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Chilean Bishop: Court Ruling on Sexual Orientation Training Harms Independence of Church

A Catholic bishop and Alliance Defending Freedom have criticized the 2022 ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) on the Pavez Pavez vs. Chile case for proposing controversial nondiscrimination “training” regarding sexual orientation that could threaten the country’s religious denominations.

The court gave Chile, and indirectly the Church, two years to comply.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, recently interviewed Juan Ignacio González Errázuriz, the bishop of San Bernardo, Chile, where the controversy originated, to learn how the Church is dealing with the case.

The prelate said the ruling handed down on April 20, 2022, against the Chilean state “implies that the independence of the Church or religious denominations is disavowed, and that is very serious and absolutely unacceptable.”

“The ruling jeopardizes the independence and autonomy of a religious denomination to fulfill its own purpose,” he pointed out.

In its decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Chilean state had discriminated against Sandra Pavez Pavez because of her sexual orientation. The Church did not renew her accreditation to teach religion because she was maintaining a same-sex relationship.

Beginning in 1991, Pavez taught Catholic religion classes at Cardenal Antonio Samoré High School in San Bernardo, part of metro Santiago de Chile.

The IACHR ordered that Pavez be reinstated “to the position she held as a teacher in a public institution.”

The court’s decision involves both the state and the Church in Chile as all public and most private schools receive a state subsidy. 

In addition, according to a 1983 law, all schools public and private must offer optional religion classes in the faith of the students’ parents’ or guardians’ choice. 

The competent authority of the religious denomination determines if the prospective teacher is acceptable and, if approved, issues a “certificate of suitability” to teach that religion, which can be revoked. In the case of the Catholic Church, that person is the diocesan bishop or his delegate.

Article 4 of the law also states that “any religious creed may be taught, as long as it does not violate a healthy humanism, morality, good customs, and public order.”

On July 25, 2007, the Vicariate for Education of the Diocese of San Bernardo learned that Pavez was in a relationship with a person of the same sex and therefore did not renew her accreditation to teach the Catholic faith on behalf of the Church.

Although Pavez was promoted to another position at the school, the woman decided to take legal action in the Chilean justice system, but since she didn’t get favorable results, she went to the international court. Her case was accepted by the Inter-American Court in September 2019.

One of the reparations demanded by the Inter-American Court of the Chilean state is the “guarantee of non-repetition,” i.e., that the Chilean state must implement a training plan, within a period of two years, for “people responsible for evaluating the suitability of teaching staff and judicial officials, of all levels, who are called upon to hear appeals for the protection of fundamental rights on the scope and content of the right to equality and non-discrimination, including the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

In the time remaining before the deadline, both the Church and the state have to decide how they will proceed.

The Church as a state entity?

Tomás Henríquez, area director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), explained that what the Inter-American Court ordered “in this case was to point out that it is the state that has to establish training for the people who are going to be in charge of evaluating the suitability of the teaching staff, in the case of the Catholic Church the bishop of the diocese or whoever has been delegated to this function.”

“How is the state going to comply? This is something that is not regulated by the court nor is it regulated by the state, and it is a pending discussion,” the Chilean lawyer told ACI Prensa in a recent interview.

In addition, Henríquez considers the provision of the Inter-American Court to be “an absolutely unacceptable imposition” because it is the Church “in the exercise of her own powers, which determines who are those who teach the faith.”

“What concerns me about this training on gender is not that they are going to change the opinion of the members of the clergy, but what it implies from the symbolic point of view, which is the claim to subjugate the Church, an entity prior to the existence of the state, and make it operate as if it were a state entity,” the ADF International director criticized.

Bishop González told ACI Prensa that what was ordered by the Inter-American Court “has not been complied with and surely it will not be possible to comply with so easily.”

“I don’t see how it could be possible for an international organization or a state body to subject a bishop or a vicar to some kind of course to not discriminate. My personal opinion is that it cannot be done,” he maintained.

For the prelate, it is “inadmissible that someone external to them is introduced into the exclusive and proper competence of religious denominations to qualify the judgment made by the religious authority regarding moral suitability.”

“The moral suitability that a person has to transmit the faith in the classroom is very important. In the case of the teacher Pavez, what happened is that there was a lack of moral fitness, because she began to live in a way that was absolutely contrary to the faith of the Catholic Church and its moral teaching,” he explained.

Referring to the order of the Inter-American Court, he stated that currently “we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the serious thing is that this could lead the educational authority to unilaterally introduce this decision of the court, that we bishops are not willing to accept.”

Finally, González reiterated that “it’s possible that a teacher has the skills to teach religion, but it can happen, as in the Pavez case, that she does not have the moral suitability to transmit it.”

In April 2022, the deputy director of ADF International, Robert Clarke, said that the decision of the Inter-American Court in this case “does not comply with international law, which clearly protects the autonomy of religious communities, and constitutes an exception if compared to similar cases decided in other human rights courts.”

“Once the state arrogates the responsibility of determining who is qualified to teach denominational religious education classes, why not also interfere in deciding which priests or ministers of worship are acceptable and, in that way, try to change the most deeply held beliefs of the autonomous religious communities?” Clarke questioned.

Source: CNA