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Church and State in the New Paraguayan Constitution

By Pedro C. Moreno
Published February 1, 1993

THE NEW CONSTITUTION OF PARAGUAY, recently ratified, replaces the 1967 document which contained some provisions outdated by modern events.

The new constitution states: “It is recognized: freedom of religion, worship and ideology without any limitations except those established in the constitution and law. No confession will have official status. No person shall be harassed, inquired of or compelled to profess his beliefs or doctrines.”

The prior constitution required the president of the republic “to profess the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion.” Likewise, the former constitution stated: “The official religion is the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion.”

Surprisingly, the Catholic Church of Paraguay joined an important number of Protestant churches and representatives of the main political parties, Liberal and Colorado, to ask for the separation of church and state and the elimination of the requirement of the president to profess Catholicism. Commenting on this move, Jesuit priest Jose Valpuesta, representative to the Coordination of Churches (a group composed of Catholic and Protestant churches), said: “As time has passed, it has become clear that it is better that society does not impose one religion upon the state.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Paraguay, in a pronouncement entitled “One Constitution for our Nation” signed by 14 bishops, on church-state relations stated: “The II Vatican Council pointed out with clarity the church-state relations based on autonomy and mutual respect of both parties…. both the state and the church will better fulfill their roles if they maintain their independence and seek a good cooperation between them.”

Referring to the notion of an official church, the document of the Bishops Conference of Paraguay states: “If at other times this nation completely identified itself with the Catholic religion, it was logical to talk about an official religion. Now pluralism better characterizes the civil society and it does not seem justified to have one church joined to the state, that, for this reason reflects something imposed by force upon the people. The church does not want to confuse the people nor confuse itself with the state.”

Finally, the Catholic Bishops of Paraguay declared: “The church, therefore, does not require anything except a just treatment according to its condition. And affirms with II Vatican Council that humankind has the right to religious freedom … which is based in the very dignity of the human person. All men should be respected in this matter. The liberty of conscience and worship must be mentioned in the law. The dignity of the person so requires.” In this way, the Catholic church of Paraguay gave its unconditional support to establish a broad regime of religious liberty in that country.

Of course, agreement on the relationship between church and state in Paraguay has not always existed. In fact, these relations have had an agitated and stormy history. After the foundation of the Republic and during the 19th century, the Catholic church and the Paraguayan people suffered under the dictatorship of Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia and the Lopéz regime.

These totalitarian rulers could not conceive of the existence of a government of the church with independent authority from civil government. The Catholic church was compelled to bow to the will of the dictators and was indirectly responsible for this situation. In the past, the Jesuits had taught total submission to the clerical will. The indigenous peoples had not been educated on their rights and responsibilities, displaying simply a “passive obedience.” Thus the Catholic church unwittingly allowed a system of oppression to arise.

To better accomplish his purposes, Rodríguez de Francia confiscated ecclesiastical property, prohibited the ceremonials, required the priests to be submitted to him and finally made himself the head of the church in the fashion of Henry VIII of England. In 1844, Lopéz approved a new constitution for Paraguay which allowed him to maintain the supreme authority of the country in his hands. This constitution also contained provisions on the right of the state to control the ecclesiastical patronage. The president controlled the churches, the clergy, appointed bishops and members of the ecclesiastical decrees, papal bulls, etc. In spite of protests from the Vatican, which were ignored by the dictator Lopéz, he was able to have the bishops proclaim from the pulpit that he was a ruler appointed by God and “the Lord’s anointed.” Any dissent in relation to the legitimacy of his acts was not only treason but heresy.

After the “tragedy of Paraguay” in which the republic was defeated by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, a new constitution was ratified in 1870 which established the Catholic church as the official religion of the state. However, a mere tolerance for other religions was assured through denying the congress any authority over the free exercise of religion and the guarantee to the inhabitants for the exercise of their religion.

The constitution of 1940 extended the same provisions. The government continued sustaining the salaries of the clergy and of teachers of seminaries, although the amounts were not significant. This was the state of affairs until the constitution of 1967 which has recently been changed.

Apparently, the above mentioned historical process convinced the Catholic hierarchy in Paraguay to work toward its total independence from the state by securing a constitutional provision separating the church from the state.

Pedro C. Moreno San Juan, a lawyer, is the representative of The Rutherford Institute for Latin America.


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A Revival Account: Asbury 1970 (DVD)

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The United States of America 2.0: The Great Reset (Book)

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Revival, Resistance, Reformation, Revolution
An Introduction to the Doctrines of Interposition and Nullification

In 1776, a short time after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were assigned to design an official seal for the United States of America. Their proposed motto was Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God. America owes its existence to centuries of Christian political philosophy. Our nation provided a model for liberty copied by nations the world over.

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The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.

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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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