Churches defend rejection of agreement in Brazil

Churches defend rejection of agreement between the Brazilian government and the Vatican

Religious organizations claim that agreement signed in 2008 suggests prevalence of the Catholic faith; Conference of Bishops denies privileges and says the Holy See has agreements with 70 countries

Churches, religious groups, experts and congressmen who oppose the agreement between the Brazilian government and the Holy See on November 2008 asked for the rejection of the document by the Brazilian Congress.

The document, which took more than a year to be negotiated - the Catholic Church demanded it for more than a decade -, was signed during president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s visit to pope Benedict 16 and it might get to the Chamber of Deputies in the next few days.

According to religious denominations and even Catholic groups that defend a laic State, the document suggests the prevalance of the Catholic faith above others and threatens the laic teaching at public schools. The lack of public debates about the agreement is also an object of cristicism.

The College of Bishops of the Methodist Church made a public statement against its approval, for considering that it goes against the 19th article of the Constitution - that forbids relations of dependence or alliance among the Union and churches and the “discrimination or preference among Brazilians”. “We reassert the right of religious freedom as one of the essential columns of a democratic society”, the statement says.

The coordinator for the group Catholics for Choice, Maria José Rosado Nunes, recalls that Brazil never needed to sign similar agreements because religious freedom is garanteed. “It was an agreement that was secretly negotiated,” she says. As an example, she mentions the excerpt that says, “the religious classes, Catholic and from other religious creeds”.

The teacher also emphasizes the advantage of the Catholic Church on religious classes in public schools. “With its power on the field of education, it puts in motion all of its apparatus to turn these classes into Catholic classes”.

The coordinator of projects of the Culture and Faith Center of PUC-SP (Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo), Francisco Borba Ribeiro Neto, disagrees with the argument that the agreement privilege the Catholic faith: “The agreement is even shy, too generic”.

Anthropologist Emerson Giumbelli, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), mentions examples in which the document goes beyond ratification. They are articles that deal with the annulment of religious marriages, the non-employment relations between priests and the church and, when mentioning the public religious classes, the article that would allow Brazil to legislate on other creeds and would insinuate a higher relevancy of a religion.

“Do we need an agreement of this nature on democratic Brazil of today? What would be the impacts on other creeds in a country that welcomes so many of them and tries to treat them equally today?”

Since the signature of the agreement, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) has made efforts to explain that there are no privileges or discrimination. “The recognition of the laic State is a value”, the president of CNBB, bishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha said. The Vatican, a State recognized by the UN, has agreements like this with about 70 countries.

One of the main purposes of the Catholic Church is organizing judicial matters, including labour-related ones. The Holy See revindicates that employment relations among ordained ministers should not be recognized: in recent years, there have been cases of Catholic priests who tried to receive indemnity after leaving the priesthood. The same happened with members of the church who performed voluntary work.

At least two congressmen went public to criticise the agreement. Arolde de Oliveira (Democrats-Rio de Janeiro), who is tied to the Baptist Church, claims its not a religious matter, but one of respect to the Constitution. José Genuíno (Workers’ Party-São Paulo claims his restrictions are based on the defense of a laic State. He wants to request for public hearings at Congress.

After the signature of the agreement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will send the document to the Executive Office, which will send it to the Chamber of Deputies. At the Comission of Foreign Affairs the document will be turned into a Bill of Legislative Decree. Before being voted, it will pass through the Comission of Constitution and Justice. If pass on the Chamber of Deputies, it will be sent to Senate.

These information was published today by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. The report was written by Ana Flor.

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