Portugal and the Vatican have agreed on a change in their concordat with regard to divorce, the Justice Minister, Dr Francisco Salgado Zenha, said in a speech published in Lisbon on Monday.
The change was believed to allow Portuguese couples married under Catholic rites to: obtain a divorce. At present they Forbidden to do so by the 1940 concordat which governs relations between the Portuguese State and the Catholic Church.
Senhor Pinheiro Farinha, the Portuguese Attorney-General, who returned from negotiations in the Vatican at the weekend, told reporters a "mutually satisfactory solution" had been found.
The government statement said the agreement would be submitted for approval by the competent authorities of the two sides.
Dr Salgado Zenha, addressing a Socialist Party rally in Coimbra on Sunday, said the change would probably come into effect next month. He had already indicated that the aim of the negotiations was to make divorce generally available. At present it is only available to couples married outside the Catholic Church. A few days
before Dr Salgado Zenha's announcement, Portugal's bishops charged the government with violating agreements on Catholic schools and other Church activities.
Deploring a wave of anti-I Church rallies, the 19 bishops said last week that the government '''is successfully manoeuvring for the removal of Church influence in such sectors as education, in which the Church has a right and a duty to be because of existing agreements." .
The bishops were reternng to the concordat of 1940 to regulate Church-State relations in fields of mutual concern, such as education — religion and morals are taught in public schools under the supervision of Church authorities -marriage laws and missionary activities.
The bishops said they hoped to avoid confrontation with'the government, but added: "We cannot remain silent in the face of a campaign of defamation, calumny and violence."
They added: "We consider that forces within and outside the Church have joined together in an attempt to neutralise its action in fields legitimately belonging to it.
"By doing so, the opponents risk provoking religious conflict and unrest, which will not benefft the people, nor the new regime nor the Church."
The bishops said their mission "is to safeguard the Church's integrity" against "those who question its authority and act contrary to the Christian spirit of unity and reconciliation."