Placar, which has become one of the most successful sports publications in Brazil, were using the picture as a metaphor to highlight the criticism the Santos star had been coming under for supposedly diving too often.
The Placar cover, which reads “the Brazilian ace turns scapegoat in a sport where everyone plays dirty”, was inspired by a 1970s issue of Spanish magazine Don Balon, which depicted Johan Cruyff in almost exactly the same way.
In a letter, signed by CNBB president Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis and general secretary Dom Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, the publication has been criticised for “showing disdain towards people’s feelings”.
A statement read: “The Brazilian National Bishops Confederation states that it feels severely outraged with the [photo] montage that is the cover of a sports magazine, where the image of Jesus Christ is seen with the face of a football player.
“We acknowledge freedom of speech as a fundamental principle of our state and [see it as necessary for] democratic co-existence, however, there are known limits for such.
“To ridiculise faith and show disdain towards peoples’ religious feelings by using the disrespectful use of the image of Jesus suggests manipulation and use of editorial resources as a means for commercial ends.
“This is a clear lack of respect that offends the most sacred image for Christians and updates, in a hazardous manner, the well-known resource of gaining attention by provocation.”
An online petition has now been launched against Placar’s use of the image of Neymar as Jesus Christ, which has gained over 7,000 signatures since its manifestation.