THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE PORTUGUESE DICTATORIAL REGIME: THE CASE OF PAUL VI’S VISIT TO FÁTIMA

Duncan Simpson: excerpt from "THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
AND THE PORTUGUESE DICTATORIAL REGIME: THE CASE OF PAUL VI’S VISIT TO FÁTIMA"

"The little-studied visit to Fátima of Paul VI on 13 May 1967 is an event of particular significance for the understanding of the nature of rela- tions between Church and State under Salazar.

In order to fully grasp its implications as to the place of the Catholic Church in the Estado Novo, we shall first establish the historical back- ground to the visit. A brief history of the relations between Church and State since 1928 will allow us to broadly define these as relations of per- sistent collaboration seemingly evolving towards loosened association. A focused study of the 1964 Bombay crisis and 1965 Rosa de Ouro episode will enable us to define this collaboration more closely – as one conducted under the strongly instrumentalist control of the political regime – and observe the mechanisms of political appropriation of religious events by the State, as well as the political symbolism of the Fátima shrine itself.

Secondly, we shall study the diplomacy which preceded the papal visit and observe that the Portuguese dictatorial regime, despite its opposition to the process of aggiornamento in the Roman Catholic Church, intervened actively in order to “secure” the presence of Paul VI in Portugal. Contrary to Salazar’s claims, it did not hesitate to intervene within the internal life of the Church for political motives, assisted as it did so by the majority of the national ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Thirdly, we will analyse the inevitable politicisation of the visit, despite the Pope’s efforts to the con- trary. The political regime, with the collaboration of the national Catholic hierarchy, was effectively able to adapt the visit to its own needs and appropriate the papal Legate’s visit politically, while measures such as the 13 May 1967 national bank holiday called into question the much- asserted separation of Church and State. Fourthly, we shall observe that the regime, again supported by the national hierarchy – and largely unhampered by the Pope himself –, succeeded in actively associating itself to the private pilgrimage of Paul VI to Fátima. Finally, we shall turn our attention to the effects of the visit in Portugal herself. Efficient pro- paganda meant it served to effectively “legitimise” the colonial wars, re- affirm the regime’s ideological basis, and strengthen its domestic position politically by “cornering” the opposition further, evidence of the funda- mental role of the Portuguese Catholic Church in legitimising the Estado Novo still in 1967."