Catholics To Lose State-Church Status

While Roman Catholics remain openly hostile to evangelicals in some Latin American countries, the two communities have joined forces in Paraguay to petition the government to end historic recognition of Roman Catholicism as the state’s official religion. A new constitution would grant unprecedented freedoms to the 165,000 evangelicals among Paraguay’s 4 million citizens.

“It has been a curious thing for [evangelicals] that [Roman Catholics] agreed to form part of this group,” Osvaldo Velásquez, president of the Evangelical Baptist Convention and a principal author of the petition, told News Network International. “It was a pleasant surprise, of course, because for the first time we share common interests.… They are recognizing that we, as Christians, have a contribution to make to the country.”

During the 1980s, evangelical churches and “preaching points” in Paraguay increased from 558 to 1,254.

If the government changes its constitution to favor separation of church and state—as is expected by June—the Roman Catholic church would lose several privileges, including government subsidies and tax benefits, the right to require public-school children to study Catholicism, and exclusive eligibility to seek Paraguay’s presidency.

Jesuit Fr. José Valpuesta said that Catholic clergy since Vatican II have favored a nonconfessional state. “With the passage of time, it has become clear that it is best that each society does not, by any means, impose a confessionality on the state,” he said.

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