Chile, The Catholic Church in
CHILE, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Republic of Chile occupies the southwestern part of the continent of South America. It is bound on the east by Argentina and on the west by the South Pacific Ocean. The Atacama Desert, extremely hot and barren and a source of copper and nitrates, occupies the northern portion, while to the south a temperate, fertile valley occupies the center of the country, with low mountains running along the coast. The southern region is heavily forested, and in the Tierra del Fuego, cold, wet conditions make the region less conducive to agriculture. Chile is separated from Argentina by the more rugged Andes mountain range. Natural resources include copper, iron ore, molybdenum and some precious metals. Agricultural products consist of wheat, corn, grapes, beans, sugar beets, potatoes and fruits. Timber is another important resource, with the manufacture of wood products being one of Chile's chief industries. While Chile claimed the Antarctic Peninsula in 1940, that claim was not recognized internationally; Argentina laid claim to the same region two years later.
Formerly a Spanish viceroyalty of Peru, Chile declared its independence from Spain in 1810 and achieved it after the Battle of Maipo in 1818. During the 17th and 18th centuries the basic wealth was in agriculture; later, mining predominated, especially that of saltpeter (19th century) and of copper (20th century). Chile extended its territory northward during wars with Peru and Bolivia between 1879 and 1883 that resulted in its present boundaries. Increasing economic problems following World War II resulted in the historic 1970 election of Salvador Allende as the first popularly elected Marxist president in the world. A military coup three years later resulted in the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet, during which 15,000 Chileans lost their lives and one tenth of the population fled the country. By the 1980s Chile had the largest per-capita debt in the world, and Pinochet, unable to turn the economy around, resigned in 1989. Civilian government returned with the election of Patricio Aylwin and continued through 2000. Over 90 percent of Chileans are mestizo, while surviving Araucanians account for less than seven percent of the population.
Early History. Part of the Incan empire, the region was home to the Araucanian people, a group whose fierce independence caused problems for Spanish explorers when they arrived in 1536. Among those Catholics who arrived with the conquistadores was Rodrigo González de Marmolejo, who founded the first parish in 1547. Overshadowed by Peru to the north, Chile became a viceroyalty to that region. The native population was forced south, and colonization limited itself to the central region, where Santiago was founded in 1541, La Serena in 1544 and Concepción in 1550. Priests soon entered the region: the Mercedarians in 1550, the Franciscans in 1553, the Dominicans in 1557, the Jesuits in 1593, the Augustinians in 1595 and the Hospitallers of St. John of God in 1617. Similarly, convents of nuns were established, such as Limpia Concepción in Santiago (1574), as well as the lay order of Isabelas de Osorno. The hospital of St. John of God was founded in Santiago in 1541. The bishopric of Santiago was created in 1561, and González became its governor.
Although a shortage of priests and the remoteness of the region continued to hamper the missions, the situation was somewhat remedied by the arrival of Bishop Diego de Medellín and Bishop Antonio de San Miguel in 1569 and 1576 respectively, who organized the Church. It was decided at that time that the doctrina would be supported by the native people themselves; that one doctrinero would serve several towns at the same time; and, finally, that a Spaniard or mestizo would take charge of simple missionary duties during the absence of the doctrinero (see encomienda doctrina system in spanish america). These authorities became the "sayapayos,"—later called "fiscales,"—who achieved a certain amount of importance in Santiago and great influence in Chiloé. Bishops San Miguel of Santiago and Medellín, of the Diocese of La Imperial (created in 1563) attended the Third Council in Lima in 1581, and collaborated so that the decrees of the council on Sacraments, doctrine, catechism for natives and reform and discipline of the clergy would have rapid application in Chile. Following the loss of the southern cities between 1599 and 1602, the bishop of La Imperial moved his see to Concepción.
In the diocese of Santiago and to the north, evangelization efforts met with success. Between 1579 and 1621, the number of baptized Christians rose from 36 to over 90 percent. By 1650 almost all non-aggressive tribes in this region had been baptized, resulting in the replacement of the doctrinas by a parish system that lasted until 1810. In the diocese of Concepción, on the other hand, there were more serious problems; except for Chiloé, the region between the Maule and Bío Bío Rivers and some regions near the forts, the Araucanian rejected Christianity, in part because of the war that was being waged against them. The Jesuit Luis de valdivia maintained that to convert them it would be necessary that the war against the Araucanian initiated in 1553 be suspended
and the entrance of missionaries without military aid should be permitted. Although his ideas were accepted only for a brief period (1610–15), the Jesuits and the Franciscans continued to dedicate themselves to establishing missions among the native tribes through the 19th century.
