Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Ministers of Religion in Chilean Law

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Ministers of Religion in Chilean Law

Article excerpt


This Article has been written to show how Chilean Law interacts with "ministers of religion."1 This Article will begin by outlining some important background and contextual elements that will allow us to properly understand how a minister of religion is treated under Chilean Law.

From the beginning of the Republic of Chile until 1925, Chilean society was largely dominated by laws created from a union between the Catholic Church and the State. However, the ChUean Constitution of 1925 established a separation between these two entities in practically the same terms as the current Constitution of 1980. Under these constitutions, no agreements between the government and religious denominations were made. However, in 1999, lawmakers in Chile passed Law 19.638, which set rules regarding the legal establishment of churches and reügious organizations and explicitly affected some of the religious freedom traditionally granted by the Chilean Constitution.

Chile has a prominent Catholic tradition, inherited from Spain, from which the Chilean people have taken many customs and also legal standards. Even so, data from the last census, taken in 2002, show the religious reality that exists in the country today, between believers and non-believers and the religions in which the believers declare to belong.2 The population of Chile in 2002 totaled 15,116,435 inhabitants, of which 74.0% were older than fifteen years old. Of these, 91.7% called themselves believers, while 8.3% said they were atheists, agnostics, or practiced no reügion. The inhabitants who called tiiemselves believers were separated into the following religions: Catholic: 69.96%; Evangelical: 15.14%; Jehovah Witness: 1.06%; Jewish: 0.13%; Mormons: 0.92%; Muslims: 0.03%; Orthodox: 0.06%; and otiier religions or creeds: 4.39%.3

The census shows that while a majority of Chileans still identify themselves as members of the Catholic faith, there are significant numbers of citizens who identify with other religions. Fortunately, a climate of social peace has prevailed in Chile despite other religions having established their presence in the country. In fact, this shift in religious tradition has not motivated religious persecutions or internal wars. This situation has been, in general terms, the fruit of a grand, peaceful, national consensus.

With this background we can now analyze the legal situation of today's ministers of religion. To start with, it is important to have in mind that Chile does not have any central legal statute that systematically regulates all the rights and duties that should apply to ministers of religion. One must turn to distinct and wide-ranging normative texts to approach a correct understanding of the law on this question. It is also decidedly difficult to find jurisprudence that, in some manner, allows one to gauge where the major points of legal friction exist concerning these ministers.

To better understand how Chilean Law currently treats ministers of religion, the following paragraphs will describe those rules related to the ministers' work status, their incapacity to accept certain duties, their obligation to maintain confidentiality, and finally some specific criminal rules that apply to them. Even though civil death is now abolished and did not always affect proper religious ministers, civil death indicates how radical life was for those that embraced the religious state.

As a final note, this Article will, for the most part, refer to the leaders of different religions as simply ministers of religion, without regard to any specific denomination. However, because of the prominence of the Catholic Church in Chilean society and history, it will be necessary to distinguish the legal situation of Catholic ministers from non-Catholic ministers in certain sections.


The first difficulty in defining the legal treatment of a minister of religion is that the term "minister of religion" is not actually defined by Chilean Law. …

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