In the late 1980s, Colombia remained an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. More than 95 percent of the population had been baptized in the Catholic Church, and the Colombian variant was widely renowned as one of the most conservative and traditional in Latin America. Colombians were among the most devout of Latin American Catholics. The church as an institution was authoritarian and paternalistic and had traditionally been associated with elite structures in the society.
The Concordat of 1973 defined relations between the Colombian government and the Vatican. The concordat replaced the clause in the Constitution of 1886 that had established the Catholic Church as the official religion with one stating that "Roman Catholicism is the religion of the great majority of Colombians." The concordat also altered the church's position on three major issues: the mission territories, education, and marriage. First, the mission territories--lands with Indian populations--ceased to be enclaves where Catholic missionaries had greater jurisdiction than the government over schools, health, and other services; by agreement the vast network of schools and social services was eventually to be transferred to the government. Second, the church surrendered its right to censor public university texts and enforce the use of the Catholic catechism in public schools. Under the new concordat, the church retained the right to run only its own schools and universities, and even these had to follow government guidelines. Finally, Colombians were allowed to contract civil marriages without abjuring the Catholic faith. The civil validity of church weddings was also recognized, although all marriages were also to be recorded on the civil registry. Catholic marriages, however, could only be dissolved through arbitration in a church court.
Despite these changes, the tenacity of custom and the church's traditional position as a moral and social arbiter ensured its continued strong presence in national life. The parish church still was recognized as the center of nearly every community, and the local priest was often the major figure of authority and leadership. Moreover, most priests were native Colombians, in sharp contrast to the dependence on foreign clergy generally prevalent in Latin America. Approximately 95 percent of diocesan priests and 65 percent of priests belonging to religious orders were Colombians. Since independence, all but four bishops have been Colombian.
In comparison with Catholicism, other religions continued to play a small role in the 1980s. The Protestant population numbered roughly 200,000; Jews were far less numerous, having only a few small congregations in larger cities. In the past, restrictive immigration policy kept most non-Catholics from entering the country. Although Protestant missionaries had been officially allowed to proselytize since the 1930s, they often met with opposition from members of the Catholic clergy and laity. NonCatholics are guaranteed freedom of worship under the Constitution, however.
Few of the indigenous religions encountered by the Spaniards survived. In the 1980s, the Indians of the highlands were at least nominally Catholic, and only a few tribes in the most isolated regions continued in their traditional beliefs. The nation's black population also was nominally Catholic, although vestiges of African religion and beliefs survived in some communities. The black population on Isla de San Andrés and Isla de Providencia was Protestant, however, having originally been colonized by Britain.
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