Chilean govt creating Religious Affairs office

Santiago, Chile - The Chilean government of President Michelle Bachelet is preparing to create a Religious Affaire office dedicated to the relationship between the different creeds and the Executive, something she promised in her electoral campaign.

According to journalist Rocio Montes of the daily El Mercurio, the theme is of particular interest for the president as she stated in her government program. "The document never speaks of one single Church, does not give supremacy to the Roman Catholic Church but always refers to Churches," she said.

The Religious Affairs Office, which will be designed once the 36 measures of the first 100 days of government are complete, promises an "equalizing" affect among the different religions, said Montes and will be a type of "single window" for diverse religious sectors to access La Moneda.

This fact, said the author, in line with some sectors of the government could generate a certain impact in Catholic sensitivity, as took place with the Freedom of Worship Law in 1999, that sparked a protest from the hierarchy.

The institutionalism that the Bachelet government will create could narrow the existing distance between the Catholic Church and minority religious groups in Chile, said Montes.

The relationship between President Bachelet and the Evangelical Church is not new, it dates back to when she was Minister of Health and then Defense. She maintained contact with the Evangelicals throughout her campaign and has always been aware that more than 1.6 million Chileans profess this creed.

The Bishop of the Pentecostal Apostolic Church and coordinator of the Committee of Evangelical Organizations Francisco Anabalon said that each time he has met with Bachelet he asks if he can pray. "She accepts and silently listens to the prayers."

Unlike former President Ricardo Lagos, Bachelet is not baptized. She comes from a lay family.

For this reasons, some claim Bachelet has not imposed complex goals from a values point of view.

"With only a four year government she has decided she could not get tangled in issues that could, for example, complicate her relationship with the Catholic Church," said an advisor from the government palace.

This fact was demonstrated this week when the government announced it would not insist in re-imposing the veto on the Cloning and Human Genome Law, currently in senate and which threatens to shadow its relationship with Christian Democracy.