The Miami Herald
February 27, 2000
Catholics may sue over Carnaval floats
`Profane' displays condemned

 Herald World Staff

 RIO DE JANEIRO -- The Roman Catholic Church in Brazil is threatening to sue to
 stop sensual Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo from using
 the Virgin Mary's image.

 A float of the Aguia de Ouro samba school in Sao Paulo is styled after the
 famous Michelangelo sculpture known as the Pieta, but in its version a Brazilian
 Indian in war paint is draped across Mary's lap instead of the limp body of a
 crucified Jesus. A float from the Unidos da Tijuca samba school in Rio uses a
 reproduction of a sacred painting from 1860.

 The church won a similar dispute in 1989.

 ``They are creating confusion between the sacred and the profane,'' complained
 Monsignor Arnaldo Beltrami, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo.
 Beltrami and other church officials are negotiating with the samba schools but
 warn they may seek court intervention.

 ``It is a right the church has to preserve its images that represent faith,'' said
 Antonio Passos, a church lawyer in Rio.

 The controversy reflects the uneasy relationship between Catholic orthodoxy and
 the sexually liberal secular culture in Brazil.

 ``The Virgin Mary is a very strong image for the population. For Brazilians,
 Carnaval is a sensual statement,'' Beltrami said. He said the images of the two
 should not mix. The use of religious images during Carnaval is an annual low-key
 controversy in Brazil. But it has greater prominence this year, because Carnaval's
 theme is the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil.

 Many floats will depict the church-sanctioned massacre and forced enslavement
 of native and African populations.

 ``Inside the church, we have recognized this. The church is asking for
 forgiveness,'' Beltrami said. ``The problem is not that; it is using sacred imagery in
 the context of [semi-nude] dancing.'' But to the carnavalescos, who design the
 colorful floats for the pre-Lenten festival, which starts March 4 this year, there is
 no line between religion and freedom of expression. ``We don't think whether it is
 sacred or profane; we create art,'' said Chico Spinosa, who designed the Rio
 samba school's floats. ``I see it as censorship.''

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald