Portuguese temperament was at its ambivalent best during the recent visit of the pope, says Teotónio R de Souza
The folksy Portuguese tend to voice their opinions loudly about everything under the sun, and the more ignorant amongst them are generally the loudest. By and large, it is a people that boil in very little water (ferve em pouca água) but bear no malice. As they call it, it is all "de boca para fora". This is generally accepted by the Portuguese themselves as their national trait of má lingua (love of gossip), to which could be added the other trait, of mutual jealousy. The Portuguese chronicler of Discoveries and author of the classic Decades of Asia, João de Barros has recorded his characterisation of the Portuguese, who suffer more with the well-being of others than with their own misfortunes. It can be relished better in his original version: "Ao português mais dói o bem do outro do que o mal próprio." On 13 May, like on most of those monthly unlucky dates, sizeable crowds of Portuguese rushed to Our Lady of Fatima to seek solutions for the crises that their politicians generally contribute to aggravate the existing ones. So it has been ever since the birth of the first Portuguese Republic, which this year completes 100 years, half of these spent under Salazar's dictatorial regime of doubtful republicanism. But even the first Republic, like its ground model – the French Revolution and Jacobinism – proclaimed Liberty, Fraternity and Equality with a generous dose of high-handed legislative measures and use of a variety of pressures, without having to resort to the French expertise of the guillotine. It is just like saying that Goans were converted to Christianity with no use of force. Admirers of the enlightened despot the Marquis de Pombal, the republican free-masons, erected for him an eye-filling statue in the middle of the capital city of Lisbon. They too resented the clerical influence upon the popular masses, which they preferred to see bullied by their own `enlightened' ways. Fatima was a Church response to the republican high-handedness that sought to delink the state from the church. The republican free-masons were not very coherent or consistent in their policies. For instance, they did not renounce Portugal's Padroado claims overseas, particularly in India. The anti-clerical republicans did not want to lose the church links for their political influence overseas. They even confirmed the budget that was worked out under the monarchy to commemorate 400 years of the conquest of Goa, with a solemn and extraordinary exposition of the relics St Francis Xavier in December 1910. In the last month of May, the Portuguese put up yet another show of the volatility of their emotions and their compulsive desire to cut a figure of an advanced and modern people. The Portuguese masses are easily carried by their elite gentry in the mimicry of modernism. The Portuguese are not unaware of this national trait, for which they have coined the saying: "Para o inglês ver!" Which means: "to impress the English". Following the unfavourable publicity that Pope Benedict XVI received throughout Europe, including Portugal, alleging that he was responsible for leniency towards clerical paedophiles, the overall evaluation of the Pope's visit to Portugal was unexpectedly very positive, without a shade of the virulence that was in air before the visit. Several factors may have contributed to this `miracle' that transformed the public image of the Pope, who came as pilgrim to Fatima. On his arrival, the Pope praised the historic and glorious role Portugal played in the missionary expansion worldwide since the 16th century. St John de Britto's link with India was not forgotten! The Pope expressed his desire to see Portugal continuing its mission in Europe and the world today, where he saw God being replaced with alternatives that led people nowhere. Such an encomium won over the Portuguese soul during the rest of the visit. The pious demeanour of President Cavaco and his wife, who assiduously accompanied the Pope in all his major engagements, certainly meant much as a sign of national welcome, even though a few days later the same President signed into law a bill that legalised gay marriages. The constitutional procedures left no alternative to his approval, but his subdued comments were dictated by a political strategy that could guarantee his re-election as President for a second term. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon was quick to react, and voiced his disappointment. He did not go to the length of describing the move in terms of 30 silver pieces that proved sufficient to sell Jesus to his killers, but implied it in many words that questioned the incongruity between personal convictions and political gains, usually presented by politicians as national needs. What Portugal is also expectantly looking forward to is the winding up of the 10 year-long paedophilia scandal that opened the millennium. The public feeling is that the guilty with high political connections will get away lightly, perhaps with tough-sounding admonitions not very different from those one hears these days from Monsignor Scicluna, threatening the paedophile priests with fires of hell. Much depends on who believes in the existence of Hell. Even if all believed, it would not justify sending the judges on permanent holidays. The Vatican has already come under fire from gay groups for linking homosexuality with paedophilia. But in Portugal at least, the legalisation of gay weddings and soft-pedalling on the paedophilia scandal have coincided in time. But Portugal has a long history of sodomites and `fanchonos' that fills heaps of documentation of the Portuguese Inquisition archives. Luiz Mott, a renowned anthropologist of Brazil, has published extensively on this aspect of Portuguese history. But long before, it was the subject of two novels of Abel Botelho, one of those who designed the republican flag of Portugal. In his two novels, O Barão de Lavos and O Livro de Alda, he pointed to the intensity of male and female homosexuality in Portugal as a national pathology. The evil consequences of the separation of males and females in a small population of Portugal at the time of the Voyages of Discoveries appear described in the Autos, the celebrated dramatic performances of Gil Vicente. But it is in the Autos da Fé and death penalties of the Iberian inquisitions that we see the scale and the tragic fate of those involved in `pecado nefando' (monstrous sin, sodomy). The secret prisons of the Inquisition were specially reserved for these. The Inquisition records of the sodomites cover all sections of Portuguese society, not excluding the religious and clerics of all ages and hierarchical levels. By way of conclusion, it would be too facile to attribute the scandal of priestly paedophilia solely to the clerical celibacy. The cultural ambiance certainly has its responsibilities.
TEOTÓNIO R DE SOUZA
(director da Lic. em História na ULHT)