All Must Render unto the Catholic Church in 21st-Century Argentina


EspañolThe history of the relationship between church and state is so vast that it would be impossible to cover it in full, even if one were to blog exclusively about the topic for a lifetime. That thin line that separates both institutions often turns blurry, and today, in the 21st century, we have states that openly provide human, monetary, and administrative resources to favor a particular religion over others. The examples are numerous of this modern, carnal relationship between church and state.

With the advent of the Renaissance and then during the Enlightenment, the process of dividing the waters between church and state began. However, today we still have theocratic states, and states like Argentina that embrace Catholicism from within their constitutions.

Argentina’s Constitution, which dates from 1853, has undergone several changes throughout its history, but Article 2 of the document still dictates that “the Federal Government supports the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.”

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While freedom of religion is the rule in Argentina, there has been preferential treatment for Catholicism since the very founding of the country. Until the constitutional reform of 1994, for example, the president and vice president of the nation were required to be Catholic.

In addition, although the Vatican appoints bishops, it does so with the consent of the Argentinean government. But that is not the only case where the state interferes with religious matters.

On April 16, the news came out that the central government — through the Ministry of Planning led by ultra-Kirchnerista Julio de Vido — will provide AR$30 million (about US$3 million) for the construction of a cathedral in the province of Buenos Aires. The government expects the church to be blessed by Pope Francisco on his visit to the country in 2016.

In addition to the arbitrary designation of public resources to a particular religion at the expense of others, non-believers or those who worship other religions have to tolerate Catholic symbols in public buildings, hospitals, and Argentinean courts.

Catedral de Buenos Aires. Fuente: Gobierno de la Ciudad.
The Buenos Aires Cathedral. Source: Government of the City of Buenos Aires.

Law 21,540 regulates “Support for certain dignitaries belonging to the Roman Apostolic Catholic Worship,” and is valid in our country since February 25, 1977, enacted during the military dictatorship.

The law assigns a privileged retirement for bishops and archbishops that is “monthly and lifelong, equivalent to 70 percent of the compensation set for National Court Judges.”

In other words, Jews, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and those who belong to the Church of Maradona must fund via their taxes the retirement of Roman Catholic leaders.

Law 22,162, also approved during the military dictatorship, gives parish priests living in border areas a monthly allowance, funded with federal resources.

One should also note that all Argentineans help pay the salary of the clergy who teach in major seminaries, and also, through Decree 1991 of 1980, they cover plane tickets for Catholic priests traveling abroad or within the country. All this is on top of the subsidies covered by the national and provincial governments for parochial schools.

On its website, the Secretariat for Worship says that “the Argentinean state respects and promotes human rights broadly, constitutionally and through international instruments with constitutional status, among which is religious freedom in the context of a relationship of autonomy and cooperation with churches and religious denominations, and in the framework of the principles of pluralism, inclusion, and coexistence.”

freedom-of-religion-memeI wonder, does it make sense that the Secretariat for Worship “promotes freedom of worship” by denying equality before the law? Wouldn’t it be more logical for everyone to venerate their religion as they see fit, but without unfair privileges?

The state has two options: it can either support all religions equally — which would be absurd, as a new religion would be founded every single day — or it can abolish the Secretariat of Worship and all government subsidies for religions and related organizations, accepting once and for all that religion is a strictly personal matter in which the State has no business whatsoever.

Besides, is that not what the Bible says? “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, King James Version).

Translated by Alan Furth.

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