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from issue no. 05 - 2007

The Brazil-Holy See diplomatic relations

Notes for an agreement

by Stefania Falasca

«The positive atmosphere between the Holy See and the great Brazilian State is also helping the drafting of an agreement, that it is hoped can certainly be concluded this year». So confided the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, on the eve of the meeting between Benedict XVI and Lula. On that same eve, however, articles in the Brazilian press reported that the proposal for an understanding on the part of the Holy See was not satisfactory to the Brasilia government, so much so that the signing of the agreement, originally planned for the occasion of the Pope’s visit, was postponed precisely on account of the refusal due to reservations of a political nature expressed by the government. «No. This is absolutely not true, there is not and has not been any refusal», Gilberto Carvalho, Chief of Cabinet of the Presidency of the Republic, replied without hesitation, and did not hesitate either to liquidate as «speculations that are extraneous to the nature of the negotiation» those dreaded fears of clerical interference in the transactions of the State whereby the agreement would mean a kind of twinning with the Vatican. He also described as «pure fantasies» the tales about issues such as abortion and divorce having been inserted into the clauses of the proposal. And he made clear that: «There is nothing of all this. It is an agreement of a legal character in international law and it is and must be considered as such».
Benedict XVI during the meeting with President Lula and his wife in the Palácio dos Bandeirantes, in São Paulo, 10 May 2007

Benedict XVI during the meeting with President Lula and his wife in the Palácio dos Bandeirantes, in São Paulo, 10 May 2007

A fifty-five year-old of Italian origin and citizenship, Gilberto Carvalho is Lula’s closest collaborator, the President’s right-hand man. From the beginning he has followed the phases of the agreement. We met him in São Paulo, in front of a cafezinho, in a calm moment, and he retraced for us the path taken so far. «The first meeting was in September. At the beginning of last September, the nuncio, Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, asked for an appointment with the President and also said that he would gladly speak with his assistants before the meeting. Along with Minister Luiz Dulci, of the General Secretariat of the Presidency», he recounts, «We therefore went to the Nunciature and had a preliminary discussion about the subject, in which the nuncio set out the main points of the proposal to us. So we immediately made a copy of the document and sent it to the Itamaraty, the Foreign Ministry. Then we met with the President». The meeting, Carvalho notes, took place on 12 September, before the presidential elections. The nuncio and the members of the Board of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference took part in the meeting, while on the government side, the Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Minister Dulci were present as well as the President and the Head of the Presidency. «Beginning with this meeting», he continues, «in which the terms of the negotiation were established, the Foreign Minister accepted to redeliver the proposal to the Nunciature after consulting the views of the various ministries involved. In the meantime I kept in contact both with the nuncio and the Director of the European Department of the Foreign Ministry, Maria Edileuza Fontenele Reis, the person in charge of sounding the views of the seven ministries involved. I have always been informed that everything was proceeding well». So there were no obstacles put up by the government bodies: «If you consider that the presidential elections took place in October and November, some ministers changed and then there were the holidays at the end of the year», he states, «I would say that we managed in a truly short time to redeliver the proposal, with our observations, to the Nunciature on 30 March». And, he points out, the prompt progress demonstrates the positive disposition of the government. And not only that: «It also demonstrates that there have not been, on the part of our government bodies, radical objections to the substance of the proposal introduced by the Holy See. For a very simple reason... ». Which is? «The substantial, fundamental point of this proposal, is the legal acknowledgment of the Catholic Church, the civil juridical statute of the Church and of all its institutions. And this», he explains, «does not constitute a problem in as far as it is envisaged by our legislation».
The reference is to legislation that has been in force in Brazil for more than a century. In 1893, in fact, immediately after the proclamation of the Republic that sanctioned the unambiguous separation of state and church, Brazil inserted in its Magna Carta a clause that recognized churches as legal persons and assured them the right to property, an unprecedented fact for the time. Since then, the relations between state, Catholic Church and the other religious denominations have referred to the same constitutional framework and many of the prevailing laws are favorable. The Vatican proposal, given that basis, aims at regulating and safeguarding the modus vivendi, the rights and institutes proper to the Church by registering in a single document all the guarantees from which it already benefits. Within this perspective the single clauses of the negotiation are to be framed. From the recognition of the social works of the Church and the tax exemptions that derive from them, to the safeguarding of its historical, artistic and cultural patrimony, from recognition of the seminaries and the civil validity of canonical marriage to religious instruction. It is not a matter of encroachment, of receiving new concessions and privileges from the Brazilian state, but much rather of «consolidating», with a guarantee of continuity over time, «a prior situation already largely satisfactory and favorable to the Church», so Carvalho asserts. In the text of the agreement the content of the laws already approved by the Brazilian Parliament will therefore be reproposed and, at the moment of signing, those same legal contents will take on legal status at international level, so that any eventual future review can only be achieved by way of concordat, that is in agreement between the state and the Holy See. All according to a well-established practice. Agreements of this type, in fact, are a matter of routine for the Holy See, for which today, as we know, they represent the ordinary mode of entering into institutional relationships with States, without regard either of the religious majority in those countries (as in the case, among others, of Israel, Tunisia, Kazakistan and various countries of the East) or of their respective governments. Venezuela and Argentina, for example, already have agreements with the Holy See, signed by Venezuela in 1964 and Argentina in 1966. And they are not the only ones in Latin America. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have also signed similar agreements. With Bolivia there is instead a convention on the missions. In all these agreements there is juridical recognition of the Catholic Church and its institutions, the safeguarding of its historical patrimony, eventual tax exemptions. In many of these agreements the regulation of religious instruction in the public schools is established; in others, such as that with Colombia, shared collaboration in advancing the human and social condition of the indigenous peoples is set out.
Nothing new, therefore, for Brazil. The agreement is a sort of global, fundamental one, on the widespread pattern of the framing agreement that does not exclude the possibility of review and further specification in later agreements. The date of signing has not yet been decided, but no long postponement is foreseen. The negotiation are, in fact, well-advanced and have reached a good point. The Nunciature and the Vatican Secretariat of State have taken the counter-proposal advanced by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry into consideration and have worked on that basis. It contains about twenty clauses. «I see no great difficulties», Carvalho states. And he concludes: «If controversies about some single article were to arise, something absolutely normal during the negotiations of an agreement, they can certainly be ironed out so a solution satisfactory to both parties is arrived at, with the purpose of a respectful and healthy collaboration». In short, clarifying, at times, does no harm.

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