People demonstrating against the Draft Constitution ahead of referendum of 4 September People demonstrating against the Draft Constitution ahead of referendum of 4 September 

Chilean Bishops call for unity ahead of constitutional plebiscite

As Chile prepares for an historic constitutional referendum on Sunday to replace Pinochet's Constitution, Bishops call for a responsible and peaceful vote amid growing polarization in the country

By Lisa Zengarini

Chile will hold a referendum on September 4 on whether to accept or refuse a new constitution that would replace the charter imposed by the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

388 articles

The plebiscite comes two years after Chileans voted overwhelmingly to supplant the current constitution, following the massive and violent protests that erupted in the Latin American nation in 2019-2020 over income and social inequality.

The new charter, which was drawn up by a Constitutional Convention elected last year and presented to the country’s Constitutional Assembly early in July, includes 388 articles that focus on social issues such as environment, health care, education, housing and gender equality,  and recognize the rights of Chile’s Indigenous peoples. Among other things, it lays out new rights, including the right to “adequate and dignified housing” and equal pay for equal work between men and women and the right to abortion.

The need for a conscientious and aware vote

As the country prepares for the referendum on Sunday, the Chilean Bishops have urged citizens to vote "conscientiously"  and responsibly,  and to accept the result peacefully. Their appeal comes at a time in. which people appear to be increasingly divided over the proposed text and opinions have become more polarized, amid increasing disaffection for the new left-wing government led by President Gabriel Boric.

“[These days ] are a moment of personal, family and community reflection, which should be focused on the future of Chile and on the need for the country to embark on paths that will allow the wounds to be healed and the fractures in our national coexistence to be repaired.”

A polarized context

Polls at the beginning of the year indicated a clear majority intended to vote in favour, but surveys since Springtime have found a significant change in opinion, with growing opposition to the text considered to be too “ideological”. Among the most controversial issues is the introduction of the right to abortion.

In a statement released this week, the Standing Committee of the Chilean Bishops' Conference (Cech) regrets that the process experienced over the past two years has not achieved the cohesion that many expected, noting that: “The political and ideological polarization has been very evident”.

In the face of this reality the prelates, however, invite Chileans not to give in to despair, because, they say,  Chile “has a vocation for peace and unity”, as shown throughout its history.

Refrain from violence

The prelates, therefore, urge Chileans to continue working for the good of their country and adopt three attitudes. The first attitude is that of accepting the results of the referendum, whatever the outcome.  Secondly, the bishops call on Chileans to refrain from violence:

“We ask everyone to condemn any expression (of violence), which, as we all know, ends up affecting the most needy and disadvantaged in society"”

Call for dialogue and unity

Finally, they urge all citizens to continue walking together as a nation: “This requires a renewed generosity and capacity for dialogue, which is why we invite everyone, especially those holding public and political positions, to broaden their gaze and think together about what can lead them “to a more just, fraternal, less unequal and friendly Chile giving better opportunities to all its inhabitants ”.

Concluding, the Chilean bishops "appeal to the ethical and religious sense” of the vast majority of Chileans, and invite citizens to "put an end to violence in all its forms" and to be "builders of unity and peace""

“Faith in God is a legacy of our country, which has always been a source of unity and solidarity. Love for God, for our neighbour and for our homeland are the forces that must lead us along paths that build social peace and leave behind tensions and conflicts, which deteriorate coexistence and democracy, to pave the way to harmony, prosperity and unity.”

The Bishops' reservations about the proposed text

The Chilean Bishops examined the Draft Constitution during their 126th General Assembly on  18-22 July in the light of the Church's Social teachings. At the end of the meeting they issued guidelines on the upcoming plebiscite "to enlighten the consciences” especially “of those who profess the Christian faith ".

The issue of abortion

The Bishops have expressed appreciation for the changes regarding social rights, the environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples, but criticized the provisions on abortion, those opening to euthanasia, and all the provisions redefining the traditional concept of family, restricting the rights of parents to educate their children in accordance with their beliefs and values and religious freedom.

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01 September 2022, 15:26