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MADRID, Spain — Chile’s Cardinal Celestino Aós, a key player in rebuilding the local Catholic Church after a series of clerical sexual abuse scandals diminished its once-massive social influence, has called on the country to respect what he called “non-negotiable values.”
Typically that phrase in Catholic argot is associated with giving priority to pro-life issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and it’s largely gone into disfavor during Francis’s pontificate. Aós, however, a Francis appointee, brought it back in full force Saturday as he led Chile’s ecumenical Te Deum service in the Cathedral of Santiago.
In the presence of the country’s top politicians, including President Sebastián Piñera, Aós advocated for the defense of life and marriage between a man and a woman. The message came as Chile’s Congress debates a bill for same-sex marriage promoted by the government.
Aós took the opportunity to argue in favor of a new Chilean Constitution that would enshrine non-negotiable values. The country’s founding document is currently being re-written by a constitutional assembly, following a favorable referendum.
Aós, appointed as archbishop of Santiago and later made a cardinal by Pope Francis, thanked the women and men that are writing the new Constitution.
“We give thanks for all those who seek to respect and protect non-negotiable values: The respect and defense of human life from conception to its natural end, the family founded on marriage between man and woman, the freedom of parents to choose the model and establishment of education for their children, the promotion of the common good in all its forms and the subsidiarity of the state that respects the autonomy of organizations and collaborates with them,” the prelate said.
During his homily, Aós also said that Chile prays “with pain and shame” for compatriots and immigrants who live “in camps, gardens and streets.”
“Where poverty and ignorance reign, fundamentalist violence takes root more easily,” he said. “The path to peace is not to be found in weapons and violence but in justice. True religion is to adore God and love our neighbor: If we want to preserve fraternity on earth, we cannot lose sight of heaven.”
During the past two years, Chile has been engulfed by violence caused by deep social inequalities that pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by lack of equal access to education and healthcare to all the citizens. During the protests of late last year, several Catholic churches were vandalized in Santiago, with at least two of them set aflame.
Aós also pointed out that we are emerging “from the well of the pandemic and, frightened, we are eagerly seeking progress, development” though Chile may have many resources, “fraud and embezzlement are scandalous; corruption and violence, inequality and injustice are scandalous.”
He also argued that the causes of underdevelopment often originate in man’s neglect of the duties of solidarity, something which is “especially manifested in the massive inequalities that the world experiences at the global, national and regional levels: some groups enjoy a type of wasteful and consumerist super-development, which contrasts in an unacceptable way with situations of poverty, precariousness and even misery”.
The cardinal also said when things are going wrong for a country, it’s important for it to go back to the foundations of its culture: “The importance of ecology is indisputable today. We must listen to the language of nature and respond to it coherently.”
He recalled that there is also an ecology of man “that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will,” because the human being “is not only a freedom that he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature, and his will is just when he respects nature, listens to it, and when he accepts himself for what he is, and admits that he has not created himself. In this way, and only in this way, true human freedom is realized”.
Towards the end of his homily, Aós referred to freedom of religion, arguing that it implies recognizing what religion and its practices, while also taking into account that “freedom of worship is not simply a freedom of thought that remains in the inner self,” because “the worship pleasing to God is never a merely private act, without consequences in our social relations: on the contrary, it demands the public testimony of one’s faith.”
Although Pope Francis himself may not generally refer to “non-negotiable values,” he did recently tell journalists traveling with him back to Rome from Slovakia that sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman and the Church cannot change that teaching, and also insisted that abortion is murder.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma