The battle for Recifé in the Province of Brazil has been
rumbling on now for some time. This page is an attempt to give
an overview from an outside perspective.
It should be stated at the start that the Province of Brazil
agreed over 20 years ago to the ordination of women as presbyters
(priests) and this has been followed by Recifé. Therefore,
to some extent they have themselves accepted the view that Scripture
was subject to culture when written and therefore should be subject
to culture today.
The Anglican Province in Brazil was formed in the late 19th
Century by evangelical missionaries from the United States. Until
just after the second world war the Churches were predominantly
evangelical and grew dramatically.
Even after WWII the Province was under the influence of the
Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA). As ECUSA became
more dominated by anglo-catholicism they appointed many strong
anglo-catholics to oversee the churches in Brazil. This lead
to a period during which the Church growth gradually stopped
and then the Church stagnated.
By the 1960s ECUSA had entered its liberal period and under
this influence, and that of the World Council of Churches the
Province of Brazil also became liberal dominated. This lead,
as liberalism inevitably does, to decline and division. Indeed,
whilst almost every church in Brazil was growing the liberal
Anglican churches were deteriorating.
As the liberal agenda moved on through the 80s and 90s so the
Anglican Church in Brazil found itself captive to the new revisionist
agenda with its explicit rejection of any concept of Bilbical
authority and restraint in personal morality.
The Church is now dominated by those who hold this mind-set
and has a small well-educated elite who are driving the revisionist
The Diocese of Recifé has a distinctive past in all this.
It has a fairly recent history and a definitely evangelical-charismatic
flavour. It was initially under a US Bishop and supported by
the South American Missionary (SAMS) a UK based society. Recifé has
consistently refused to follow the rest of the province which
has led to a long history of conflict. For manyyears they were
simply a missionary area and had a struggle to get their own
However, eventually it became a separate Diocese and Robinson
Cavalcanti was appointed its first Bishop. There was a last minute
attempt by other Bishops to prevent the consecration of Robinson
and they predicted that having an evangelical Diocesan would
disrupt the unity of the Brazilian Church.
Beginnings of division
When the Diocese of New Hampshire in the United States consecrated
the openly immoral Gene Robinson as their Bishop this was welcomed
by the Bishops of the Province of Brazil, with the exception
However, what can always be guaranteed to stir liberal Bishops
into action is the issue of territorial jurisdiction and this
was the case in Brazil. They have no objection to buggery or
to rejecting the divinity of Christ, but stepping on their territorial
toes is the unforgiveable sin.
Cavalcanti was invited to attend a Confirmation service in the
Diocese of Ohio, USA, for members of Churches who were unwilling
to accept the oversight of their Diocesan Bishops, because he
had participated in the consecration of Gene Robinson. According
to Cavalcanti he was asked when there to participate in the confirmation
which he duly did. This was a contravention of the etiquette
and possibly the canons of ECUSA.
Therefore, action was taken against Cavalcanti. First a small
group of revisionists within the Reifé Diocese came into
the open about their own position. (The Diocese had passed a
resolution following the 1998 Lambeth Conference that its clergy
should not accept same-sex practice.) They produced charges against
the Bishop including some fairly hideous accusations of adultery
with various unnamed people in far-flung places. The individuals
appear then to have been taken under the authority of another
The Brazilian House of Bishops then appear to have accused Cavalcanti
of attempting to remove clergy from his Diocese which he, and
the Diocese of Recifé deny.
Because the Diocesan Synod was backing their Bishop the Primate
of Brazil issued a decree suspending the Synod. After investigation
the Synod decided that the Primate had not authority to do this
and so ignored it.
In response to some of the allegations the Primate also established
a disciplinary procedure against Cavalcanti which included some
of those who had already publicly called for his removal. Cavalcanti
asserted that the charges were all made up and therefore called
their bluff by threatening to take action in the civil courts
if they proceeded on that basis.
The Diocese of Recifé appealed as a result of all this
to the Archbishop of Canterbury since they wished to remain part
of the Anglican Communion. The Archbsihop has no jurisdiction
in Brazil, but since the Communion largely depends upon who he
says he is in communion with, his support would have been significant.
Canterbury seems to have responded warmly at first and then backed
off from any engagement asserting that the issue revolved around
personalities and accusations regarding the conduct of the Bishop.
When Canterbury finally set up the Panel of Reference called
for by the Anglican Primates Recifé was the first case
to submit a request to be considered by them. To date the Archbishop
of Canterbury has refused to agree to this request.
Support from the Southern
The most recent development (September 2005) has been that the
Primate of the Southern Cone, which covers much of the southern
part of South America, has agreed to recognise and take under
his episcopal care the Diocese of Recifé. This has been
enthusiastically received by the folk of the Diocese. Whilst
it does not really affect their legal standing – which
seems to be fairly well established because of the nature of
Brazilian law – it means that they are fully part of the
Anglican Communion which maters a great deal to them.
In his letter to the Diocese, Greg Venables, Primate of the
Southern Cone stated:
Due to the gravity of the attempt to declare the removal of the
Bishop and the declaration of excommunication of 40 of the diocesan
clergy and the extremely slow pace at which the Panel of Reference
is operating, a great gap has been created exposing a need for
the bishop and clergy of Recife to receive ongoing recognition
and some measure of spiritual covering. To that end, after consultation
with other Primates, I am issuing this statement of support to
continue to recognize these ordinations and ministries, and provide
a special status of extra-provincial recognition by my office
as Primate of the Southern Cone until such time as the Panel
of Reference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Anglican Communion
has, in some way, adequately addressed this crisis.