Papal Candidates: Cardinal Cláudio Hummes Hummes, Brazil

In 2002, Frei Betto, a renowned liberation theologian, declared that, if Cardinal Hummes were to reach the papacy, “he would be even more socially engaged than John Paul II.” It was a bold statement, but perhaps not ill-informed. After all, how many church leaders can claim to have opened diocesan facilities for labor and political meetings? How many have provided safe haven for striking metal workers — including a young Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — during Brazil’s military dictatorship? How many have directly urged Catholics to “fight in the legislature for laws favoring the family and life from the moment of conception until natural death”? Yet it would be a mistake to brand Cardinal Hummes a revolutionary. Much to the chagrin of social activists, he has stuck to many traditional doctrines and even withheld support for liberation theology itself.

“Inserted in the World”

Cardinal Hummes believes that Catholics must be engaged. Specifically:

[T]he Church must dialogue today, more than ever, with post-modern, urban and pluralistic society and with all the sectors that make it up, such as culture, science, technology, economy, the market, the financial world, politics and the means of communication, especially through the laity.

This worldview leads him to take clear and concrete stances on urgent social issues. Consider, for instance, the depth with which he analyzes the problem of HIV/AIDS:

The urgent need for treatment for these young patients can be met by the advances in medical science. Unfortunately, the cost of medical treatment is high and often beyond the reach not only of the poor, but even of those in the middle income bracket. This economic problem is compounded by legal issues, such as contentious interpretations of the right to intellectual property. My delegation is heartened by the WTO [World Trade Organization] agreement reached last 30 August 2003, which will make it easier for poorer States to import cheaper generic pharmaceuticals made under compulsory licensing. This agreement should give these young patients greater access to medicines. We dare to hope that more concrete expressions of political will and moral courage like this would soon follow. But the HIV/AIDS sufferers do not only turn to pharmaceutical companies for help; their appeal for political will and moral courage is addressed above all to the whole international community. Indeed, while there are only few investors in the pharmaceutical firms which can provide the medicines these young patients direly need, all of us — as individuals and as community — must be investors in the noble cause of protecting the children and the young from HIV/AIDS infection and rescuing those who already carry the virus, because they are the future of the human race.

He identifies a specific leadership role for the Church:

The Holy See and the Catholic institutions have not shrunk from the global fight against HIV/AIDS. My delegation is pleased to note that 12% of care providers for HIV/AIDS patients are agencies of the Catholic Church and 13% of the global relief for those affected by the epidemic comes from Catholic non-governmental organizations. The Holy See, thanks to its institutions worldwide, provides 25% of the total care given to HIV/AIDS victims, placing itself among the leading advocates in the field, in particular among the most ubiquitous and best providers of care for the victims.

Underlying such positions is a preference for the poor. Cardinal Hummes pays special attention to global poverty, starting in his own Sao Paolo neighborhood:

The cardinal said he was profoundly saddened by “the tragic news of the massacre of our brethren, who are part of the neglected and suffering population of our beloved city.”

“Such violence and cruelty is unacceptable and should be vigorously repudiated. The Church has cried out many times regarding the need to come to the aid of those who are forced to live in our streets, without shelter. She does so out of a duty of humanity and because of her faith in Jesus Christ, who wishes to be identified in each person, especially in the poor and handicapped,” the Cardinal said.

Likewise, he questioned the value of projects to improve the city, “if a significant part of its population suffers from the worst of miseries, is defenseless and subject to all kinds of violence.”

More generally, he blames capitalism, privatization, and tariff reductions for bringing “misery and poverty affecting millions around the world.” Such remarks lead many analysts to categorize him among the anti-globalization movement. But, upon closer examination, he seems to position more along the lines of “a new alternative, a third way to guarantee economic growth without sacrificing the poor and causing unemployment.” Note:

Hummes said that on the global level, the powerbrokers in the G-8 today stand before a historic responsibility.

“They must search an alternate global economic program where all have the possibility to integrate themselves, and no one remains outside. There will be no future if things go on as they now stand,†he said.

Hummes added, however, that he believes progress will be made, if only because it is in the self-interest of the elites to do so.

“The leaders realize we can’t go on like this,†he said. “Also for them, it’s better to be attentive to the question of poverty, of exclusion.â€

Therein lies a sense of pragmatism. It seeps into other topics, most notably the Vatican’s reaction to The Da Vinci Code. Rather than blasting author Dan Brown and shining an even brighter light on the subject, as some church leaders have done, Cardinal Hummes puts the controversy in its place:

“It isn’t a big problem,” Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a leading candidate to succeed Pope John Paul, told Folha de S.Paulo newspaper on Monday. “We know it’s a big farce and that it did well commercially. The more people talk about the book, the happier the author will be.”

“Cardinal [Tarcisio] Bertone thought it was correct, with relation to his archdiocese, to warn against the book. It’s a right he has. But the index of prohibited books does not exist anymore,” Hummes said.

“The Church doesn’t censor. It tries to guide its faithful through catechism.”

“In Closer Contact with Jesus Christ”

Though he emphasizes action and results, Cardinal Hummes does not neglect philosophy and teachings. Indeed, his activism is linked to a sophisticated understanding of the importance of work, as inspired by Laborem Exercens. While he values charity, for instance, he argues that the best way to serve the poor is through training:

From a face-off in the 1970s with Brazil’s military government over workers’ rights to the more recent creation of church-run job-training centers, the cardinal’s commitment to fighting poverty and promoting human dignity has focused on the importance of employment.

At a Christmas 2004 fund-raiser for one of the centers, the cardinal said, “Jesus was born poor among the poor to call our attention to the social injustice that makes a portion of humanity increasingly poor, suffering, humiliated and excluded from sufficient access to the goods of the earth.”


The cardinal said that, as Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical on human labor, “Laborem Exercens,” work not only creates goods for one’s family and society, it also is a way to express one’s personality, creativity and potential.

Training workers, creating jobs and guaranteeing decent working conditions, Cardinal Hummes said, are essential factors “in resolving injustice and its consequences, such as poverty and hunger.”

Charity is not enough, the cardinal said: “Jesus, who was born poor, teaches us to care for the poor with love, intelligence and efficiency.”

More broadly, public action is not meant to distract from spiritual development:

Hummes emphasized that passion for social justice does not have to come at the expense of Christian identity. Concern for development, he said, must not neglect efforts “to help people to encounter the full truth about human beings and their vocation in this world,” meaning “Jesus Christ, in whom this full truth is met.”

Indeed, spiritual development facilitates public action:

“The fundamental mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel and bring people in closer contact with Jesus Christ,” Hummes said. “And it is through this contact that we can start correcting social injustices.”


Papal Candidates: An Overview
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Papal Candidates: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Argentina
Papal Candidates: Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Colombia
Papal Candidates: Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Belgium

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. C Neumeier says:

    I had understood Hummes to be more wedded to 20th-century “progressive” ideas about economics. It’s good to hear that he’s more open to new ideas.

    Is anyone talking about Hummes outside of economic issues? Neuhaus says* that an unconfirmed report is going around Rome that Hummes was singled out by the late Pope (with Dias and Angelo Scola), but it’s still not entirely clear to me why.

    * at

  2. bryan says:

    Okay, I know we had this discussion the other day, but I really think the papal candidate posts could use the extended entry. People know there’s a lot of detail there, and it’s a pain to wade through to get to the next post. Why should the rest of us non-Catholics have to scroll past the entire entry?