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from issue no. 10 - 2008

BRAZIL. The new legal status of the Catholic Church

The Agreement between the Holy See and Brazil

An interview with Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil, on the historic agreement between the Holy See and the Latin American giant, signed during the recent visit of President Lula to the Pope

Interview with Lorenzo Baldisseri by Stefania Falasca

Now also Brazil, the Latin American giant, the country with the largest number of faithful and bishops in the world, joins the group of countries which have signed bilateral treaties with the Holy See. On 13 November last year the agreement between the Holy See and the Federal Republic of Brazil was signed during the first visit of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Benedict XVI in the Vatican. The agreement, which consists of twenty articles and covers the legal status of the Catholic Church in Brazil, defining its legal status and the institutional conditions for the fulfillment of its apostolic and pastoral mission, comes more than a century after the proclamation of the Brazilian Republic. The step taken by the left-wing government of Lula had never been made by any other government in the past. “This is a historic agreement, as desired as it was awaited”, says the Tuscan Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil, “and which was spoken of”, the prelate added, “during the private dialogue between the Holy Father and President Lula during his visit to Brazil in May 2007. The Pope said he hoped for the signing of an agreement during his pontificate, and the President replied: “Your Holiness, during my term of office!” No sooner said than done. We asked Monsignor Baldisseri, who has been working as a diplomat in Brazil since 2002 and launched and conducted the intense negotiations with the government in Brasilia, to explain the terms and novelties in this important treaty.

The signing of the Agreement in the Vatican Apostolic Palace: left, Celso Amorim, Brazilian Foreign Minister; in the center, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Holy See Secretary for Relations with States; right, Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil <BR>  [© Osservatore Romano]

The signing of the Agreement in the Vatican Apostolic Palace: left, Celso Amorim, Brazilian Foreign Minister; in the center, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Holy See Secretary for Relations with States; right, Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil
[© Osservatore Romano]

Your Excellency, can you tell us the reasons why the need was felt to conclude an agreement between Brazil and the Holy See?
LORENZO BALDISSERI: I would say that the main reason for the conclusion of an agreement lies in the need to provide a stable legal status for the Catholic Church in Brazil and for all its institutions, not only for its religious and social activities, but primarily to define its status in the legal and institutional framework of the country.
Up till now how were institutional relations between Brazil and the Catholic Church regulated?
BALDISSERI: When the Padroado vanished with the end of the empire and the proclamation of the Republic, on 7 January 1890, the government issued a decree, known by the abbreviation “N. 119-A”, which declared the freedom of all religious cults and gave them, without distinction, a general status, with the possibility of making certain legal decisions. From then on, however, no overall measure was implemented by later governments to regulate the legal situation of the Church. During those one hundred and eighteen years several attempts were made, without any outcome. In the ’eighties the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference intensified efforts to achieve a legal status fitting the demands of its mission, that became concrete in the ’nineties, with a formal request to the Holy See. As of 2003 there have been several meetings with the government, initiated by the nunciature. The official launch of negotiations with the government, for the purposes of defining a text, occurred two years ago on 12 September 2006, when the nunciature, on behalf of the Holy See, during a meeting with members of the executive of the Bishops’ Conference, along with the President of the Republic and his ministers, presented a written proposal to be submitted to the consideration of various ministries concerned, after which followed the process that led to actuation.
Why has the term agreement been used and not “concordat”?
BALDISSERI: In Brazil the word “concordat” currently refers to a negotiation in the context of bankruptcy proceedings. The term “agreement” was therefore preferred, also because it better fits the modern understanding of relations between Church and State, although the contents of our agreement would authorize one calling it a concordat. Moreover, the term ‘agreement’ more easily matches lay terminology, highlighting more the autonomy and mutual independence of Church and State, in healthy cooperation, but without the danger of the overlappings and encroachments of other historical periods.
What are the main points in the agreement?
BALDISSERI: First, the reaffirmation of the legal status of the Church, which is extended to all its institutions, in accordance with Canon law. Consequently, among the main points are: the teaching of the Catholic religion in public schools; recognition of the ample benefits of the law, not just fiscal, recognized in Brazil to philanthropic bodies; the ruling of the civil effects of canonical marriage and of ecclesiastic verdicts in matrimonial matters; the allotment of space for religious purposes in urban planning; educational parity for Catholic institutions; collaboration with public institutions in the cultural and artistic sphere; the right to give stable spiritual assistance to the faithful in public health, penitentiary institutes and the like. Finally, last but not least, let me emphasize a very important clause. I mean exemption from employment law in relations between diocese and priests and between religious institutions and their members, present for the first time in a Holy See agreement. This entails that the State recognizes that by its religious nature this relationship is regulated exclusively by Canon law, which excludes employment relations in civil terms. This was possible thanks to the existence in Brazil of a considerable amount of legislation at the highest level of the work tribunals that spoke to that effect and that we were able to get heeded during the negotiations.
Considering the importance of these results it would appear that the Catholic Church has been privileged and that other denominations are therefore discriminated against ...
BALDISSERI: No, quite the contrary. Firstly because what is written in the agreement is nothing but the “systemization”, set out for the first time in a comprehensive text, of what already existed in the Brazilian code, even if at times only on the level of practice and not always explicit and indisputable. Secondly, because, in almost every article, two basic requirements are referred to: compliance with Brazilian laws and equal treatment with other confessions. So no privilege, no discrimination. Indeed, one may well say that with this agreement the Church further promotes religious freedom and facilitates legal relations with the State for other religious institutions.
Benedict XVI and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in private audience in the Vatican on 13 November 2008 <BR> [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in private audience in the Vatican on 13 November 2008
[© Osservatore Romano]

