Brazil takes ‘decisive step towards gender equality’ with election of first female bishop

Bishop-elect Marinez Santos Bassotto says her historic election is "never an honour or status," but an opportunity to serve. Photo: Joseane Paula
Published January 24, 2018

The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil—the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (IEAB) ­has elected its first female bishop, some 34 years after the province first paved the way for women to serve in all three orders of ministry.

The Rev. Canon Marinez Santos Bassotto was elected Saturday, January 20, as the next bishop of the diocese of Amazon during a meeting at Belém, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. She will succeed Bishop Saulo Mauricio de Barros, who retired last November. The province was one of the first in the Anglican Communion to officially open the episcopate to women in 1983. Its first female deacon and priest was ordained in 1985.

Bishop-elect Bassotto is currently the priest in the Southern diocese’s (Meridional) parish of São Paulo, in the city of Cachoeirinha near Porto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil. She has previously served as dean of the national Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, in Porto Alegre. Originally from Rio Grande do Sul, the 46-year-old priest is married to Paulo Bassotto; and the couple have two daughters.

She already holds a number of national roles in the province: she is a member of National Commission of Liturgy with responsibility for the Book of Common Prayer and the National Commission of Diakonia—the province’s social responsibility wing. She is also the co-ordinator of Confelider 2018—the national leadership conference that will take place just before the 2018 meeting of the provincial synod, May 30 to June 3, in Brasília.

Within her present diocese, Marinez is the representative for the national Anglican Service for Diakonia and Development (SADD), a member of the inter-religious dialogue of Porto Alegre, and a member of the Ecumenical Forum of Rio Grande do Sul.

“We certainly live a special moment of our province with the election of our first female bishop,” said Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, primate of Brazil and bishop of South-Western Brazil.

Da Silva, who is travelling through Africa, described the appointment as “a breeze that comes to blow on the church and that certainly represents new times and new way of exercising this ministry.

“The diocese of the Amazon and the IEAB are taking a decisive step towards gender equity and we are very happy,” he said. “From Ghana I raise my prayers for our province and Bishop-elect Marinez and her family.”

Bassotto was born in Canguçu, in what was then a missionary area of the church. Her grandparents were founding members of one of the missions and she felt a call to ministry very early in her life.

In 1991, she moved to the state capital, Porto Alegre, to study theology in the now-closed national seminary of the IEAB. She was ordained deacon in May 1995 at the age of 24, and the following year she was ordained as a priest. Both ordinations took place at the national Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Porto Alegre where, in 1999 she would become dean at the age of 29—the second woman to serve as dean in the province; and the first at Porto Alegre. After 17 years as dean, she moved to her current parish of São Paulo.

“I feel very happy and at the same time I am very aware of the kind and size of the commitment I assume,” Bishop-elect Bassotto told the Anglican Communion News Service. “For me, it is very clear that the episcopate is a priesthood ministry, an opportunity of service [diakonia]. It is never an honour or status.”

In May, the IEAB will celebrate 33 years of women’s ordination. “Our Brazilian church was bold and innovative by allowing women, since the beginning, to have access to the three ordained ministries. Even though, during these almost 33 years there was no prophetic courage to elect a woman to the episcopate. It was about time to break this wall,” she said.  “With this election of mine a new era with more gender equality was inaugurated. I hope that it will be the first of many to come.”

Bassotto said she is aware that her election will be met with uncertainty and fear by others. “Everything we are not familiar with poses insecurity to us. I think that initially there will be doubts and fears at the novelty of female episcopacy in the country. But, at the same time, I am sure there will be strong support,” she said.

“I believe there will be more positive expectations, considering that this is what happens when women take positions traditionally occupied by men. I will take the position with courage, hope and faith, accepting the consequences and risks of this choice and putting myself at service to work together with the clergy and laity of the Anglican diocese of Amazon in this hard task of being Christian.”

The diocese of the Amazon is a young diocese; and while the area covers a huge expanse, the church is quite small. “The people of the region are very hospitable and welcoming,” Bassotto said. “Culturally the region is very colourful and diverse.”

It is also a region “where inequality is there for everyone to see,” she said. “Certainly, there are several needs, expectations and concerns in the life of the diocese, and there are a great number of pastoral, administrative and financial challenges in order to properly proclaim and live the gospel and be Christ’s Church: missionary, embedded into the local culture and prophetic.”

Bassotto underlined the importance of worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. At the same time, she said, “I want to solidify the fellowship among the members. I am open to learn with them about how God’s love is manifested and take the commitment to share this love and service to the people…offering the diocesan spaces as places of safety and welcome, where everyone can belong.

“I see an innovative and inclusive diocese, witnessing to the right to justice and human dignity, living with ecumenism as a way to testify to the unity we must seek. I will work to continue creating opportunities for capacity building, formation, discipleship for clergy and laity, where each person takes her or his role to work together.”

The date for Bassotto’s enthronement has yet to be set.


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