ROME — Brazilians have demanded an apology from Pope Francis after he joked about the country’s drinking habits and lack of piety.
Following the papal audience on May 26, Brazilian Father João Paulo Souto Victor asked Francis for a blessing for the Brazilian people, reports Crux, an online Catholic news outlet. “There’s no salvation for you,” the pope replied jokingly. “Too much cachaça [a local sugarcane spirit] and no praying.”
The pope then went on to give his blessing to Father Victor and another person.
While many Brazilians took the jest the way it was intended, others expressed their displeasure with the papal levity, especially in the light of the suffering of the Brazilian people from the coronavirus, often without the benefit of Church sacraments.
Lawyer Jorge Béja, for example, asked Pope Francis in an open letter online to “apologize to Brazil and to Brazilians” for his “tough, untrue, cruel, and hurtful words.”
“We Brazilians are not like that,” he said. “The Brazilian people are Christian.”
“People of all nations are suffering from the scourge of the pandemic,” Béja said. “There are millions of dead. Millions of sick people. Millions are hospitalized.”
“Brazil and Brazilians are going through great suffering, Francis,” he added. “And at a time like this, with so much pain, you tell me that not even the pope’s prayers can help, since there is no solution for us Brazilians, we are not worthy of the pope’s prayers, because we drink a lot of cachaça and pray little!!”
In a similar way, pro-life Catholic Frederico Viotti, spokesman for the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute (IPCO), said he has known people who have been “offended by Pope Francis’s unfortunate comment.”
“Many Catholics have no access to the sacraments,” he said, in reference to the ongoing pandemic. “Even when they ask for a priest, they cannot get one. They end up having to face a possible death without even getting religious assistance. Those people surely were expecting another kind of comment,” he told Crux.
Viotti said many Catholics are bewildered that Pope Francis frequently has rough words for countries with conservative governments that share many of the Church’s values and only rarely criticizes leftist governments.