Among the main points, however, there is also Catholic teaching in public schools ... Does that not disturbe the secular nature of the State?
BALDISSERI: Religious instruction in Brazil is already provided for in the Constitution and the basic Law on school education. The agreement, moving along those lines, speaks of “multi-confessional” religious instruction. Let me quote the clause: “Religious teaching, whether Catholic or of other religions, freely chosen, is a normal part of the timetable of public schools providing basic teaching, while respecting the cultural and religious diversity of Brazil in conformity with the Constitution and other laws in force, without any form of discrimination”. So this agreement offers a guarantee for other denominations, and it is the first time that such a thing happens in a treaty with the Holy See. As for secularism, it would Among the points in the agreement there is also the allotment of religious spaces in urban planning and there is also mention of missionaries. In what terms?
BALDISSERI: The first of these two points refers to the fact that finally in urban development space will be planned and guaranteed also for religious service, so for parishes, chapels, pastoral centers. Adequate space, in short, in the new urban settlements, in the suburbs. And this is important for an expanding country like Brazil. As for the reference to missionaries, it is stipulated that a bishop can ensure their entry to Brazil. Obtaining a visa from the State, after a positive opinion from a bishop, will also facilitate monitoring the entry of missionaries to Brazil.
The agreement ensures spiritual help in health care, social welfare and prison facilities. But wasn’t that already established?
BALDISSERI: In fact that, too, is dealt with in the Brazilian code in an article of the Constitution (article 5, clause VII), and practice confirms the substantial openness of the facilities in question to effective application of the law. Of course, having explicitly confirmed and further defined it in the agreement will better ensure pastoral workers in the exercise of their ministry, in practice not always free of obstacles.
What about religious help to the armed forces?
BALDISSERI: The matter is already regulated by a special agreement signed between the Holy See and Brazil in 1989, expressly cited and confirmed in the last article of our Agreement. In addition, Article 3 of the signed text mentions the Military Chaplaincy among the ecclesiastical institutions whose legal status is recognized.
The speech by Bishop Dominique Mamberti in the presence of President Lula and the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone [© Osservatore Romano]

The speech by Bishop Dominique Mamberti in the presence of President Lula and the Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone [© Osservatore Romano]

You were present at all the delicate stages of the negotiations. Did you encounter any particular difficulties?
BALDISSERI: The rather rapid progress of the negotiations demonstrated the willingness of the government. Obviously some difficulty there had to be, not least because it was a matter of mediating between the needs, on the one hand, of such an alive and variegated Church as that of Brazil – the largest in the world in terms of faithful – and on the other a civil service of gigantic proportions. Suffice it to say that the points dealt with in the agreement came within the jurisdiction of eleven ministries, plus other public bodies, not counting the Presidency of the Republic. Personally, as apostolic nuncio, I was untroubled and fully committed to this service to the Church in Brazil and the Holy See, having at my side capable and competent colleagues and I must express my satisfaction and gratitude for the prompt reception and openness shown us by the current government of Brazil, in particular by President Lula, ably assisted by Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and his competent team of collaborators. A special mention should also be made of the role played with intelligence and respect by the President’s Head of Cabinet, Gilberto Carvalho. All this has made it possible in a relatively short time to reach a successful outcome to the negotiations and the signing.
You were present at the official signing ceremony in the Vatican. The signing of the Treaty was preceded by a private audience between the Pope and the President of Brazil, and followed by a meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State. What was the form of those talks?
BALDISSERI: There were conducted in an atmosphere of calm friendliness. There was an exchange of views on issues relating to the international and regional situation. The President then wished to underline the historic importance of the role of the Church in restoring democracy in Brazil, and spoke of his personal experience, having grown up in a Catholic milieu. One felt that for the President the signing was a gesture of gratitude to the Church. It was also an opportunity to appreciate the work of the President and Brazil’s relations with the Catholic Church and the Holy See.
The signing at the Vatican was not the last step, however. Now the agreement must be ratified by the Brazilian parliament...
BALDISSERI: Yes, the no less important stage of parliamentary ratification remains, whereby the agreement will become part of the Brazilian code of law. But I’m very confident about the finishing stretch also.

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