From the Rt Revd Colin Bazley
Yesterday, 6th November, 1996, was a memorable day in the history of Chile. The House of Deputies debated and passed a Bill establishing norms regulating the recognition and funtioning of churches, religious confessions and organizations in the country. There were 91 votes in favour, and none against.
In the 1925 Constitution, the Roman Catholic church was separated from the State, and religious liberty was proclaimed. However, the Church of Rome retained a privileged position as a public body, while every other religious group was consigned to a subordinary status which simply tolerated their existence. The 1980 Constitution did not change this, but during the last six years the Protestants, now 15% of the population, began to work to achieve equal status before the law for all churches and religions. The Roman Catholic church expressed sympathy, and the work of those years saw its firstfruits in yesterday's debate.
Hundreds of Protestant pastors from all over the country thronged the public galleries. The Bill was presented by an all-party commission and the high-quality discussion that followed showed that the deputies had grasped the historic significance of what they were doing. Deputy after deputy spoke of the way non-catholics had been treated in the past and begged forginess. They thanked the Protestants for their patience over years of being treated as second-class citizens. Until late last century, the bodies of Proestants were buried at sea, on the beaches or on the waste-dumps of the cities, as none of the Roman Catholic cemeteries would receive them. No non-catholic, even today, could be a chaplain in the Armed Forces. The deputies gave great praise to the work of Protestants in prison and hospital visiting, bringing healing to drug-addicts and alcoholics, and their enormously widespread work among the poor and indigenous groups. "Where no one else will go, you will find the Protestants". Yet one church has enjoyed all the privileges.
They were conscious that a debt of history was being paid, and that they were doing something that should have been done years ago. They expressed their gratitude to the Protestant churches for their patience in waiting so long for full legal recognition to be given.
Scenes never before witnessed in the Chamber of Deputies occurred during the debate. Socialist deputies applauded the speeches of their right-wing political enemies and vice versa. Gasps of joy and shouts of "Gloria a Dios" came from the gallery as the deputies cast their votes, and hymns of praise to God sounded forth.
The Bill will suffer one or two minor alterations before it goes to the Senate for approval, and we pray that it will have a smooth passage there.
I do hope that some of this news can be put out over the Anglican Communion. As Anglicans we have participated fully with the other churches in the process of formulating the Bill, and I had the privilege of being the chairman of the Coordinating Group of Protestant-Evangelicals for four years until the beginning of last year.
With every good wish,
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Colin F. Bazley