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Brazil Elects First Female Primate in Latin America

By Mark Michael

The Rt. Rev. Marinez Rosa dos Santos Bassotto was elected presiding bishop and primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil – IEAB) on November 13, becoming the first woman to lead an Anglican province in Latin America. Bassotto, who will continue to serve as bishop of the Diocese of the Amazon, succeeds the Most Rev. Naudal Gomes, who has been presiding bishop of the IEAB since 2018.

Bassoto’s Northern Brazilian diocese includes regions that are home to much of Brazil’s Indigenous population, and have been heavily deforested in recent years.  She has made advocacy for creation care a major feature of her ministry. In March, Archbishop of Canterbury awarded her the St. Augustine’s Cross, which recognizes distinguished ministry to the Anglican Communion for “outstanding service in supporting the Communion’s role in the care of creation and on issues of climate justice, [and] giving voice to the indigenous peoples.” She also addressed the bishops of the Anglican Communion on the care of creation during last summer’s Lambeth Conference.

This spring, Bassoto formed part of the Anglican Communion’s official delegation to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. In 2018, she became the first female bishop elected in Brazil.

Anglicanism in Brazil traces its origins to the 1810 Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Portugal and the United Kingdom, which allowed the construction of Church of England chapels to serve expatriates in a few of the then-colony’s major cities.

After Brazil’s independence and the disestablishment of the Roman Catholic Church in 1889, Virginia Theological Seminary sent two Episcopal priests, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris, to begin mission work to native Brazilians. Based at Porto Alegre, the missionaries, who were soon joined by others, translated the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Portuguese, and founded congregations across Southern Brazil, where the church’s presence remains strongest. Kinsolving was consecrated as a missionary bishop in 1899, and the Episcopal Church created the Missionary District of Brazil in 1907.

The Rt. Rev. Athalicio Theodoro Pithan became the church’s first native Brazilian bishop in 1940, and fifteen years later, the historic English chapels were incorporated into the Portuguese-speaking church. The province become independent from the Episcopal Church in 1965.

The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil now has about 120,000 members, in nine dioceses across the country. The church was the first in Latin America to ordain women, in 1985, and amended its marriage canon in 2018 to allow same-sex marriages.

One of its dioceses, Recife, withdrew from the IAEB in 1995 over liberalized teaching about human sexuality. In 2018, the diocese organized itself as the Anglican Church of Brazil, and is affliliated with the GAFCON Movement.  It is led by Archbishop Miguel Ochoa, and has three dioceses and 54 congregations.

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