Por Fábio Pannunzio, no Blog do Pannunzio
Entangled in a bombastic accusation of international children trafficking, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God tries in court to embarrass and censure journalists, demands to be heard, but refuses to explain the illegal adoptions scheme that is the subject of an extensive series of reports by the Portuguese television TVI.
The series The Secret of the Gods was aired in December 2017. I shared it on my Facebook profile and recommended everyone to watch it. I was appalled by the content and impressed by the manner adopted by my colleagues Alexandra Borges and Judite Franca, the reporters who produced it. A few days later, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God sent me two extrajudicial notices – one in the name of the church, another in the name of Bishop Edir Macedo threatening with lawsuits and demanding retraction. One of the criticisms was that I did not listen to the other side – a complete nonsense, since it was not me who produced it and, as it seems obvious, I could not have any responsibility for the ethical procedures adopted in the making of the reports.
I publicly replied that I would not accept the imposition, I would not make any kind of removal, but I decided to accept as a suggestion the request to listen to the other side. I sent a questionnaire with 57 questions to the UCKG press office. Then, I supplemented the list with 8 other inquiries. And others followed later.
I was surprised to receive in response only a spiteful e-mail filled with criticism, certainly of the work of some church worker, so much was the apparent engagement with the “cause” represented by the redress to my alleged offenses. In other words, the institution that is so zealous of its image, so strict with regards to the manifestations of journalists who write about them – and even those who do not write – refuses to present arguments capable of refuting the imputations made in the series, a product of seven months of investigation by the two journalists from Lisbon.
With this post, my investigation begins. From here, all responsibility for what is verified and published with my signature is mine. All the information published was collected or checked by me and my daughter Bruna, a newly trained journalist who will assist me with this work. I begin by telling the story excavated by Alexandra and Judith. A story that, so far, has been confirmed in all the checks that myself and Bruna have undertaken.
The problems of the UCKG, according to the reports, began in the mid-1990s. It was when the newly married high-priest’s daughters decided to have children, something that was barred from the other pastors hired by the sect. Edir Macedo himself has always advised his employees – and his daughters – to avoid children. There are several public manifestations by in this sense.
In the Brazilian courts, there are at least a dozen lawsuits that have already been passed or are still in progress, in which the UCKG was ordered to compensate pastors for having forced them to undergo sterilisation. The UCKG denies it, even though it admits that it recommends that officials refrain from having children. Edir Macedo’s own daughters married vasectomized bishops, although the impossibility of conceiving, according to UCKG sources, in these two cases is due to the congenital problems of Viviane and Cristiane.
The maternal instinct of Macedo’s daughters began to speak loudly just as his company was settling in Portugal. Coincidence or not, it was when the sect decided to open, in Camarate, a shelter for children. The home began operating in 1994, but only had its registration regularized in 2001, seven years later, according to The Secret of the Gods. In the meantime, Edir Macedo, as far as his daughters are concerned, went there to get perfect children to be his grandchildren. The house, in the following years, would become a repository of children to be adopted by the high clergy of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
Edir Macedo’s youngest daughter, Viviane Freitas, tells in her blog that her father gave her the photographs of Fábio, Vera and Luis. They were beautiful children, children of a poverty-stricken family, temporarily removed from their mother by the social services so that she could reorganise her life. The charge against her was that she left her children unattended while she worked.
Viviane liked the two older siblings, Luis and Vera, because they looked physically like Bishop Júlio Freitas, according to her own account in her blog. The youngest, Fábio, was rejected – even though Portuguese law prevented the separation of the family. But there were other problems. She and her husband Julio did not meet the legal minimum age requirement for adoption. The Portuguese legislation at the time established that the sum of the age of the adopting couple should be 50. Viviane and Julio were too young and did not fulfill the legal requirement.
There was another even more serious impediment. The children were left there temporarily, not to be adopted. And, more complicated still, Viviane and Julio did not reside in Portugal, which made adoption rather impossible. But the desire of the Universal clan needed to be fulfilled. The way was to improvise a way out that would allow the Macedos to overcome all impediments, to sublimate the purpose of the biological mother and to disregard the laws of Portugal.
A pseudo mother
One of Edir Macedo’s closest employees at the time, her personal secretary Maria Alice Ferreira de Andrade Katz, was appointed to fulfill the role of a pseudo mother for the family in the proceedings before the Portuguese court. She was the one who presented herself to the Judiciary as a candidate for the adoption of the three minors in proceedings that, according to The Secret of the Gods, are fuelled with frauds and forgeries. When she got the children’s custody, Alice boarded them on the Universal leader’s private jet.
The plane took off from Lisbon and, according to Alice’s account, made a first stop in Rio de Janeiro, where the siblings were separated. Little Fábio, only 18 months old, was delivered to the wife of Bishop Romualdo Panceiro, Márcia. The two others followed the transfer to the West Coast of the United States to be handed over to Viviane Freitas.
But the golden dream of adoption was very unsuccessful. By the end of the third year, according to witnesses heard by the TVI, the relationship of the couple was worn out as the children were being too much of a hard work. The babysitter responsible for them reported to the TVI that there had been repeated cases of assault.
The real reasons that led the daughter of Bishop Macedo to decide to return the children are not known. The problem is that for this to happen, Romualdo and Márcia had to be forced to get rid of Fábio, whom they had already become fond of. The Panceiros surrendered after a personal order from Bishop Edir Macedo and allowed little Fabio to be taken to the United States, where the pseudo mother lived.
