The proposal by Congressman Juan Carlos Losada to convert the Catholic chapel located in the capitol building where Colombia’s Congress meets into a “neutral place of worship” is “persecution of the Catholic Church,” said Father Raúl Ortiz, director of the Department of Doctrine, Promotion, and Unity of the Dialogue of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.

On Sept. 14, Losada, a member of the Liberal Party, announced on Twitter that he had introduced a proposal in the House of Representatives to transform “the Mary Help of Christians chapel located in the National Capitol into a neutral place of worship.”

The document was introduced Sept. 13 and was signed by Congressmen Alirio Uribe of the Historical Pact (President Gustavo Petro’s leftist coalition) and Luis Alberto Albán of the Commons Party, the political expression of the now officially disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The attempt to close this Catholic chapel has been rejected by several members of Congress and Catholic leaders, who have expressed their opposition on social media with the hashtag #LaCapillaSeQueda (the chapel stays).

The move takes place three weeks after the Catholic chapel at El Dorado International Airport was closed to be converted into “space for neutral reflection” for all religions.

Juan Vicente Córdoba, the bishop of Fontibón, the Bogotá suburb where the airport is located, said the company that manages the airport closed the place of Catholic worship following the notification of the Secretary of Government of the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, which asked the company “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Speaking to EWTN News, Ortiz pointed out that “lately we are witnessing a wave of interventions regarding religious freedom,” based on a “misinterpretation of the public policy on religious freedom” of 2018.

The priest said that this misunderstanding “leads some people to think that places of Catholic worship that are found in the public buildings of the state,” such as Congress, “have to be suppressed so that the neutrality that a state should have is not compromised.” 

In addition, he pointed out that the congressmen seek to convert Catholic centers into “places of neutral worship,” “but we know that freedom of religion means that that neutral worship does not exist.”

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“There is the neutrality of the state, yes, but neutral worship does not [exist] because the form of worship is the identity of a person in his relationship with spirituality. So there are no neutral forms of worship; there are rather interreligious spaces,” he explained.

In the case of Congress, Ortiz said that “the paradox of this matter” is that in addition to the Catholic chapel, “there has been an interreligious place for some years” in the building with a lectern, a Bible, and books of other religions.

“So, there we are realizing that this is rather a persecution of the Catholic Church. We consider it that way,” the priest said.

Response of the Catholic Church

In the interview with EWTN News, the priest said that the Catholic Church in Colombia has called on the Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior “for Catholic places of worship to be respected.”

Ortiz explained that the Church’s claim to the chapel is based both on the rights acquired over that space — “because the Catholic Church has managed this place of worship for many decades” — and on the principle of proportionality, because “the vast majority of parliamentarians are Catholics.”

The priest asked the faithful to continue defending their Catholic identity, which includes places of worship, because in these places “we meet in liturgical assembly.”

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“Also those that have been built or have been adapted in those places that serve the public; for example, at the airport, perhaps in hospitals, in prisons, in Congress,” he added.

Ortiz said that “they are public places, but with private chapels for Catholic worship. So, that’s why we must identify ourselves as Catholics and go on defending ourselves; of course, within the framework of dialogue and within the framework of religious freedom.”

The priest pointed out that it’s not necessary to suppress the rights of Catholics to defend the rights of others.

“Instead of suppressing places of worship, what the state would have to do, if it wants to defend the religious diversity of Colombia, would be to create new interreligious spaces and not suppress those that already exist,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.