A bishop of a diocese in Brazil has said reports about infanticide being carried out by some indigenous peoples were “shocking,” but that he was unaware of any such practices continuing among the indigenous people who are part of his flock.

Speaking to reporters at the Vatican today during a break in the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, Bishop Wilmar Santin of Itaituba, Brazil, acknowledged infanticide was a practice of the past, and that although he has not witnessed it in his diocese, was unable to say if it continues “for other peoples.”

The issue of infanticide has become a focus of discussions in the media after it emerged that the practice is continuing among possibly as many as 20 indigenous peoples in the Amazon.

Amazonian chief Jonas Marcolino Macuxí also told the Register and a Rome conference this month that infanticide is still practiced, and that it had been dying out until liberation theologians arrived in the region in the 1970s.

Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimenez told reporters Tuesday he was unaware the practice was still occurring, and challenged the media to produce evidence.

Swiss Vatican journalist Giuseppe Rusconi then published four pieces of documented evidence (translated here in English by Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister).

Among them are details of a bill passing through the Brazilian parliament to prohibit infanticide in indigenous areas, and an article, posted on a missionary website associated with the Brazilian bishops’ conference, which appeared to defend the practice on the grounds that it was not for outsiders to tell the indigenous people how to “protect their children.” The article was quickly removed after Rusconi’s article appeared.

In his comments, Bishop Santin explained how serious the practice was among the Munduruku people of his diocese until religious sisters, many working as nurses, “slowly made sure the practices disappeared completely.” He said the Munduruku people are a “bellicose” people who, before the missionaries arrived, “cut off the heads” of enemies and “took them as trophies.”

If a child was “born with a defect, they would be immediately killed,” he explained, and in the case of twins, one would be considered “evil and the other good” and so “sometimes they killed the second or killed both.”

Read more at National Catholic Register. 

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