Politicization of the Pulpit: Conservative Catholic Strategies in Peru
Chavez, Susana, Mujica, Jaris, Conscience
IN PERU, THE HIERARCHY OF THE Catholic church is largely made up of members of the conservative Catholic order known as Opus Dei. Juan Luis Cipriani, the cardinal of Lima, and 15 of the country's nearly 30 bishops are all members of this order.
Opus Dei is one of the most radically conservative orders in the world and is unequivocally opposed to sexual and reproductive rights. While everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs, in the case of Opus Dei and similarly conservative factions within the Peruvian Catholic church these beliefs become problematic when they become politicized, serving as the basis for pressuring policymakers and influencing public policy.
Political activism around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights by members of the most conservative elements of the Catholic church has been a recurring theme in Peru for the past two decades. Typically, the Catholic hierarchy generates political pressure on elected officials, and on those running for office, in the following ways:
1. By issuing public statements, open letters and press releases and organizing press conferences, the hierarchy outlines its position on issues related to SRHR and then calls on politicians to make "moral" decisions about these matters. In a country in which the overwhelming majority of the population is Catholic, and in which the hierarchy has the ability to mobilize voters at the local level, politicians tend to listen closely to statements made by church leaders, so much so that these lessons on "morality" are oftentimes integrated into the candidates' political rhetoric. This is true even when a politician's own agenda, or the agenda of his/her political party, is in direct conflict with the position promoted by the hierarchy.
2. Conservative elements within the church, especially Cardinal Cipriani, convene private meetings with religious officials in which they discuss religious matters, among others. The conclusions from these meetings are typically broadcast on television, as well as in other media outlets. Although Peru is officially a secular state, this practice links elected officials and the church hierarchy in the public's perception, and creates the perception that secular officials maintain some reverence for the church, religious authorities and Catholic principles generally.
3. Cardinal Cipriani, and other members of the hierarchy, have used Mass and other religious celebrations to expound upon their political opinions. To give a recent example: during the run-up to Peru's 2011 presidential election, members of the church hierarchy made their preference for one specific candidate clear during religious celebrations. Official statements by Cardinal Cipriani expressing his opposition to another candidate were also read during Mass.
This most recent example of the church attacking a political candidate drew tremendous media coverage, but it was hardly novel. During the presidency of Alberto Fujimori, who governed Peru from 1990-2000, Cardinal Cipriani and other bishops and priests often expressed their support from the pulpit for Fujimori's authoritarian regime. In subsequent years, members of the hierarchy have spoken out against Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established to shed light on the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity committed during the Fujimori regime. The hierarchy has also publicly spoken out against some political candidates, opposed sexual and reproductive rights and sexual diversity, and in some cases spoken out against human rights organizations and the human rights movement as a whole.
In short, members of the Catholic clergy constantly involve themselves in Peruvian politics and make no bones about publicly stating their political opinions on a variety of issues. In Peru, the Catholic church is, in fact, a political entity, with many millions of faithful supporters. …