Catholic online influencers challenge bishops and Church structures

Online influencers

A recent study commissioned by a Brazilian bishop highlights a concerning trend in the Catholic digital sphere: the rise of far-right online influencers challenging traditional church hierarchy.

Conducted by five researchers under Auxiliary Bishop Joaquim Mol Guimarães of Belo Horizonte, the study suggests a growing dominance of voices conflicting with bishops and official structures within the Church.

Since 2018, organised groups of Catholics have targeted bishops, individual prelates and even Pope Francis. The influencers view them as allied with leftist factions.

They are particularly aligned with former President Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently under investigation by Brazilian authorities for attempting to overthrow democratic rule in the country.

Influencers like Bernardo Küster and Father Paulo Ricardo have amassed significant followings, impacting believers with what Guimarães describes as “fake narratives” and “fabricated doubts”.

“They have created giant bubbles on social media, in which their followers play a central role in determining the scope of their publications and thus reinforce their ideological perspective” Guimarães said.

Fragmentation of Catholic teaching

The research, which monitored the online activity of five Brazilian Catholic influencers over a year, reveals a fragmentation of Catholic teaching online. It has led to the emergence of parallel churches and conflicting magisteriums.

The study also highlights the spread of misinformation, with instances such as Küster’s baseless accusation against theologian Leonardo Boff.

In 2021, Küster was sued by theologian Leonardo Boff after he claimed, without presenting any evidence, that the Liberation Theology thinker had diverted $2.6 million in public funds.

Boff won the suit, and Küster had to pay $22,000 in damages.

Guimarães criticises these influencers for promoting personal views detached from reality, resulting in unwarranted criticism of the Church’s hierarchy.

Guimarães said these online influencers use “a manipulative teaching authority” and transmit “personal and particular views” based on “formulations of faith without connection to reality, strongly centred in moralisms impregnated by ideological and political elements”.

The result, he claimed, is “undue and unfounded criticism of the church’s institutional structure and hierarchy”.

While some influencers opt for a lighter, more narcissistic approach, Guimarães stresses the need for digital evangelists who adhere to the Gospel’s principles rather than social media’s profit-driven strategies.

The research team intends to explore the audience of Catholic digital influencers further, aiming to optimise social media for evangelisation while navigating its challenges.


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