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Diplomatic Passports for Religious Representatives in Brazil?

Recently a lively debate has been ignited in Brazil after the country's Ministry of External Relations, known as Itamaraty, issued two diplomatic passports [pt] to the heads of the evangelical Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus (World Church of the Power of God) pastor Valdemiro Santiago de Oliveira and his wife Franciléia de Castro Gomes de Oliveira.

The concession of diplomatic passports is regulated in Brazil by constitutional Decree 5.978 [pt] which determines that these official documents can be issued to presidents, vice- presidents, ministers, congressmen, heads of diplomatic missions, ministers of the supreme court and former presidents. However, diplomatic passports have also been traditionally conceded to representatives of the Catholic Church, based on the interpretation of Article 6, Paragraph 3:

Photo of Pastor Valdemiro Santiago on facebook.

Photo of Pastor Valdemiro Santiago from his public Facebook page

…às pessoas que, embora não relacionadas nos incisos deste artigo, devam portá-lo em função do interesse do País.

…to people who, although not listed in this article, need to attain it while fulfilling a role of interest for the country.

Although, as mentioned above, Catholic Church cardinals have benefited from this concession, other religious institutions recognized by the Brazilian state are not excluded from the application for diplomatic passports and indeed other evangelical representatives, such as controversial pastor Edir Macêdo, leader of Brazil's Igreja Universal (Universal Church) have received diplomatic passports in the past.

Thanks to the visibility drawn by the media to this particular case though, the Itamaraty has fallen under heavy criticism by the online community for its decision, sparking a discussion on the institution's power and on the violation of the very notion of secularism enshrined in Brazil's constitution.

A reader of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, Renato Khair, posted the following comment in response to an article [pt] covering the case:

É inaceitável que o governo tenha se utilizado do Itamaraty para fornecer passaporte diplomático para o pasto líder da Igreja Mundial. É uma aberração que pessoas que não preencham os requisitos legais recebam passaporte diplomático, como é o caso dos filhos de Lula, do referido pastor e tantos outros. É desmoralizante o que estão fazendo com o Ministério das Relações Exteriores e o Itamaraty, que eram considerados instituições sérias e respeitadas.

Is is unacceptable that a government makes use of the Itamaraty to concede diplomatic passports to the World Church. It is an aberration that people who do not fulfill the legal requirements get to receive diplomatic passports, such as the sons of former President Lula, the Reverends in question and many others. What’s being done to the Ministry of External Relations is demoralizing institutions that were considered respectable and serious.

Blogger Parsifal Pontes also criticized [pt] the issuing of diplomatic passports by emphasizing:

A nossa chancelaria banaliza de tal maneira o passaporte diplomático que daqui a pouco as autoridades portuárias alhures vão gargalhar quando virem um.

The way in which our ministry takes for granted the concession of diplomatic passports will soon lead foreign customs officials to burst into laughter when they see yet another one.

Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus. Photo by Roberto Castelhano on Flickr.

Igreja Mundial do Poder de Deus. Photo by Roberto Castelhano on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

On Twitter, under #estadolaicoja (secular state now) the general consensus is that the Brazilian state has gone overboard by violating the basic rules of secularism that it is meant to uphold.

Lawyer Thiago G. Viana (@thiago_fiago), who blogs with Comendo o Fruto Proibido, tweeted:

Legalidade, igualdade, moralidade e laicidade: são “só” esses princípios violados pelos passaportes especiais para pastores.

Legality, equality, morality and secularism: these are the “only” principles violated by the special passports for pastors.

Public prosecutor Chico (@chiconob) continues along the same line of thought:

Simplesmente NAO HÁ argumento plausível pra conceder passaporte diplomático pra religiosos. Que vexame!

There is simply no plausible argument to concede a diplomatic passport to religious representatives. How embarrassing!

The discussion online brings to light an old and ongoing debate regarding secularism in the Brazilian state. Although the constitution affirms the independence of State and religion, in practice the concession of diplomatic passports to religious leaders appears to violate this principal, after all, how can a religious leader carry a diplomatic passport without infringing the basic principal of secularism? A representative who carries an official privileged diplomatic pass should not, at any time, harbor a religious flag, let alone preach his/hers religious beliefs on foreign soil.

  • Priscila Souza

    According the Decree mentioned above, it wouldnt be possible to issue the passport to Mr and Mrs. Santiago! I really don’t get to understand how Brazil can be benefit permiting the diplomatic passport for religious leaders. Besides, Brazil is a secular state therefore, there’s no reason to finance a travel with personnel interests. As stated in report, it isn’t the first time did. Last year, Lula’s son got the same advantage but due the negative repercussion, he has to give back the document.

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