Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)

The following is a translation from an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. I have divided it into three parts because the post is so long and raises so many questions about politics and the Church—things that strike me as repeatedly-covered issues in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory in Brazil and elsewhere around the world.

This first part covers background information, from the introduction of the Church in Fortaleza to Moroni Torgan’s arrival and rise to prominence as Brazil’s first Mormon Congressman.

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza

by Emanuel Santana

In northeastern Brazil, Mormonism began more than 30 years after the arrival of the first missionaries in the country. The pioneers of this part of Brazil were Milton and Irene Soares, who were baptized in Recife in 1960. Six years later, my town, Fortaleza, would see its first converts with the baptism of the Cintra family. But in the beginning growth was slow, and the Church’s policy of racial segregation did not help much in a region where a considerable part of the residents would be unable to enjoy all the benefits of membership in the Church.

The arrival of Mormons from other parts of the country strengthened the local branches. Notable among those arrivals were Clovis Fittipaldi and Ralph L. Price, who were branch presidents in the early seventies, and Orville Wayne Day Jr., who arrived with his family in the second half of that decade and was named president of the first stake of the city in 1981, with Fernando Jose Duarte de Araujo and Antenor Silva, Jr. as his counselors.

The economic base of the Brazilian state of Ceará (whose capital is Fortaleza) was then undergoing substantial change as the development of industrial fabrication there fostered the development of new entrepreneurs and led older businesses to fail. These economic changes were reflected in local political and ideological structures, paving the way for one of these young entrepreneurs, Tasso Jereissati, to be elected governor of the state in 1986.

Tasso adopted an image of change, and his “Government of Change” intended to break with the “oligarchies of the colonels” (colonels are kind of like the old boys in the Southern U.S., large landholders who traditionally controlled economic and government activity). Some of the changes Tasso made were related to law enforcement in the state. In law enforcement, Tasso chose a Chief from outside the state, trying to avoid supporting the old system where the interests of the “colonels” were supported by local government. He selected Renato Torrano as secretary of law enforcement, but just months later Torrano was forced out of office.

At that time a young state police deputy started attracting attention on television and in newspapers throughout the state. Whenever there was an arrest of a drug trafficker or marijuana or cocaine had been siezed, there he was, giving interviews and posing for pictures. His name: Moroni Bing Torgan.

Like Torrano, Moroni was a gaucho (i.e., from Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, but also meaning, roughly, “cowboy”), and was therefore not connected to any possible local “schemes.” Tall, handsome and at ease on camera, he soon fell into Tasso’s good graces and was named secretary of law enforcement for the state in 1988.

Moroni, whose Mormon roots date back to the thirties, was born into a humble family in Rio Grande do Sul in 1956. Under the leadership of Saul Messiah, the gaucho served a full-time mission in Sao Paulo. He returned to Porto Alegre, married and continued his studies at UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul). He then earned a spot as a federal police deputy in an national competition and came to work in Fortaleza, arriving in 1983.

At that time the capital of Ceará was about to get its second stake. “A church member from the south has come to work as a police deputy,” was the comment that spread through the few congregations in the city. In Ceará at that time, the Church only had congregations in the metropolitan area of Fortaleza and in Sobral, a city in the northwestern part of the state, which had only a small group.

Moroni’s long experience in the church together with his financial stability, desire to serve and the local need for priesthood holders meant that he was automatically placed in leadership positions. He was Bishop of the Aldeota Ward and a year later called to preside over the Fortaleza Brazil Stake. He was stake president when he was named secretary of law enforcement in the Tasso government. We had a Mormon in the governor’s cabinet. Within their respective spheres, what Ezra Taft Benson had been for Eisenhower, Moroni was to Tasso Jereissati. The Mormons in Ceará had one of their own in a notable position in state government.

In Tasso’s “Government of Change” an entire program was aimed at eliminating armed robberty in Ceará. These “on demand” crimes were seen as evidence of a lack of state control, a sign of backwardness, something of the “time of the colonels.” As a result, fighting armed robbery symbolized a break with a failed, retrograde system and the establishment of a new social order.

Moroni’s promotion to the head of law enforcement in the state led to the arrest of several hired assassins and their employers. Moroni often personally interviewed the accused. All this publicity gave the gaucho, whose political ambitions were well known, great visibility. So it was no surprise that in the next election the “gunmen hunter” was elected as a deputy in the federal congress, at a time when another “hunter,” Fernando Collor de Mello, had been elected president of Brazil. Thus, Moroni Bing Torgan became the first Mormon elected to Brazil’s Congress.


6 comments for “Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)

  1. Thanks very much for the translation.

    However, the first paragraph is a bit misleading. It sounds like the missionaries brought the gospel to Brasil. In fact, a mother brought the gospel to Brasil. Augusta Kuhlmann Lippelt and her four children, had joined the Church in Germany before immigrating to Brazil in 1923, and she contacted the church in SLC asking for materials to teach her children. Her husband eventually joined the church, and their family was the nucleus of missionary work in Brasil. Indeed, for the first few years, missionaries only taught in German.

  2. This article leads the reader to believe that Moroni cleaned up the crime in Ceará. As a matter of fact, crime has increased. Armed robberies are a daily event on nearly every street — even in the Aldeota area of Fortaleza where Moroni, and other wealthy citizens, live. A Yahoo image search of just about any interior city of Ceará state will reveal graphic pictures of assassination victims, since these are daily happenings. Moroni may be good for photo ops, but in the real world where Cearenses live, he still has a job to do.

  3. Naismith (1), I think this might be mostly a question of definition. The Lippelt family (who, IIRC, weren’t even the first LDS family in Brazil) certainly did precede the missionaries, but there was no organized LDS worship until the missionaries arrived. If you are talking about organized LDS worship, then the initial paragraph is correct.

  4. Jaime, you may be right. I do know that many areas of Brazilian cities, especially those in the northeast (like Fortaleza) have continuing crime problems.

    I suspect that Emanuel, who wrote principally for a Brazilian audience, believed his readers would know that already. As translator, I wasn’t really trying to add that kind of nuance (although perhaps I should have).

    Thanks for adding that information.

  5. Thanks for this interesting article/translation. I served my mission in Brasil in the late 70s and Fortaleza was in our mission (Rio de Janeiro). In fact, one of my missionary companions became Moroni’s wife. She was writing him while she was also serving. She was an awesome missionary.

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