Some church leaders say an agreement by Roman Catholic officials and nine Protestant bodies in Chile to mutually recognize baptisms will force churches to practice what has been on the books. Catholic canon law officially recognizes Protestant baptisms.
"There have been serious problems at grassroots levels, especially when Roman Catholic schools have refused to recognize the validity of Protestant certificates when presented in the admission process," says John Cobb, an Anglican missionary in Chile.
The agreement, signed in May, calls for the development of a common, recognizable certificate, and it expresses hope that "this document serves as a step along the way toward the visible unity of the single body of Christ, so that the world [may] believe."
While viewed as a major step forward, Cobb says that no large Pentecostal groups signed, meaning that at least 85 percent of the country's Protestants are not included. The biggest missing denominations include the Pentecostal Methodist Church and the Pentecostal Church of Chile.
Anglican bishop Hector Zavala did not sign as a representative of his church but as the vice president of the Ecumenical Fraternity, the body that led a two-year study on the subject. Zavala expressed concerns about the wording of parts of the agreement but has supported the concept of mutual recognition.
Meanwhile, the Chilean Bishops Conference (CEHC) is opposing a bill before the nation's senate that would recognize the legal equality of all faiths. The CEHC declared the Catholic church should receive preferential status because of its historical majority.
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