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 Issues | The Church | Division in the Communion

Conflict in the DIocese of Recifé, Brazil

(Updated September 2005)

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 agenda.


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 Bishp.
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 of Cavalcanti.
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 Diocese.

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 Cone

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.

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