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Religious Liberty in the Americas (2 of 2)

ICC Note:

This is the second in a series documenting religious freedom concerns for Catholics around the world. Especially alarming is the case of two missionaries murdered in Jamaica due to an apparent anti-Christian element that dominates some parts of the country.

Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need (07/25/06) – Here is an adapted excerpt from a 2006 report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need on religious freedom worldwide. Subsequent excerpts will appear in the coming days.

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On Jan. 19 the archbishop of Toronto , Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, addressed a letter to the government on the subject of the controversial draft law that would legalize civil partnerships between homosexuals. In this letter, published by the daily newspaper Globe and Mail, the cardinal requested a broader debate, mentioning the possibility of appealing to the “non obstant” clause that would allow the decision to be postponed for five years.

The government promptly answered that the debate was now closed and that a very large number of courts had already expressed a favorable opinion on this draft law. The Supreme Court provided that individual churches will not be obliged to celebrate same-sex marriages if this should be openly in conflict with the doctrine they profess.

Another element worthy of mention is the Quebec provincial government’s intention to eliminate by 2008 the teaching of the Catholic and Protestant religions in state schools, replacing these classes with lessons on ethics, religion in general and culture. In January the same government had stopped the establishment of a private Jewish school.

In April a court in the province of British Columbia decreed that is was compulsory for a 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, suffering from cancer, to have a blood transfusion.


Catholics are experiencing difficult conditions in Ecuador , in the Galapagos archipelagos, where they risk isolation due to the obstacle imposed by the government, which — to protect the particular ecosystem in these islands — restricts access, preventing the arrival of foreign missionaries. “Effectively,” declared the local ordinary, Bishop Manuel Antonio Valarezo Luzuriaga to ACN News on Aug. 17, “the local fauna has more rights than the about 14,500 Catholics resident in the Galapagos.”


On Nov. 17 ACN News reported the murder that took place Oct. 27 in Kingston of two Catholic missionaries in Jamaica , Brother Marco Laspuna and Suresh Barwa, members of the order of the Missionaries of the Poor. Although mystery still surrounds these murders, they certainly originated in the hostile atmosphere against Christians reported in a number of areas in the country.


The proliferation of new religious movements is extremely high in Guatemala , probably the highest in Central America . “The social and political events of the past 40 years have profoundly changed the situation in this country,” said Santiago Otero, secretary-general for the episcopal conference, in an interview given to the magazine Mondo e Missione.

The population has almost quadrupled, rising from 3 million to 11 million inhabitants and this has caused organizational problems for the traditional churches. The recent war that generated fear and frustration and considerably destabilized psychological and family equilibriums, also weighs heavily on the population.

While the traditional churches continue to lose followers, new religious sects and movements seem to have discovered the correct preaching strategy for attracting new ones. One of the most widespread movements is the Mormon church with more than 200,000 believers. It increases every year, especially among the poorest social classes, but it is also starting to attract followers from the middle classes.


Relations among the various religious groups in Honduras , among them a growing number of evangelical groups, contribute to safeguarding freedom of worship. The Catholic Church has appointed the archbishop of Tegucigalpa , Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, as the representative for the ecumenical dialogue that continues with good results.

In January the search was resumed for the American Jesuit priest James Charles Carney, who disappeared over 20 years ago and whose name is part of a list of 180 people reportedly killed by the army between 1979 and 1990.


According to the archbishop of Mexico City , Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Mexico requires real freedom of worship that depends, however, on constitutional reform that should be undertaken by a parliamentary initiative.

Father Luis Velasquez Romero was murdered on Oct. 25 in the city of Tijuana . Although the police stated that this was a murder set up by organized crime, Bishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana ruled out all implications of this kind due to Father Velasquez’s impeccable conduct.

In spite of the good relations between the various religious groups, in some areas of the country political and cultural tension at times restricts the implementation of freedom of worship. Incidents have been reported in the state of Chiapas , but the government, the nongovernmental organizations, the evangelicals and the Catholic Church identify the roots of this conflict above all in political and ethnic issues, and in the extreme poverty and socioeconomic backwardness that exist in this region.


Friendly relations between the various religions in Nicaragua help maintain respect for freedom of worship and, in particular on the Atlantic coast, there are good ecumenical relations between the three main churches: Catholic, Episcopal and Moravian. On the Pacific coast, interdenominational relations are rarer and there are reports of episodes indicating opposition between Catholics and evangelicals.

The Catholic Church continues to play an active role in the resolution of the serious political crisis that paralyzed the country’s institutional life in 2005 due to a conflict between Parliament — dominated by the opposition and by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, the Marxist-oriented political party that came to power during the 1980s — and the president of the republic, Enrique Bolaños.

On July 14, 2005, Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli exhorted the parties to “resume national dialogue without assuming prejudiced positions” emphasizing that the divergences between Parliament and the head of the state have lasted “far too long, prejudicing the country’s normal development. The only solution for all human problems is dialogue.”

The conflict that brought to a halt all institutional activities, reported the Missionary Service News Agency on July 20, 2005, exploded after Parliament approved the law reducing the power of the head of state, in particular removing from his control — and placing it instead in the hands of the Chambers — companies supplying water, electricity and telecommunication services.


The Catholic Church has spoken out on numerous occasions on social, economic and political conditions in Paraguay . The assembly of bishops presented an appeal in which they expressed profound concern for the country “that continues to walk a dramatic and painful Via Crucis.”

On a number of occasions President Nicanor Duarte Frutos accused the Catholic hierarchies of being opposed to his work. On various occasions the mass media and many politicians criticized the president for his preference for the Mennonite Church , approved of because its members regulate their lives and public service following the principles of honesty and transparency.

During May 2005 an ecumenical event to support life and family values was held in the capital Asuncion, organized as support for legislation addressed at establishing a national prevention and aid program for criminal acts against sexual autonomy and against minors. Although the event was organized by the Catholic Church, ministers and believers form other Christian faiths also participated in this initiative.


Immediately after the election of Benedict XVI the media in Uruguay used critical expressions about the new Pope. The bishops’ conference expressed its condemnation of that media attitude and during the same period stated that “freedom of worship, respect for religious beliefs and the right to a good reputation are fundamental values in a democratic and tolerant society. The episcopal conference’s Permanent Council publicly rejects these serious affronts and is saddened that the expressions used by a number of newspapers contravene the most elementary ethical codes, resorting to lies, mockery and slander.”