Invoking God, Ecuador candidates anger church

Quito, Ecuador - Roman Catholic church to Ecuadorean presidential candidates: Stop taking God's name in vain.

Ecuador's richest man, Alvaro Noboa, and Rafael Correa, his leftist rival in the race to become the small Andean nation's eighth president in a decade, flash Bibles and pose for photographs in churches during their campaign stops.

Noboa invokes God to heal sick voters.

"I don't care which candidate is doing it more; nobody is authorized to use the name of God for political purposes," Monsignor Nestor Herrera, the head of the country's board of Catholic church leaders, told Reuters on Monday.

Since the men won the right last week to move to a runoff on November 26 for the presidency, the church -- Ecuador's most trusted institution -- has held news conferences and issued statements urging them to stop mentioning God and using religious symbols in their campaigns.

"In this campaign the use of religion has really been more intense than ever before because candidates use it as a marketing tool," said Adrian Bonilla, director of Ecuador's branch of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

Banana mogul Noboa and former economy minister Correa are Catholic and very public about it.

Noboa often addresses supporters wearing a fist-size cross dangling from a silver necklace and waves a bible while praying on stage. On tours of shantytowns, the businessman hands out wheelchairs and calls on God to cure potential voters.

"As a hero on God's side, I'm here with the Bible in hand and stronger than ever," Noboa said when he registered his candidacy in August -- his third bid for the presidency.

Correa has not made as much of a show about his faith but likes to be photographed praying in churches and calls himself a "leftist Christian."

He is a Roman Catholic who rejects abortion and gay marriage, and during his youth he volunteered with a group of priests to teach in a poor Indian village.


Ecuadoreans, like others in Latin America, home to half the world's Catholics, have strong religious beliefs.

"Because Catholicism is so deep-rooted in some of these countries, it has become an easy way for candidates to signal the same values as their constituents," said Daniel Erikson, an analyst with the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez often pulls out a crucifix to claim God is on his side. Nicaraguan former communist leader and presidential candidate Daniel Ortega has mended ties with Catholic leaders and recently remarried in the church.

Correa has not stopped at bringing God into Ecuador's campaign; he has also inserted Satan into the race.

When Chavez called President Bush the devil at the United Nations last month, the Ecuadorean said Lucifer should be offended by the comparison.