Religion in Argentina
Argentina, for much of its history and including the present day, has been an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. The historical background is very much due to the Spanish influence brought about through the newly conquered territories. However, immigration throughout the 20th century has brought other Catholics and denominations from various regions to Argentina. Overall, 24% attended religious services regularly. A recent study found that approximately 11% of Argentines are non-religious, including those who believe in God, though not religion, agnostics (4%) and atheists (5%).
Estimates for the number of Roman Catholics vary from 70% of the population, to as much as 90%. The CIA Factbook lists 92% of the country is Catholic, but only 20% are practicing regularly or weekly at a church service.
The society, culture, and politics of Argentina are deeply imbued with Roman Catholicism. The Church’s place in Argentine national identity, which spans across the ideological spectrum, stems from the perpetual ability of Argentines on different sides of political and social divides to find some level of support in the Church. The Church solidified its hold on the territory of modern-day Argentina during the period of Spanish colonial rule from the 16th to early 19th centuries. Church leaders variously supported and opposed the policies of Juan Perón and the violent tactics of the Dirty War. Roman Catholicism remains the official religion of the state and Catholic representatives take part in many state functions. Freedom of religion is also guaranteed by the Constitution. Today, areas of Church-State contention include contraception, economic policies, and the disputed involvement of the Church in the Dirty War.
Catholic practices in Argentina (especially in the non-central areas) might be seen as incorporating a great deal of syncretism; for example, religious festivals in the north-western provinces feature Catholic icons in (or along with) ancient Andean indigenous ceremonies. The Pachamama worship is still widespread throughout Salta and Jujuy along with Catholic beliefs, without opposition from the Catholic Bishops.
The church in Argentina is divided into administrative territorial units called dioceses and archdioceses. Buenos Aires, for example, is an archdiocese owing to is size and historical significance as the capital of the nation. Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, the seat of the archbishop, houses the remains of General José de San Martín in a mausoleum.
There are seven Catholic universities in Argentina: Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (Buenos Aires), the Universidad Católica de Córdoba, the Universidad de La Plata, the Universidad de Salta, the Universidad de Santa Fe, the Universidad de Cuyo, and the Universidad de Santiago del Estero. Religious orders run and sponsor hundreds of primary and secondary schools throughout the country, with and without government funding.
Other Christian denominations
Evangelical churches have been gaining a foothold since the 1980s, and count approximately 9% of the total population amongst their followers. Pentecostal churches and traditional Protestant denominations are present in most communities. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claiming over 330,000 (the seventh-largest congregation in the world), are also present. A recent study found that Protestants were the only group in which a majority regularly attended services.
The very first Waldensian settlers from Italy arrived in South America in 1856 and today the Waldensian Church of the Río de La Plata (which forms a united church with the Waldensian Evangelical Church) has approximately 40 congregations and 15,000 members shared between Uruguay and Argentina.
The Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church is a derivative movement of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira) founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa of Brazil in 1945. The Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church was founded, according to varying sources, in 1970 or 1971, in Buenos Aires by its first Archbishop–Primate Leonardo Morizio Dominguez.
Argentina has the largest Muslim minority in Latin America. Although accurate statistics on religion are not available (because the national census does not solicit religious data) the actual size of Argentina's Muslim community is estimated around 1% of the total population (400,000 to 500,000 members) according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2010.
The 20th century saw an influx of Ottoman migrants to the country, mostly Arabs from Syria and Lebanon. They are generically called 'Turcos' in Argentina, independently of their ethnicity and precise geographic origin. It is estimated that today there are about 3.5 million Argentines of Arab descent. The majority of these Arab immigrants were Christians and Sephardic Jews, and though accurate information is unavailable, probably less than a quarter of Arab migrants were actually Muslim. The descendants of Sephardic Jews are more likely to identify themselves as Jews rather than Turks today.
The King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, the largest mosque in South America, was completed in 1996 with the help of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, on a piece of land measuring 20,000 m². The total land area granted by the Argentine government measures 34,000 m², and was offered by President Carlos Menem following his visit to Saudi Arabia in 1992. The project cost around US$30 million, and includes a mosque, library, two schools, a park, is located in the middle-class district of Palermo, Buenos Aires.
The Islamic Organization of Latin America (IOLA), headquartered in Argentina, is considered the most active organization in Latin America in promoting Islamic affiliated endeavors. The IOLA holds events to promote the unification of Muslims living in Latin America, as well as the propagation of Islam.
Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America with about 300,000. The community numbered about 400,000 after World War II, but the appeal of Israel and economic and cultural pressures at home led many to leave, for Israel or for Europe or the United States; recent instability in Israel has resulted in a modest reversal of the trend since 2003.
Although Jews account for less than 1% of Argentina's population, Buenos Aires has the second largest population of Jews in the Americas, second only to New York City, and is the seventh largest Jewish community in the world.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. In a study assessing nations' levels of religious regulation and persecution with scores ranging from 0–10 where 0 represented low levels of regulation or persecution, Argentina received a score of 1.4 on Government Regulation of Religion, 6.0 on Social Regulation of Religion, 6.9 on Government Favoritism of Religion and 6 on Religious Persecution.
The law that regulates the acknowledgement of religions by the state dates from 1978, and makes it prohibitively bureaucratic for minority cults to attain official recognition, since it was passed by the dictatorial government of the time basically to search those cults for politically subversive elements. The current government has expressed its intention to modify the law, which would allow, for example, for the quick recognition of the native Mbyá-Guaraní tribal religion.
State-Catholic church relations
The Constitution requires the government to support Roman Catholicism economically. Despite this, the Supreme Court ruled that the Roman Catholic Church was not granted the status of official religion by the constitution or any federal legislation.
The Constitution once stated that the president must be a Roman Catholic. This requirement was removed from the text in the 1994 constitutional reform, since the president no longer designates Argentine bishops. The old 1853 text also included a goal "to keep a pacific relationship with the Indians and promote their conversion to Catholicism", which was deleted in the reform.
The federal state pays a salary to Roman Catholic bishops. Each bishop receives a monthly salary that is set by law to the equivalent of 80% of that a judge, about 4,300 pesos or 1,430 USD. Older seminarists and retired priests receive minor pensions, and parishes in conflictive and border areas are subsidized with 335 pesos per month (112 USD). As of December 2005, and after recent conflicts with the national government, the Argentine Episcopacy is considering the possibility of forgoing this support, in favor of full independence.
The state also subsidizes many private schools, most of which are affiliated with the Catholic Church. The total economic support of the Church by the state amounts to 12 million Argentine pesos per year (about 4 million USD).
Besides traditional religious practices, there are also a number of unconventional practices, usually part of local folklore. One of the most famous is the veneration of La Difunta Correa ("The Deceased Correa"). Many other beliefs in advocations of the Virgin, saints and other religious characters exist throughout the country, which are locally or regionally popular and church-endorsed.
Another popular cult is that of the Gauchito Gil ("the little gaucho Gil", Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez), born in the province of Corrientes (allegedly in 1847). Gil was forced to enlist to fight in the civil war, but he deserted and became an outlaw à la Robin Hood.
From the Río Negro Province, Ceferino Namuncurá, son of the Mapuche cacique Manuel Namuncurá, is also source of veneration all over the Patagonia. He died of tuberculosis with only 18 years of age, while in Italy during his catholic education, and was later named venerable by the Vatican.
There is also the popular cult of Miguel Ángel Gaitán, from Villa Unión, in La Rioja, known as El Angelito Milagroso, an infant who died of meningitis just short of his first birthday, who people recur to for requests and miracles.
Evangelical churches have been gaining a foothold since the 1980s with approximately 9% of the total population, Pentecostal churches and traditional Protestant denominations are present in most communities and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims 330,000 followers in Argentina (their seventh-largest congregation in the world).
According to the World Christian Database, Argentines are 92.1% Christian, 3.1% agnostic, 1.9% Muslim, 1.3% Jewish, 0.9% atheist, and 0.9% Buddhist and other.
According to CONICET survey on creeds, about 76.5% of Argentines are Roman Catholic, 11.3% religiously indifferent, 9% Protestant (with 7.9% in Pentecostal denominations), 1.2% Jehovah's Witnesses, and 0.9% Mormons.
On the other hand, there are members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as Hare Krishna, as per a review in Clarin newspaper in 2001, with 3.000 members in Argentina.
A 2008 survey called America's Barometer by the Vanderbilt University points out Catholic 77.1%, No religion 15.9%, Protestant, Evangelical and other Christian 4.8% ( with Pentecostal 3.3%), Other 2.1%.
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- "Constitution of the Argentine Nation". Government of Argentina. Retrieved 2009-09-03. See Article I, Chapter I, sections 2 and 14. As of 2010 the state pays the bishops' salary which is calculated as 80% of a judge's salary.
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- ACI Digital, January 2000 (In Spanish)