Religious Inquisition

Datafile Portugal/1991

A controversial Brazilian sect — the Universal Church of the Kingdom of Christ (IURD in its Portuguese acronym) whose founder, 50 year old Edir Macedo lives in exile in New York — alleges it is suffering "religious inquisition" in Portugal. The charge follows a series of violent confrontations starting early Nov., that have included the stoning of the sect's faithful, violent picketing of its meetings and the sacking and destruction of its "temples" usually former cinemas or warehouses. The church says of the clashes, "today our followers were assaulted, tomorrow they may be killed." The IURD church set up here nearly 6 years ago and claims to have 200,000 followers. It requires them to donate the biblical tithe to church work, and owns a newspaper, local radio stations, an old age home and children's crèches, says it serves 20,000 meals a day to the poor, broadcasts a paid commercial twice a day on national TV and has 75 temples, many in disused cinemas and warehouses nation-wide. Its monthly newspaper "Tribunal Universal" tripled its circulation last year to 100,000, more people than read Portugal's leading paper "Diario de Notícias" every day. The latest clashes, provoking publicly voiced concern about religious freedom and rights of assembly, occurred in a shopping centre in Matosinhos near the northern city of Oporto. Crowds armed with stones, eggs and sticks and including store owners, attacked church officials and members claiming their use of a former cinema, the York, inside the centre was driving away shoppers and affecting trade. Police intervened but several people were badly hurt in the fracas. Youths had earlier sacked and vandalised a warehouse used by the sect for prayer meetings and miracle working in the nearby coastal town of Póvoa de Varzim. Bishop Januário Torgal Ferreira speaking for established religion in Portugal, said the Roman Catholic Church favours full religious freedom but found it distasteful to "see people selling miracles like bags of rice". Following the attacks the sect leader in Portugal — Sr. João Luiz once a São Paulo bank clerk, now responsible for extending the sect in Europe and a self styled "Bishop" issued a statement entitled "Inquisition in Portugal" on Nov. 16. He alleged unidentified political figures in the North of the country were "instigating popular revolt" against the sect whose growth, he said, had "provoked envy" among other groups "namely the Roman Catholic Church". Prof. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a top constitutional lawyer and academic Nov. 19 condemned illegal demonstrations against the sect and the religious intolerance these showed, but said talk of an inquisition was vastly exaggerated.(Own sources)

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