No. 54.
Mr. Shannon to Mr. Fish.

No. 157.]

Sir: The struggle between the ecclesiastical and civil powers in Brazil begins to assume an aspect of grave political importance.

After the receipt of the papal bull of the 29th of May last, applauding the course of the bishop of Olinda in interdicting the various religious brotherhoods of his diocese, because they declined to expel, upon his order, those of their members who were Free-Masons, all the other bishops took open stand against the government. One after another they publicly announced it as their resolute purpose to faithfully obey any and all instructions which His Holiness might send them, being firmly convinced that, though Brazilians, their first allegiance was due to Rome.

Thus the government was forced to the adoption of extreme measures, and since the opposition of the bishop of Olinda had been more vigorous and even defiant than that of any of his colleagues, he having persistently refused to obey the resolution of the council of state of the 12th of June, it was finally resolved to bring that prelate to trial.

It had been decided in September to take this step, but three months [Page 82] passed away before the preliminary legal forms of citation, response, and indictment had been concluded, and then it was announced that the supreme tribunal of justice had found a true bill, charging the bishop with an unbailable offense. His arrest was immediately ordered, and early in January he was brought to the capital and confined in the arsenal of marine. The trial began on the 18th ultimo, amid much public interest, and on the following 21st resulted in the conviction of the accused, who was condemned, under article 96 of the criminal code, to four years’ imprisonment at hard labor.

As the terms of the sentence present a clear and succinct view of the main points in dispute between the civil and ecclesiastical powers in Brazil, I give the text in full:

Considering that the brotherhoods are associations of a mixed nature; that the temporal and spiritual powers alike concur in their organization, the statutes being approved in their spiritual part by the prelates, and confirmed by the government or by the provincial assemblies, (law of Sept. 28, 1828, art. 2, § 11,) and therefore subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction in their spiritual part, and to the civil and temporal jurisdiction in all their exhibits;

Considering that the qualifications required for persons to belong to such associations are not an object of a spiritual nature; considering it is indispensable that, besides the will of the founders, the two powers should concur in the establishment of regulations which are to govern these associations and to fix the rights and obligations of it& members, such regulations cannot be reformed or altered by one alone of the two powers, without the co-operation of the other and the intervention of the brotherhood. (Resolution of the council of state, January 15, 1867;)

Considering that the declaration that a certain class, or individuals, are incapable of belonging to such associations, for reasons not set forth in the regulations, amounts to a reform or alteration of them;

Considering that the accused ordered the Board of the Brotherhood of the Most Holy Sacrament of the parish of Santo Antonio to expel from its body a certain and determined person because he belonged to the society of Free-Masons, an association permitted by the laws of the empire; ordering likewise the expulsion of all other members who were in the same situation;

Considering that when the brotherhood refused to carry out such order, as being contrary to its engagements, the accused launched the penalty of interdiction, without proceeding to any inquiry, or even hearing the interested parties;

Considering that in this proceeding the accused usurped the jurisdiction of the temporal power, and, furthermore, used notorious violence in the exercise of the spiritual power, ignoring, in the imposition of the very grave penalty of interdiction, natural right and the canons of the Brazilian church, which do not allow the condemnation of any one without a hearing, and without the observance of the rules of defense;

Considering that when the appeal to the Crown, authorized by decree 1911, of March 28, 1857, in conformity with preceding legislation, was taken, the accused denied its legality, and when the said appeal was decided, and the imperial resolution transmitted to the accused to be carried out, he not only disobeyed it, but incitied the vicars to do the same, threatening them with the penalty of suspension “ex informata conseientia,” of which one who showed hesitation was a victim;

Considering that the accused, who, as a public employé, (additional act to the constitution of the empire, art. 10, § 7,) should, in his high position, have been prompt and solicitous to fulfill, and cause his subordinates to fulfill, the laws of the country, rendered his formal refusal to obey a lawful order still graver by going so far as to declare heretical the matter of appeal to the Crown and the placet. (See his note of June 6, 1873;)

Considering, lastly, that, for the reasons set forth, the present case is within the jurisdiction of the tribunal, and that the accused has by his course impeded and prevented the due effects of the order of the executive which were contained in those resolutions, as is fully proved in the papers, the court judges that the bishop, D. Vital Maria Gonsalves de Oliviera, has incurred the penalty of article 96 of the criminal code, and so sentence him to four years of imprisonment with labor and costs.

Article 96 of the criminal code reads as follows:

Obstructing or preventing in any manner the effect of decisions of the moderative or executive powers, which are conformable to the constitution and the laws. Penalty: Imprisonment at hard labor for from two to six years.

The conviction of the bishop of Olinda had been generally anticipated; yet when the fact became known and began to be realized, the public sentiment was shocked. Never before in the history of Brazil [Page 83] had a prince of the church been condemned to prison like a common felon! There was at once a strong revulsion of popular feeling, and, judging by the present tone of the daily press, a ministerial crisis is not far off. If not a complete dissolution, a modification, at least, of the present ministry is expected, since its members appear unable to agree upon the course to be pursued with the condemned bishop; some being in favor of granting him a full pardon, and others insisting upon the commutation of the sentence to simple imprisonment.

When it was decided in September last to bring the bishop of Olinda to trial, it was decided at the same time to send a special mission to Rome. That mission was confided to Baron Penedo, the Brazilian envoy at London; and its object, as set forth in the foreign minister’s instructions, was to persuade “the Pope to cease encouraging the bishops in their disobedience,” and “to counsel them rather to proceed in conformity with the constitution and laws.” The envoy was also distinctly told that “the bishop of Olinda would be brought to trial, and that even other more energetic legal measures would be adopted, if found necessary, whatever might be the result of the mission.” Finally, he was instructed to “use moderate but firm language,” and to represent that “the imperial government did not ask a favor, but only claimed what was just.”

The result of Baron Penedo’s mission, which terminated in November, has, I believe, until very recently, been regarded as satisfactory by this government. It consisted of a note from the cardinal secretary, “deploring the grave conflict that had arisen between the civil and ecclesiastical powers in Brazil,” and stating that His Holiness was “disposed to adopt those measures which, in his wisdom and paternal benevolence toward Brazilian Catholics, he should judge opportune to bring that conflict to a close; expecting, however, that the imperial government on its part would concur for the removal of all obstacles tending to retard the accomplishment of the desired end.”

Baron Penedo also states that he was shown a letter addressed to the bishop of Olinda, censuring his course and instructing him to recall his pastorals interdicting the various brotherhoods of his diocese. This letter, of which the Brazilian envoy does not seem to have obtained a copy, was forwarded through the internuncio here, and reached the bishop of Olinda when he was already confined as a prisoner in the arsenal of marine. That letter has not yet been published, and it is asserted, furthermore, that this government has not yet been able to obtain a copy.

That the results of Baron Penedo’s mission are not now regarded here with the same satisfaction as at first, may be inferred from the fact that a new agent, already in Rome, has been instructed to use his good offices in convincing the Holy See of Brazil’s continued loyalty to the Church.

Thus the “religious question” bids fair to occupy the chief attention of the chambers during the next session. Various practical reforms, it is said, will be brought forward, and some of them may become laws, since it is hardly to be supposed that so much discussion will be allowed to result in nothing.

There are those even who look for the separation of the Church from the state, but the adoption of so radical a measure is hardly probable now. It would be more reasonable to hope for the legalization of civil marriage, or a civil registry, or the secularization of cemeteries, or possibly for the revocation of that singular clause of the constitution which provides that houses constructed for the worship of other religions than the Roman Catholic “shall” not have the exterior form of a “temple.”

I am, &c.,