"A growing conflict ............ over contraception is also serving to highlight growing tensions in church-state relations throughout Latin America, ......."
From .......... Religion Watch
Vol.11, No.1 ............ Nov.1995
CATHOLIC CHURCH-STATE CONFLICT IN PERU
A growing conflict between the [Roman] Catholic Church and the government of President Alberto Fujimori of Peru over contraception is also serving to highlight growing tensions in church-state relations throughout Latin America, reports the Washington Post [October 11].
Fujimori has recently started a voluntary sterilization program in Peru -- a course of action which shocked many [Roman Catholic] church leaders throughout the continent. Unlike most other Latin American leaders, Fujimori has publicly challenged the [Roman] Catholic Church and its teachings, in one instance calling bishops "sacred cows."
Church officials criticize Fujimori's plan for ignoring Peru's declining birth rate and blaming the poor for the country's economic problems.
Fujimori's drive to limit population and encourage Peruvians to practice birth control is linked to his government's shift to market-oriented economic policies,
"putting Peru in conflict with the [Roman Catholic] church and making the country a critical testing ground for the Vatican. According to church leaders, politicians and others here, the outcome of the struggle between the two powers in the shantytowns could have broad implications for Latin America,"
writes Gabriel Escobar. He continues that
"With almost all countries now embracing market-driven economics -- and to different degrees all facing severely skewed distribution of wealth -- many church leaders are critical of the economic trend, putting themselves at odds with such popular presidents as Carlos Menem of Argentina and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil."
For Fujimori, who is Catholic, the stand against the church "seems to have paid off." Polls indicate he is more popular than he was before he announced his population control plan, with the church consistently at a disadvantage.
Analysts say the church has been left little choice but to temper its criticisms and reassess its strategy. In one poll, 80 percent of Peruvians said they support the use of contraceptive methods for family planning.
Peruvian policy analyst Hector Rivera says that Fujimori's stand
"may open a road for others. There used to be the myth that the [Roman Catholic] church was untouchable. In practical terms, this has resulted in legislation that redefines what constitutes a family.
It ensures free sterilization to men and women and eliminates a husband's prior consent. It also recognizes informal unions that are popular among the poor and gives poor women, traditionally voiceless, unprecedented rights."
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