While Catholicism has been reported to be losing influence in many Latin American countries due to the rise of secularism and evangelicalism, Chile seems to be an exception.
The influence of Catholicism in Chilean society, and particularly in the media, was recently demonstrated in a conflict between Catholic-based media and the government, reports the Economist (May 10). President Eduardo Frei recently publicly criticized Catholic-based television channels for refusing to broadcast government educational publicity about AIDS. Frei claimed they were showing hypocrisy, since these channels feature soap operas with the same kind of wide-spread pre- and extra-marital sex as the others. The incident showed the weight of the Catholic church in the media. These stations have as many viewers as the state-owned channel.
The church also has a nationwide network of radio stations and a strong indirect influence among journalists in such leading newspapers as El Mercurio. Abortion and birth control are taboo issues in most of the mainstream press. The church’s influence appears to be growing among the elite of Chile.
A society magazine recently reported on a “new aristocracy,” where belonging to such conservative orders as Opus Dei or the Legionnaires for Christ is viewed as being “in” among the wealthy, as is being seen at Mass on Sunday and being married by the right priest. “It’s a sine qua non of good manners and social respectability to appear fanatically Catholic,” says essayist David Gallagher.
He writes that such social pressure to adopt a lofty moral tone produces a high level of hypocrisy, stifling public debate on moral issues. Yet it also makes for an orderly society which is the envy of such neighbors as Argentina, Gallagher adds.