Ar­gentina’s Catholics take a stand

The Guardian Weekly - - International News | Americas - Uki Goñi

Thou­sands of Ar­gen­tini­ans – most of them women – have started for­mal pro­ceed­ings to aban­don the Catholic church, in protest of the church’s cam­paign against ef­forts to le­galise abor­tion in the coun­try.

In the month since the coun­try's se­nate voted to main­tain a ban on al­most all abor­tions, more than 3,700 peo­ple have sub­mit­ted apos­tasy ap­pli­ca­tions to the Ar­gen­tinian synod, ac­cord­ing to César Rosen­stein, a lawyer and found­ing mem­ber of the Ar­gen­tinian Coali­tion for a Lay State.

The fig­ure is a tiny per­cent­age of Ar­gentina’s pop­u­la­tion of 44 mil­lion, but apos­tasy ac­tivists say that the move­ment’s grow­ing pro­file in­di­cates a cul­tural shift in what has al­ways been an over­whelm­ingly Catholic na­tion.

“Apos­tasy is an im­por­tant sym­bolic and po­lit­i­cal act,” said Rosen­stein, who said that visits to the group’s web­site had shot up since the vote from 100 daily unique users to around 40,000 a day.

The church strongly op­posed the at­tempted re­form. Ac­cord­ing to the Clarín news­pa­per, Pope Fran­cis per­son­ally called on anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tors to lobby their col­leagues to re­ject the leg­is­la­tion; many sen­a­tors in­voked their Catholic faith dur­ing the 15-hour de­bate.

“I was born in 1974 and was bap­tised in a mil­i­tary chapel,” said jour­nal­ist Soledad Valle­jos, a mem­ber of the #NiU­naMenos fem­i­nist col­lec­tive that cam­paigned strongly in favour of le­gal abor­tion. “[But] I’m not a be­liever and I don’t like the feel­ing that the church can claim to rep­re­sent me be­cause of a bap­tism in which I had no choice.”

In Ar­gentina, 92% of the pop­u­la­tion de­scribe them­selves as Catholic – even though barely 20% prac­tice their re­li­gion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

A con­sti­tu­tional re­form in 1994 re­moved the re­quire­ment for Ar­gentina’s pres­i­dents to be Catholic, but close ties re­main be­tween church and state. A grow­ing num­ber of apos­tasy sup­port­ers ex­press frus­tra­tion with the church over its opposition to di­vorce and same-sex mar­riage (which be­came le­gal in 1987 and 2010, re­spec­tively), as well as le­gal abor­tion.

Last month’s vote leaves in place a law drawn up nearly a cen­tury ago that pe­nalises women with up to four years in prison for un­der­go­ing an abor­tion – even though clan­des­tine abor­tions are rife and a lead­ing cause of ma­ter­nal death in the coun­try.

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