Keep pushing forward, Chilean bishops say after voters reject constitution

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Bishops in Chile have urged citizens to push forward with trying to write a new constitution and reach a new social pact after voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitution in a plebiscite.

The bishops also criticized the rejected document, which caused disquiet for many Catholics, who saw it as exclusionary and ideological and straying from traditional Chilean and Christian ideals and values.

"There were too many things in the proposals completely foreign to our idiosyncrasies," Bishop Juan Ignacio González Errázuriz of San Bernardo told the newspaper El Mercurio in comments shared by the Chilean bishops' conference. "Many, I think, felt a contempt for our history and its traditions. The idea of starting afresh is a utopia, which abruptly clashed with the common sense of the average Chilean."

Nearly 62% of Chileans voted against the proposed constitution, which contained 388 articles. Critics panned it as "utopian" and "woke" for advancing concepts such as rights for nature and guaranteed access to healthy food, and some Catholics were concerned about its positions on religious freedom, gender and decriminalizing abortion.

Several bishops issued statements, urging Chileans to find common ground on issues such as Indigenous rights, the environment and a larger role for the state in ensuring more equitable access to health and education.

"Democracy, as an act of responsible freedom, has won. But no one can be especially satisfied," Bishop Isauro Covili Linfati of Iquique said in a statement Sept. 4.

"The rejection expressed by the voters does not mean staying with the current constitutional text, but the desire to write a new and better document that brings unity and a vision of the country shared by a large majority," he said. "I trust that the President Gabriel Boric will have enough vision to understand and address the challenges in this matter."

Boric, a left-leaning, former student leader, backed the constitution put to the voters, but quickly recognized the results. He promised to continue the process of replacing Chile's constitution, which dates back to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The rejected document was written by an elected constitutional convention, in which left-leaning members dominated. Its progressive text -- described by proponents as feminists and ecological -- failed to win broad support from centrists and conservatives.

It also split the church, as congregations of nuns expressed support and disapproval for the documents.

Chile's bishops, whose mishandling of clerical sexual abuse crimes has severely harmed public perceptions of the church, did not tell people how to vote, but expressed misgivings.

"A minority tried to impose their vision and their wishes," Bishop Covili said. "It was destined not to be accepted by the majority, especially for having introduced abortion and euthanasia among other topics."

Analysts describe general dissatisfaction with the process for writing the new constitution, which became raucous and involved embarrassing moments. A participant who championed health issues resigned from the constitutional convention for having faked a cancer diagnosis.

Chile has also suffered economic woes in 2022, including rising inflation, while violence in the Indigenous regions of southern Chile has flared.

The constitutional convention was convened as an exit from a 2019 political crisis, in which Chileans took to the streets over issues such as inequality.

"People want a constitution that can replace the Pinochet-era text, but not a new economic model," Patricio Navia, Chilean political science professor, wrote in Americas Quarterly.

"Gender equality will also be part of (any new) text, as will be the inclusion of traditionally marginalized minorities. It will be a 'woke' text, but not a state-centric text."

Boric and the country's Congress must now find a process for drafting another version of the constitution. The current Pinochet-era constitution, which has been amended multiple times, remains valid.

"The rejection of the new constitution was affirmed, but also the idea (about) what cannot continue with the present constitution, and Chile needs to advance on many fronts, facing the future. On this we are in agreement, and it is important," Archbishop Fernando Chomali Garib of ConcepciÓn said in a statement Sept. 5.

"The road toward a new constitution continues, and we have to support the process," Archbishop Chomali said. "The church will always contribute, animating Catholics and people of good will to be involved in politics for the common good and to show the paths of the Gospel and church social doctrine."