Rosary for Lula Sparks Vatican Intrigue

Vatican News runs and retracts false information about Papal Assessor’s visit to Lula. After widely publicizing the former, Brazil’s biggest news companies ignore the retraction.

The Vatican is no stranger to intrigue and infighting. A recent scandal involving a Papal Assessor being barred by a Curitiba Judge from delivering a message and Blessed Rosary to ex-President Lula may not compare with Felix V’s election as Antipope by the Council of Basel, but it does illustrate the ongoing dispute between progressive and conservative factions within the Vatican. It also illustrates the relationship between progressive and conservative factions of Brazilian Catholics with Rome, as most of the social movements fighting on the streets to defend freedom for Lula were founded with support from the Catholic Pastorals and liberation theology priests and nuns, whereas conservative Catholics have historically supported the PSDB party, with reputed ties between some of its leaders and Opus Dei.

On Monday, June 11, Papal Assessor Juan Grabois attempted to visit ex-President Lula in the Federal Police headquarters building in Curitiba, where he is being held in solitary confinement after being condemned for undetermined acts with no material evidence. According to Grabois, the purpose of the visit was to pass a message from Pope Francis along with a Blessed Rosary and discuss spiritual matters. Although Monday’s are set aside for Lula to receive visits from religious leaders and clergy the police barred Grabois from entering. The official excuse was that he couldn’t visit because he is not a priest, but Leonardo Boff, who renounced the priesthood after being censured by Joseph Ratzinger during the 1990s, visited Lula last month. Afterwords, Grabois, an Argentinian lawyer who intermediates between the Pope and poor people’s social movements, told the press that his arbitrary denial of visitation rights demonstrates Brazil’s “enormous institutional, social and political deterioration”.

The PT party immediately announced that a Papal Emissary bearing a gift from Pope Francis had been denied visitation rights to Lula. Shortly afterwords, someone from semi-official Vatican News website ran a story exclusively in Portuguese which falsely accused Grabois of having no current connection to the Church, and implied that the rosary in question was of the standard, blessed-by-the-Pope sort that anyone can buy in the Vatican gift shop. Where did the story come from? The story that Lula was a liar immediately spread like wildfire through Brazil’s oligarchic news media. Within hours Vatican News pulled the story down and ran two successive retractions. Grabois is not a former Pontifical consultant, they now explain, the Commission he consults for is now part of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Development and he is also the Coordinator of the World Encounters of Social Movements with the Pope. His visit, therefore, was as a current Papal Assessor. Unfortunately, most of the media oligarchies that ran stories based on the first, factually inaccurate Vatican Times article have refused to publish retractions and, as Grabois says, “the damage is done”. Upon returning to Argentina on Tuesday, Grabois wrote the following public note to Lula (translated by Brasil Wire) in which he explains that Pope Francis personally blessed the Rosary for Lula during a meeting in the Vatican in May, 2018, and wonders if we are now living in an era of post-truth.

Letter from Juan Grabois to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva 

June 13, 2018

Dear Lula,

Yesterday I left Brazil in anguish. As you know, they barred me from visiting you in an unjustified, arbitrary and impolite manner. Afterwards I visited my brothers and sisters who are rag pickers, peasants, slum dwellers, teachers, public servants, laborers and members of diverse Catholic Pastorals. I could feel the pain of your people, share their impotence against injustice and their frustration at the persecution of their biggest leader. I also noted the enormous institutional, social and political deterioration that Brazil is suffering from because of the ambition of a few who concentrate power and prevent differences from being solved within the framework of democracy.

The most bitter pill, however, awaited me in the Curitiba airport. There I learned that they attacked you again in the media and on the social networks. I can affirm that they lied about the Rosary that Pope Francis sent you. They said that you, imprisoned and unable to communicate, were also lying! I was astonished to see your inquisitors saying that their source for this lie was the Vatican itself. My surprise was even greater when I saw that on an internet page called Vatican News they published a text in aggressive Portuguese, full of inaccuracies and typos. Communications on this page cannot be considered official but, effectively, it is a site that is dependent on the Vatican’s Communication Secretary. While reading it I could not hide my astonishment. Apparently an editor on this site, God knows for what motive and and who requested it, wanted to cause a stir and succeeded. As soon as I could complain to his superiors the article was removed from the site and replaced with an adequate text (, but the damage was already done. Unfortunately, the media companies that spread the story of the supposed Vatican denial did not publish the new article with the correct information. Could it be that we live in the era of post truth?

I have never revealed the content of a meeting with Pope Francis before because I am loyal, I respect and admire him greatly. Nevertheless, I know that his support for the social movements and the poor has given him more than one headache. As you know, he also suffers from systematic attacks of the Pharisees and Herodians of our times. Nevertheless, taking the circumstances into consideration, I feel obligated to tell you how it went. I was in the Vatican during May to visit Pope Francis, who honors me with a friendship which I don’t deserve, loves the great homeland and, as he himself has said, is worried about the current situation. As you know, he is very clear and straight forward, does not need a spokesman and I never pretended to be one. I suffer a lot when the media puts me in this role. I only try to help the dialogue with the social movements, as I’ve been doing since we met in Buenos Aires more than 10 years ago, fighting for a society without slaves or the excluded. Currently, I collaborate with the Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Development, presided over by Cardinal Peter Turkson, with whom I have organized three world encounters of people’s movements and other activities to promote access and essential rights to land, housing and work.

During that time in May, friends from the Brazilian peoples’ social movements offered me an opportunity to visit you. This made me very happy because I admire you and the way you acted as a President for the poorest of the poor. I am sure that you are the target of a political persecution equal to that of Nelson Mandela and other political leaders in recent history. I took advantage, therefore, of this visit to the Vatican to speak with the Pope about the situation and ask him for a Blessed Rosary to bring to you. This is what happened. It is incredible that such a simple gesture of solidarity and closeness by the Pope, an object that is used to pray with, would generate so many problems but it is not the first time and the Vatican News is responsible for permitting that such an inappropriate and unprofessional article would be published. The responsible party has asked me for forgiveness and I forgive him because everyone makes mistakes. But I also know that this caused serious damage.

I would also like to clarify that when they refused to let me see you, I asked your comrades to take you the Rosary clearly stating that it came from the Pope with his blessings. This is why what you said on your Facebook account – which was erroneously denounced as fake news that, when corrected, was censored – is simply what I told you: the truth. I deliver this letter to your helpers with expressed authorization for you to publish it so that it can serve to mitigate the damage caused, although I fear that those who hate the worker who delivered forty million excluded people from hunger and helped Latin America stand up against the global powers are not going to tell the truth.

I ask your forgiveness and wish you a strong fraternal, Latin American solidarity hug. I pray for your freedom, your people and our Great Homeland.

Juan Grabois



By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.