It must not have been easy to be apart from Fábio. Although seeking to avoid the factual truth, Bishop Romualdo, in an interview with channels of the UCKG itself, referred to this moment as one of the most difficult of his life. “When he was six years old, the Justice from there determined that he should return to his former guardian,” prevaricates Panceiro, who was never formally the adoptive father of Fabio.
Loyal as a dog to the UCKG’s boss, he never blamed Edir Macedo or his daughter Viviane for nothing. To justify the forced separation, the bishop laid the blame on Maria Alice, the surrogate mother hired by his boss. “The mother who got his custody from the age of 6 to 19 brainwashed him against us, saying that we did not want to be with him. She moved houses and we lost contact with him, “he said.
The short stay of this child with the Panceiro family generated a series of movements and left a trail of problems with which the bishop will still have to account for. The end of Fábio, often abandoned throughout his tumultuous childhood, was tragic. He would die of an overdose in 2015, at the age of 20, lonely in a hotel room in New York. Bishop Panceiro, who every day boasted in services miracles and healing testimonies of addicts by his denomination, could not persuade the heavens to save his own “son.”
Here in Brazil, Fábio’s rapid passage as a child produced at least one false birth certificate. But this will be covered in the next report in this series. It will show that the legal personality of this child remains alive as a ghost to haunt the Paceiros, the high clergy and the lawyers of the UCKG.
Another daughter, other grandchildren, same problems
Cristiane Cardoso, the eldest daughter of Edir Macedo, was also advised by her father to adopt one of the children that the home of the universal church, already working in a new address, sheltered. In her blog, Cristiane Cardoso reports that “in January” (supposedly from 1997) her father phoned her to talk about a serious and quiet child, who “looked like a little soldier”, referring to Felipe, to suggest the adoption.
The two brothers were typical “Cerelac babies,” the Portuguese equivalent of “Johnson baby” in Brazil. White, bright eyes, ready to debut on a advert on the TV network of their future grandfather. But Pedro was not perfect. He had a dark, hairy spot on his left arm. He ended up being rejected by the future adoptive mother.
Contrary to what happened with Viviane, Cristiane, the eldest, presented herself as a candidate for adoption. The process took place in record time. Two months later, she had secured the boy’s custody and a travel permit to take him to London, where she lived. The rejected brother stayed in Lisbon and ended up being adopted by the then director of the Camarate home, Jaqueline Duran Marques, the wife of Bishop Sidney. He was one of the cardinals of Bishop Macedo, the second in the hierarchy of Universal church at that time in history.
The TVI’s reporters were able to locate the biological mother of these two children. Her account of the series The Secret of the Gods is shocking. The woman revealed that she never authorised the beginning of the adoption process. It was the maternal grandmother who delivered them to the home of the UCKG. The mother, a victim of domestic violence, had to take refuge from her former partner, get rid of the drugs and links of bondage that kept her captive – literally! – in the house where she lived with her children.
She said that she was tied to a chair, and that she could only escape because her son Pedro managed to untie the knots. She and her children would have jumped out the window and hid in her parents’ house. Then she had to stay hidden for a while fearing the worst. Upon her return, her mother, a religious fanatic of the Universal Church, confirmed having taken the children to the UCKG home.
It is not known how the prior authorisation necessary to initiate adoption procedures was obtained. Someone had stolen her ID card and presented herself to the judge as if it were her own daughter. This is how Filipe, according to the version of his biological mother, ended up with the Macedo family and Pedro became the adopted son of Sidney and Jacqueline.
In addition to these five, at least four other children would have been similarly abducted by the UCKG shelter. Two of them were located in the hands of families of other Universal clerics. It is not known how many will have the same fate.
This is the story told by the TVI’s reporters. The investigation lasted seven months and involved at least 30 people. Dozens of witnesses from the time the events took place. Mothers, religious who left the UCKG, Portuguese authorities, relatives of the children. All testimonies are moving in the same direction – they point to the deliberate responsibility of the UCKG’s leadership and of Edir Macedo himself.
It was, however, necessary to listen to the UCKG. Alexandra and Judite have in their personal archive dozens of e-mails that make clear the valiance with which they tried to fulfill their ethical duty. But the bishop and his church remained mute. They did not provide the requested information.
How I got involved.
When the reports were aired, the journalists were accused of failing to fulfil their ethical duty. The reasons do not diverge from the arguments that Universal uses whenever it finds itself stuck: religious prejudice, a crusade of antichrists, articulation of the devil. But none of this responds to what really matters, which is to know how these adoptions took place and what the responsibility of each one of the protagonists of these sad stories is.
It was for this purpose that I, as editor of the Blog do Pannunzio, contacted the UCKG’s press office shortly after being notified that I would be prosecuted. The first email contact happened on January 24. The next day I received a very polite protocol reply and sent the first 57 questions straight away.
They are reproduced here. I decided that I would publish the questionnaire after receiving the last letter from the UCKG, in which the press office stated that it would publish the e-mails. The questions remain unanswered because the apocryphal journalists working for Bishop Macedo refused to clarify the issues – they did not even mention the name of the person who dealt with me on behalf of the church. The threats, however, were reiterated.
I remain firm in the purpose of helping my Portuguese colleagues to unveil the truth, wherever it may be. To that end, I joined the international consortium of journalists created at the suggestion of Alexandra and Judite to investigate the matter. The consortium is called The Universal Truth and has created a website that will be the convergence element of this phase of the investigation. If you want to find out more about it, just click here.