Secret Dialogues

Church-State Relations, Torture, and Social Justice in Authoritarian Brazil

Serbin's carefully researched book reveals the importance of informal and secret channels between church and state under the Brazilian military government. Bishop Dom Avelar asked, 'Where does social justice end and subversion begin?' Serbin's fascinating account of how the Brazilian church and Brazilian military sought to negotiate the answer to this question in private, in order to prevent a definitive rupture between the government and the church, forces reexamination of the Brazilian military government in the 1960s and 1970s and perhaps even of the nature of moral opposition under authoritarian regimes.
Brian Loveman, San Diego State University

Secret Dialogues uncovers an unexpected development in modern Latin American history: the existence of secret talks between generals and Roman Catholic bishops at the height of Brazil's military dictatorship. During the brutal term of Emílio Garrastazú Médici, the Catholic Church became famous for its progressivism. However, new archival sources demonstrate that the church also sought to retain its privileges and influence by exploring a potential alliance with the military. From 1970 to 1974 the secret Bipartite Commission worked to resolve church-state conflict and to define the boundary between social activism and subversion. As the bishops increasingly made defense of human rights their top pastoral and political goal, the Bipartite became an important forum of protest against torture and social injustice. Based on more than 60 interviews and primary sources from three continents, Secret Dialogues is a major addition to the historical narrative of the most violent yet, ironically, the least studied period of the Brazilian military regime. Its story is intertwined with the central themes of the era: revolutionary warfare, repression, censorship, the fight for democracy, and the conflict between Catholic notions of social justice and the anticommunist Doctrine of National Security.

Secret Dialogues is the first book of its kind on the contemporary Catholic Church in any Latin American country, for most work in this field is devoid of primary documentary research. Serbin questions key assumptions about church-state conflict such as the typical conservative-progressive dichotomy and the notion of church-state rupture during harsh authoritarian periods. Secret Dialogues is written for undergraduate and graduate students, professional scholars, and the general reader interested in Brazil, Latin America, military dictatorship, human rights, and the relationship between religion and politics.

about the author

Kenneth Serbin

Kenneth P. Serbin is assistant professor of history at the University of San Diego. He received his B.A. in history from Yale (1982) and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego (1993). He was a fellow of the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame (1992) and a research associate of the North-South Center at the University of Miami (1992-1993). His articles have appeared in the Hispanic American Historical Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, Christian Century, National Catholic Reporter, In These Times, and other periodicals.

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Kenneth Serbin