Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Changes After the Revolution of 1974

In the Portuguese constitution of 1976, church and state were again formally separated. The church continues to have a special place in Portugal, but for the most part it has been disestablished. Other religions are now free to organize and practice their beliefs.

In addition to constitutional changes, Portugal became a more secular society. Traditional Roman Catholicism flourished while Portugal was overwhelmingly poor, rural, and illiterate, but as the country became more urban, literate, and secular, the practice of religion declined. The number of men becoming priests fell, as did charitable offerings and attendance at mass. By the early 1990s, most Portuguese still considered themselves Roman Catholic in a vaguely cultural and religious sense, but only about one-third of them attended mass regularly. Indifference to religion was most likely among men and young people. Regular churchgoers were most often women and young children.

The church no longer had its former social influence. During the nineteenth century and on into the Salazar regime, the church was one of the most powerful institutions in the country--along with the army and the economic elite. In fact, military, economic, governmental, and religious influences in Portugal were closely intertwined and interrelated, often literally so. Traditionally, the first son of elite families inherited land, the second went into the army, and the third became a bishop. By the early 1990s, however, the Roman Catholic Church no longer enjoyed this preeminence but had fallen to seventh or eighth place in power among Portuguese interest groups.

By the 1980s, the church seldom tried to influence how Portuguese voted, knowing such attempts would probably backfire. During the height of the revolutionary turmoil in the mid-1970s, the church urged its communicants to vote for centrist and conservative candidates and to repudiate communists, especially in northern Portugal, but after that the church refrained from such an overt political role. The church was not able to prevent the enactment of the constitution of 1976, which separated church and state, nor could it block legislation liberalizing divorce and abortion, issues it regarded as moral and within the realm of its responsibility.

Data as of January 1993