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Argentina - Religion

Argentina is a predominantly Roman Catholic country. According to estimates in the World Christian Encyclopedia, Roman Catholics made up 91.6 percent of the population in 1982; Protestants, 2.5 percent; and members of various other Christian churches, including the Armenian, Orthodox, and Ukrainian Catholic churches, 1.5 percent. Two percent of the national population was Jewish, and 1.1 percent was nonreligious. Atheists and non-Christian religions, such as Muslims and Spiritualists, constituted 1.3 percent, and the remaining 1.1 percent did not express a preference.

A study by the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research and the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology, released in 2008, estimated that Roman Catholics constitute 76 percent of the population, and Baptists, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) each total less than 5 percent of the population. Leaders of diverse religious groups noted the recent growth of evangelical Protestant communities. According to independent studies, the Jewish community consists of approximately 200,000-250,000 members.

The constitution (and its partial amendments) and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution grants all residents the right “to profess their faith freely.” The law provides the legal framework for religious freedom. By constitutional and legal obligation, the government “sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith” and provides tax-exempt subsidies to the Catholic Church to compensate for expropriation of church property in the colonial era. The Catholic Church receives institutional privileges such as school subsidies, a large degree of autonomy for parochial schools, and licensing preferences for radio frequencies.

The Secretariat of Worship is responsible for conducting the government’s relations with religious organizations. The law stipulates that a non-Catholic religious organization must register with the Secretariat of Worship as a civic (rather than religious) association and must report periodically to maintain its status. The Secretariat of Worship considers having a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy as criteria for registration. Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those in homes, but is necessary for public activities. Registration is necessary to obtain tax-exempt status. According to the Secretariat of Worship, 4,580 religious entities are registered, of which approximately 90 percent are Protestant.

Foreign missionaries of registered religious organizations may apply to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities to request the issuance of the appropriate documents. Public education is secular; however, students may request instruction in the religion of their choice, which may be conducted in school or at a religious institution. Many churches, synagogues, and mosques operated private schools, including seminaries and universities.

In practice, Argentine Catholicism tends to be nominal for the majority and is expressed in conservative social views for those who practice it. The church hierarchy tends to be especially conservative. Some influential Catholic bishops supported the various seizures of power by the military and, during the 1970s, the policies of the National Reorganization Process. During that time some conservative church officials were accused of contributing to the "disappearance" of political dissidents by supplying information on socially active church groups to military officials.

Protestantism in Argentina dates back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when thousands of European immigrants arrived to work in agriculture, the meat industry, or railroad construction. By 1820 James Thompson, a Bible Society representative who later became one of the first Protestant missionaries in the region, was already at work in Buenos Aires. Methodist missionaries from the United States arrived by 1836 but confined most of their work to European immigrants. The arrival of Europeans from the Lutheran and Reformed churches also dates from that period. In the mid-1980s Protestant churches had a combined membership of over 500,000 adherents.

Jehovah's Witnesses suffered religious persecution during the 1976-83 period of military rule because their church lacked legal recognition and their members refused to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. In July 1984 the Alfonsin government granted long-pending legal recognition to this church.

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Page last modified: 30-08-2012 16:51:16 ZULU