In spite of clashes with civil powers and conflicts between religious orders in the 17th century, the prelates were able to give a solid base to the clergy and to construct churches, cathedrals and seminaries. The Jesuits founded the Colegio de Castro in Chiloé and developed a system of circulating missions in both bishoprics in order to reach isolated places. In 1700 they created the Colegio de Naturales de Chillán. Still, the Araucanian rebellion waged in the south, continuing on through the 19th century, and Church buildings were frequently destroyed by earthquakes and by invasions of native rebels.
The synods, especially those of Bishop Carracso in 1688, Bishop Alday in 1763 (both in Santiago) and Bishop Azúa in Concepión in 1744, dealt with such problems as the conduct of priests, parochial schools, observance of holidays, catechisms and teaching of the lower classes. After the expulsion of the Jesuits throughout South America in 1767, the Franciscans shouldered all mission activity, as well as the operation of Jesuit colleges. They centralized their activities in the Colegio Misiones in Chillán (1756), from there establishing 16 doctrinas from Chillán to Chiloé. Baptism and other Sacraments were administered, teaching was carried out and native languages were learned to better spread the word of God to native tribes.
An Independent Chile. In the pattern of much of South America, Chile declared itself independent of Spain on Sept. 18, 1810, although its autonomous status would not be recognized for seven more years. In 1817, José de San Martin, the liberator of South America, led 3,200 troops across the Andes and defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Chacabuco and Maipo, forcing the colonial government from the region in 1818. During the struggle for emancipation (1810–18), the Church suffered a grave recession. Bishop Rodríguez of Santiago was exiled because of his royalist sympathies, and the mission college in Chillán was disbanded for similar reasons.
As the new government grappled with Chile's future as a free nation, the division of the clergy increased, reaching a high point between 1824 and 1830. Vicar muzi was sent by the pope to settle ecclesiastical matters, but was unsuccessful and returned to Rome. Despite the fact that Catholicism was the state religion under the 1810 constitution, the government decreed the sequestration of the property of the regular clergy in 1824. Religious services decreased and numerous parishes had no one to serve them; the orders were disorganized and many priests were secularized during the stay of Vicar Muzi.
In 1830, following the stabilization of the Chilean economy due to the discovery of mineral wealth in the Atacama Desert, order was restored and Church institutions were reestablished. The sequestered properties were returned and normal relations were resumed between the government and Rome. Santiago was made an archdiocese, its first archbishop Manuel vicuÑa larraÍn. The Dioceses of La Serena and Ancud were created in 1840. Five years later the archdiocese of Santiago was occupied by Rafael Valentín valdivieso zaÑartu, and in 1854, that of Concepción by José Hipólito Salas Toro, who, both, like their forerunners of the 16th century, carried out far-reaching reforms. The work of Valdivieso in matters relative to offices of the Curia, religious orders, restoration of the seminary, parish schools, etc., gave the Church in Chile a very solid base for the modern period. At the end of the century, with the effective occupation of Antofagasta and Tarapacá, corresponding apostolic vicariates were created.
During the colonial period ethnicity had limited vocations in Chile. While 17 percent of the region's priests were mestizos in 1565, an order from Philip II prohibited the ordination of non-Europeans thereafter. During the colonial period, due to the shortage of priests, men with one-quarter or less Amerindian blood could be ordained, but the general order prevailed until independence; an exception was made when four natives were ordained in 1794 in the Colegio de Naturales de Chillán. After 1810 the new spirit and the greater racial homogeneity caused the prohibition against such ordinations to disappear. Education, which had been exclusively in the hands of the Church throughout the colonial period, was revived after independence, especially with the arrival of new religious orders, and it began to compete with the state in the field of education. In 1888 the Catholic University of Chile was created, approved by Pope Leo XIII on July 28, 1889, and erected canonically by Pius XI, Feb. 11, 1930.
Throughout the 1800s Chile continued to extend its territory, expanding south to Magallanes (1843), Llanquihue (1848) and Araucania (1884), while in the north adding the provinces of Tarapacá and Antofagasta after the War of the Pacific (1879–84) against Peru and Bolivia. The propagation of the faith to the south of Chile was also advanced through the work of Salesians and Capuchins. The six missions of the Colegio de Jesús, in the heart of the Araucanian territory, where no missionary work had been done since the 16th century, had a Christian population of 29 percent in 1892. The Salesians founded missions in the Autral region, aided in their efforts by the Daughters of Mary who had centers in Punta Arenas, Dawson Island and Tierra del Fuego. The Apostolic Prefecture of Araucania, created in 1848, became an apostolic vicariate in 1928.
