This is the story of Brazil’s “Bipartite Commission,” which met secretly between 1970 and 1974, during the height of military rule in the country. The Commission, over the course of some 24 meetings, brought together military officials and Catholic Church leaders. The purpose of the meetings was to revitalize a church-military (“cross and sword,” as Serbin puts it) dialogue damaged by military repression and growing social and political activism on the part of the Catholic Church. Three broad themes addressed by the Commission were economic development and social justice, the growing church-military conflict after decades of cooperation and agreement, and the issue of human rights.

General Antônio Carlos de Silva Muricy, the army chief of staff in 1970, founded the Commission, and was joined on the military side by junior officers from key components of the military’s repressive apparatus. Candido Mendes, the prominent,...

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