Gonçalves, Vital María Oliveira de

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Capuchin bishop of Olinda and Recife; b. Pedras de Fogo, Pernambuco, Brazil, Nov. 27, 1844; d. Paris, July 4, 1878. Vital, the son of Capt. Antonio Gonçalves and Antonia Albia de Oliveira, attended school in Itambá and Recife, the seminary in Olinda, and Saint-Sulpice in Paris. On July 16, 1863, he entered the Capuchin Order in Versailles, and on Aug. 15, 1863 received the habit and the name Frei Vital María de Pernambuco. He was ordained on Aug. 2, 1863 and returned to Brazil in November. Frei Vital taught philosophy in the seminary of São Paulo until he was nominated by Pedro II to the bishopric of Olinda and Recife on May 21, 1871. He was consecrated in the cathedral of São Paulo on March 17, 1872, and made his solemn entrance into his diocese on May 24. As bishop he was destined to play a pivotal role in the major Church-State crisis of the Brazilian empire, the religious question that disturbed Brazil between 1872 and 1875. The first overt attack of Masonry on a Brazilian bishop was occasioned after the disciplinary action Bp. Pedro Maria de Lacerda of Rio de Janeiro took against a priest in March 1872 for public participation in a Masonic festival. Brazilian Freemasonry began an all-out campaign against what the fraternity called the ultramontanism of the Brazilian hierarchy, with the French-educated Vital as the chief target. The second phase began when the Masonic press of Recife announced that on the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, June 30, 1872, the Masonic lodge of Recife would commemorate the anniversary of its founding by having a Mass celebrated in St. Peter's church. Vital ordered the clergy not to participate, and no Mass was celebrated. In reprisal, the fraternity published the names of clerical and lay members of the Catholic brotherhoods who were affiliates of Masonry. Bishop Vital ordered all clerics to abjure Masonry and directed the brotherhoods to expel members who refused to abandon Masonry. When a brotherhood challenged the bishop's directive by availing itself of its constitutional safeguard, the right of recourse to the crown, the crisis moved from a contest between Freemasonry and the episcopacy to a Church-State issue involving the right of the government to control the spiritual prerogatives of the Catholic hierarchy.

The imperial government attempted settlement by an indirect appeal to Vital, presented to him by an imperial minister who was also a relative, urging him not to meddle in the affairs of the Masonic lodges. Vital, unintimidated by the government's action, placed recalcitrant religious associations under interdict. The imperial committee that reviewed the brotherhoods' recourse to the crown charged Vital with violation of the constitution. He was tried Feb. 18, 1874, found guilty, and sentenced to four years of hard labor, which was commuted to a four-year imprisonment. Vital had been joined by Bp. Antonio de macedo costa of Pará, who was similarly charged, indicted, tried, and then imprisoned.

Popular reaction embarrassed the imperial government to the point that it dispatched a special mission to Rome to persuade the Holy See to force the bishops to retract their spiritual penalties against the Masonic-infiltrated brotherhoods. The mission failed and the Emperor extracted himself from the impasse by granting amnesty to the two bishops, Sept. 17, 1875.

Vital, knowing that many false impressions had been created in Rome, left on Oct. 5, 1875 to present his case at the Vatican. He died in Paris. In 1882 his body was returned to Brazil and buried in Recife. On July 25, 1953, the diocesan process for his beatification was initiated.

Bibliography: f. guerra, A questão religiosa do segundo império brasileiro (Rio do Janeiro 1952). f. de olÍvola, Um grande brasileiro (Recife 1936).

[c. thornton]