surfaced that last week’s event with Cardinals Raymond Burke and Gerhard Müller, two voices known for their opposition to Francis, was co-sponsored by the American branch of TFP. The event, officially organized by the Napa Institute, sought to provide a defense for the “assault on the priesthood” that had been witnessed during the Synod on the Amazon — which proposed to allow married men to become ordained priests (something which is already allowed in some Eastern Churches and for former Anglican ministers in the Latin Church).
But the interaction between TFP and these traditionalist critics is not merely organizational. In preparation for the 2015 Synod on the Family, a document was published that sought to warn against the risk Francis posed to the Church’s traditional view of the family. According to EWTN’s National Catholic Register Rome correspondent Edward Pentin in his book, The Rigging of a Synod (2015), the document was a joint effort of TFP and Voice of the Family.
In fact, Pentin himself, who has recently been reported to have met Küster on several occasions and peddled the Brazilian social media figure’s allegations about a “pro-abortion” infiltration, has published TFP material on his personal blog, including an article by TFP’s Juan Antonio Varas, known for his anti-Semitic views and sympathies for the Catholic Inquisition.
But of the traditionalists opposers to Francis, the one with the most sympathy for TFP is LifeSiteNews co-founder and editor in-chief and Voice of the Family activist John-Henry Westen. Aside from the many events in which he co-organized with TFP members or invited them to take part, Westen has also been a vocal defender of the US-based TFP Student Action group. In one particular instance, on October 11, Westen came out in support of a TFP Student Action protest that had actively provoked students at George Washington University on September 30. Westen, in an article published on LifeSiteNews, describes the students that responded to the TFP protesters as “an angry violent mob.”
TFP and its many global branches are considered an ultra-traditionalist political movement that has the avowed intent of promoting a far-right national populist program, as seen in Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. The highpoint of its influence was in Brazil during the dictatorship and is today considered a cult by many.
The group’s founder, the now-deceased Corrêa de Oliveira, was an active supporter of the dictatorial regime in Brazil and supported conservative bishops Antônio de Castro Mayer and Geraldo de Proença Sigaud during their attempts to undermine the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
These two bishops, de Castro Mayer and de Proença Sigaud, co-organized the anti-Second Vatican Council group, Coetus Internationalis Patrum, along with its most known exponent, the ultra-traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
TFP today, despite its links with elements of the conservative media, is still broadly considered by many “too extreme,” even among traditionalists. Some working in conservative pro-life and pro-family lobbying groups in Europe have said that any association with TFP is “politically lethal.”
Yet, despite the group’s political program and negative connotation within ecclesial and political circles, it remains a central player in the much-followed and much-supported attack on Francis and his call to reaffirm the Church’s preferential option for the poor and excluded.
Image: Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Wikimedia Commons
Daniele Palmer is a freelance journalist. He studied history in London and is preparing a PhD on French Political Thought.