Non-Catholic Christians appeared in Chile following independence. The first proponents of Protestantism, such as James Thompson in 1821, were agents of the British and Foreign Bible Society and carried out their mission by traveling through the country on foot. The first Anglican church was built in Valparaiso and was inaugurated in 1858. In the south of the country, among German immigrants, there was already a Lutheran group. However, these churches made no great progress because of the limited number of Germans or Englishmen living in Chile. The Methodist Church had greater importance; it grew in Chile from the preaching of the Spaniard Juan Bautista Canut de Bon at the end of the 19th century, for which reason they were called "canutos."
The Modern Church. Prior to 1810 the Church was organized under the patronato, a system of royal patronage exercised by the Spanish sovereigns who took for themselves the right to present prelates, the right to make rules in religious matters, power before tribunals, the placet or permission to receive bulls and pontifical documents, etc. Following independence, the Chilean government also made use of these same prerogatives, without the acceptance of the Holy See. This situation created a crisis after 1850, which lasted until a 1925 agreement was reached through the efforts of President Arturo Alessandri and Archbishop Crescente errÁzuriz of Santiago. The constitution was reformed, establishing a division between Church and State, and, in consequence, the definitive disappearance of patronage. In addition Alessandri and the Holy See reconfirmed the future ability of the Church to govern itself, and endowed it with derecho publico status whereby its independent status could not be challenged by a court of law.
Through the first decades of the 20th century, Chile underwent an economic turnaround when its saltpeter reserves were no longer needed due to advances in modern technology. Now dependent upon the export of copper, its economy declined, resulting in unemployment and social unrest. The Church remained stable during this period due to its ability to now govern itself outside of government influence. The Catholic University of Valparaiso was established in 1928 and the Catholic University of the North, in Antofagasta, was recognized by the state in 1963.
After the constitutional reform of 1925, the Protestants, particularly the Methodists, Pentecostals and Baptists, increased noticeably, their growth attributable to the evangelical character of such churches and the ignorance of Catholic doctrine and the desire for spiritual guidance. In part because of Protestant—particularly Pentacostal— inroads, a serious falling away from the Church became apparent; it would be especially visible in urban centers during the second half of the 20th century. Another major problem faced by the Church was the shortage of priests in the country.
In 1970 Chileans elected Marxist leader Salvador Allende as president, and a coalition government of communists and socialists made increasing efforts to reduce the power of the Church in Chile. Allende's efforts to nationalize industry and reform land ownership won him opposition not only from conservative Chileans but from the United States as well, as the nation's economy faltered. In September of 1973 Allende was deposed by the military regime of Augusto Pinochet; Allende was killed, along with thousands of others, while many of his supporters fled the country. During the Pinochet regime human rights abuses escalated due to the continued repressions of organized labor and other opposition by the government. Chilean bishops were outspoken in their opposition to Pinochet, and formed the Vicarate of Solidarity to deal with the thousands of imprisoned, tortured or disappeared. When a still-failing economy destabilized Pinochet and a plebecite was scheduled, Church leaders
actively educated the public and encouraged voting through registration drives and arrangement for transportation to and from the polls. Pinochet was rejected during the 1988 referendum, and two years later, in 1990, a freely elected government returned to Chile. Grave sites of "disappeared" missing since the Pinochet era continued to be discovered.
Into the 21st Century. As the nation approached the millennium, Church leaders addressed several concerns. In 1997 a law legalizing divorce was passed, prompting Chilean Cardinal Carlos Oviedo to state that the new law would "make all families unstable since it creates a mentality of indifferent conscience" toward the Catholic institution of marriage. A sex education program started by the Ministry of Education was withdrawn after the intercession of Chilean bishops. More positively, President Ricardo Lagos abolished the death penalty in Chile in May of 2001, balancing that Church-supported action with stiffer punishments to counter the increase in violent, drug-related crimes. In addition, the Vatican's efforts to mediate long-running land disputes between Bolivia and Chile were supported by the Church when they were proposed in 1996.
By 2000 Chile had 926 parishes tended by 1,060 diocesan and 1,200 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 500 brothers and 5,600 sisters, many of whom attended to the education of more than one third of the country's young people, who are enrolled in the over 1,000 primary and secondary Catholic schools in Chile. Many hospitals, orphanages and other social service agencies were also under the administration of the Church. The Catholic population in Chile continued to come from the more affluent sectors of society and many government leaders and members of the military were of the Church.
Bibliography: r. poblete, La Iglesia en Chile (Madrid 1961); "La situación religiosa en Chile," Teología y vida 3 (1962) 229–235. i. vergara, El protestantismo en Chile (2d ed. Santiago de Chile 1962). l. galdames, A History of Chile, ed. and tr., i. j. cox (New York 1964).
[j. a. de ramÓn/eds.]