Roman Catholics constitute 78 percent of the population of Chile. The Roman Catholic Church has been a major force in Chilean society, although church and state were officially separated in 1925. Protestants make up about 3 percent of the population. The remainder are primarily people who profess no religion. Native Americans practicing traditional religions constitute a very small minority. In the late 1960s, influenced by papal social encyclicals and by European Catholic social thought, the church played a prominent role in the introduction of social reforms in Chile, and the number of socially concerned priests increased.
These representatives of the church took progressive positions, even on delicate issues such as birth control, as part of their efforts to remedy pressing social problems. A sector of the Catholic hierarchy was also influential in the rise of the Christian Democratic Party.
After 1973 the church initially backed the overthrow of the leftist government but subsequently strongly condemned the abduction, torture, and murder practiced by the military dictatorship. The Vicariate of Solidarity founded by the archdiocese of Santiago called for a return to full democracy and became a key provider of legal defense for political prisoners.
In the 1990s the church abstained from direct involvement in politics even while it strived to promote its conservative social positions. Divorce was prohibited in Chile until 2004, and abortion remains illegal.
The Protestant churches initially came to Chile because of a British presence in the country and as a result of several educational and social institutions established in Chile by North American churches. German immigrants founded Lutheran denominations in their areas of settlement south of the Biobío River. Starting in the 1970s evangelical congregations began to convert many nominal Catholics among the urban and rural poor. "Chile" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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