- The Catholic Church and the Catholic religion together represent the oldest and most enduring of all Portuguese institutions. Because its origins as an institution go back at least to the middle of the third century, if not earlier, the Christian and later the Catholic Church is much older than any other Portuguese institution or major cultural influence, including the monarchy (lasting 770 years) or Islam (540 years). Indeed, it is older than Portugal (869 years) itself. The Church, despite its changing doctrine and form, dates to the period when Roman Lusitania was Christianized.In its earlier period, the Church played an important role in the creation of an independent Portuguese monarchy, as well as in the colonization and settlement of various regions of the shifting Christian-Muslim frontier as it moved south. Until the rise of absolutist monarchy and central government, the Church dominated all public and private life and provided the only education available, along with the only hospitals and charity institutions. During the Middle Ages and the early stage of the overseas empire, the Church accumulated a great deal of wealth. One historian suggests that, by 1700, one-third of the land in Portugal was owned by the Church. Besides land, Catholic institutions possessed a large number of chapels, churches and cathedrals, capital, and other property.Extensive periods of Portuguese history witnessed either conflict or cooperation between the Church as the monarchy increasingly sought to gain direct control of the realm. The monarchy challenged the great power and wealth of the Church, especially after the acquisition of the first overseas empire (1415-1580). When King João III requested the pope to allow Portugal to establish the Inquisition (Holy Office) in the country and the request was finally granted in 1531, royal power, more than religion was the chief concern. The Inquisition acted as a judicial arm of the Catholic Church in order to root out heresies, primarily Judaism and Islam, and later Protestantism. But the Inquisition became an instrument used by the crown to strengthen its power and jurisdiction.The Church's power and prestige in governance came under direct attack for the first time under the Marquis of Pombal (1750-77) when, as the king's prime minister, he placed regalism above the Church's interests. In 1759, the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal, although they were allowed to return after Pombal left office. Pombal also harnessed the Inquisition and put in place other anticlerical measures. With the rise of liberalism and the efforts to secularize Portugal after 1820, considerable Church-state conflict occurred. The new liberal state weakened the power and position of the Church in various ways: in 1834, all religious orders were suppressed and their property confiscated both in Portugal and in the empire and, in the 1830s and 1840s, agrarian reform programs confiscated and sold large portions of Church lands. By the 1850s, Church-state relations had improved, various religious orders were allowed to return, and the Church's influence was largely restored. By the late 19th century, Church and state were closely allied again. Church roles in all levels of education were pervasive, and there was a popular Catholic revival under way.With the rise of republicanism and the early years of the First Republic, especially from 1910 to 1917, Church-state relations reached a new low. A major tenet of republicanism was anticlericalism and the belief that the Church was as much to blame as the monarchy for the backwardness of Portuguese society. The provisional republican government's 1911 Law of Separation decreed the secularization of public life on a scale unknown in Portugal. Among the new measures that Catholics and the Church opposed were legalization of divorce, appropriation of all Church property by the state, abolition of religious oaths for various posts, suppression of the theology school at Coimbra University, abolition of saints' days as public holidays, abolition of nunneries and expulsion of the Jesuits, closing of seminaries, secularization of all public education, and banning of religious courses in schools.After considerable civil strife over the religious question under the republic, President Sidónio Pais restored normal relations with the Holy See and made concessions to the Portuguese Church. Encouraged by the apparitions at Fátima between May and October 1917, which caused a great sensation among the rural people, a strong Catholic reaction to anticlericalism ensued. Backed by various new Catholic organizations such as the "Catholic Youth" and the Academic Center of Christian Democracy (CADC), the Catholic revival influenced government and politics under the Estado Novo. Prime Minister Antônio de Oliveira Salazar was not only a devout Catholic and member of the CADC, but his formative years included nine years in the Viseu Catholic Seminary preparing to be a priest. Under the Estado Novo, Church-state relations greatly improved, and Catholic interests were protected. On the other hand, Salazar's no-risk statism never went so far as to restore to the Church all that had been lost in the 1911 Law of Separation. Most Church property was never returned from state ownership and, while the Church played an important role in public education to 1974, it never recovered the influence in education it had enjoyed before 1911.Today, the majority of Portuguese proclaim themselves Catholic, and the enduring nature of the Church as an institution seems apparent everywhere in the country. But there is no longer a monolithic Catholic faith; there is growing diversity of religious choice in the population, which includes an increasing number of Protestant Portuguese as well as a small but growing number of Muslims from the former Portuguese empire. The Muslim community of greater Lisbon erected a Mosque which, ironically, is located near the Spanish Embassy. In the 1990s, Portugal's Catholic Church as an institution appeared to be experiencing a revival of influence. While Church attendance remained low, several Church institutions retained an importance in society that went beyond the walls of the thousands of churches: a popular, flourishing Catholic University; Radio Re-nascenca, the country's most listened to radio station; and a new private television channel owned by the Church. At an international conference in Lisbon in September 2000, the Cardinal Patriarch of Portugal, Dom José Policarpo, formally apologized to the Jewish community of Portugal for the actions of the Inquisition. At the deliberately selected location, the place where that religious institution once held its hearings and trials, Dom Policarpo read a declaration of Catholic guilt and repentance and symbolically embraced three rabbis, apologizing for acts of violence, pressures to convert, suspicions, and denunciation.
Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. by Douglas L. Wheeler . 2014.
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