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Apostasy in Chile


On 15 September 2010, Chilean journalist and gay activist Victor Hugo Robles delivered a formal letter to the Archbishop of Santiago, Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, exercising his right to disaffiliate himself formally from the Catholic Church—an action known as apostasy. In the midst of the Chilean Bicentennial, on 19 September, and the Movement for Sexual Diversity (MUMS) call for a "gay bicenntennial celebration" to include Robles. During the celebration Robles publicly read his letter to the Archbishop, noting that he was acting "in accordance with Article 6 of Law 19,638,” which states that “freedom of religion and worship" are expressed within the right "to freely choose whether to profess or not profess religious beliefs, to make or not to make them manifest, and to change or abandon them freely.”

Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author
Photo courtesy of the author

Less than a week later on 25 September, at the rally following Santiago’s Gay/Lesbian/Trans Pride March, Robles was invited onstage by the organizers of the event to read his letter to the Archbishop of Santiago, demanding, in front of a crowd of thousands, "a written response to my request in the next 10 days" as mandated by law. After ten days and over a month after the initial letter to the Archbishop, Robles, accompanied by his Attorney Rodrigo Román and an array of Chilean sexual diversity and civil rights activists, filed an injunction before an Appellate Court in Santiago on 28 October 2010 on the grounds that he was being “deprived of his right to exercise his liberty of conscience as guaranteed by subsection 6 of article 19 of the Chilean Constitution” and requesting that “immediate measures be taken to restore the rule of law.”

In a split decision the next day, the First Chamber of the Santiago Appellate Court accepted the injunction filed by Robles stating: “informe a la recurrida, quien deberá evacuarlo en el término de cinco días remitiendo a esta Corte, conjuntamente con su informe, todos los antecedentes que existan en su poder sobre el asunto que ha motivado el recurso, bajo apercibimiento de aplicarle alguna de las sanciones que establece el Auto Acordado respectivo.” This decision is reported widely through national media sources.

On 9 November, two months after receiving Robles’ letter, the Archbishop of Santiago, Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, responds to the Court of Appeals , noting that "Victor Hugo Robles has exercised his freedoms to withdraw from the Catholic Church, to communicate his decision, and is in total freedom to take on another religious faith; no one has stopped this freedom of exercise. Indeed, the ecclesiastical record of the parish of Our Lady of Olivo read that Robles "abandoned the Catholic Church on 2 November 2010." Archbishop Errazuriz Ossa pointed out that the Church had processed the applicant’s "abandonment" and criticized the judiciary for interfering in the Church’s "autonomy.” He declared that the Church was "perplexed" by the lawsuit, and pointed out that the judiciary cannot interfere in matters that are exclusive to the Church’s "well-recognized autonomy." For his part, Víctor Hugo Robles declared his joy at this gesture of reaffirmation of civic independence, noting that "this necessitated weeks of bureaucratic process, requiring formal responses from the Church, and finally resorting to the Courts to obtain a formal response from the Archbishop of Santiago." Faced with the Archbishop’s statement of the supposed "autonomy" of the Church, Robles raised "the importance of broad debate to denounce the contradictions of a Catholic Church that advocates autonomy, while at the same time involving itself in political, legislative, and legal decisions relating to educational, sexual, and reproductive matters that put undue pressure on the Chilean State.”

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