ROME – Ahead of a September referendum on a new constitution, Chile’s Catholic bishops have praised the document’s “commitment to the common good” but strenuously objected to the liberalization of abortion and opening the door to the legalization of euthanasia.

“We appreciate the constitutional text in its proposal on social rights, the environment and the recognition of native peoples,” says the statement the bishops released Friday.

“We make a negative evaluation of the norms that allow the interruption of pregnancy, those that leave open the possibility of euthanasia, those that disfigure the understanding of the family, those that restrict the freedom of parents on the education of their children, and those that pose some limitations on the right to education and religious freedom.”

“We consider particularly serious the introduction of abortion, which the proposed constitutional text calls ‘the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy’,” the prelates wrote.

After a year-long, turbulent drafting process, Chile’s proposed new constitution was submitted to President Gabriel Boric on July 4, bringing the country one step closer to abandoning the legacy of Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship. In October 2020, 78 percent of voters backed a rewrite to be carried out by an elected assembly of delegates.

According to legal experts, if approved, Chile would have one of the most democratic constitutions in the world, and also one of the most progressive.

Many Chileans blame the current constitution — which follows a neoliberal model — for Chile’s social inequality, among the highest in the world. The constitutional rewrite was approved by the government after mass protests in 2019 brought the country to a standstill, and though Boric wasn’t yet in power at the time, he has invested much of his political capital in the project.

The new constitution would be one of the longest in the world. Compared to the Pinochet-era document, it is wide-ranging and enshrines a host of social rights, including free speech, abortion, clean air and water, and a publicly funded national health service.

However, first reactions to the document have been negative, among other reasons, because it would lead to the elimination of the Senate from the country’s current bicameral Congress.

“The public debate of these last weeks shows us that the proposed text has not aroused a broad and transversal acceptance,” wrote the bishops in their statement. “We are faced, then, with a choice between two positions that are strongly polarized, which makes the decision of each citizen a complex one.”

But it is this tension that calls for an “informed discernment and a vote in conscience,” the bishops said, putting the common good of Chile first.

The prelates gathered throughout the week to reflect on the drafted constitution, and they praised several aspects of the document, including “the commitment to guarantee a wide range of fundamental, human and social rights, such as education, work, decent housing, property, health and integral wellbeing, equality and non-discrimination, and security,” for all, including the country’s Indigenous populations.

“Although these are statements that still have a long way to go, many of these rights demonstrate a commitment to the common good, especially with those who suffer the most,” the bishops emphasized.

In relation to Indigenous peoples, they point out that “from the social teaching of the church, the recognition of the rights of these peoples is a value. So many times their aspirations, their lives and their cultures, have not been considered by many Chileans; and, although a new sensitivity towards them has grown in the last decades, we drag a historical injustice that has undermined them.”

The bishops also expressed a series of objections to the initiative, especially on issues related to abortion, the expansion of the concept of family, and lack of funding for private schools.

The document states that the rule that opens the door to abortion “not only excludes the participation of the father in this decision, but also the exercise of personal and institutional conscientious objection, an essential right in these moral matters where such fundamental principles are at stake, which directly affect the ethical, religious and moral conceptions of many people,” they said.

Regarding the right to assisted suicide and euthanasia, the bishops wrote that “it is an ambiguous right, because it aims to solve a problem by deliberately ending a human life. Here lies its dehumanizing character, because it encourages a throwaway culture and can make the lives of people already weakened by illness even more fragile.”

They also accused the proposal of “disfiguring the nature of the family” in the article that would recognize “families in their diverse forms, expressions and ways of life, without restricting them to exclusively filial and consanguineous ties.”

In educational matters, they pointed out that “it seems to us very good to strengthen public education, but there is a manifest silence in the draft constitutional text with respect to subsidized private education, which also has an obvious public function.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma