A former teacher’s discrimination lawsuit against the Chilean government will be heard by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), a potentially historic development which could alter the country’s law and finally grant justice in this near-decade long case.
Sandra Pavez, who is also a former nun, taught religion in Chile’s public schools for more than 20 years until 2007. That year, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo forced her out of her job because Pavez is a partnered lesbian woman. She explained to WRadio:
“He told me that he had heard I was a lesbian and demanded that I leave my partner and seek the care of a psychiatrist of the Catholic Church. I refused and have never been able to enter a classroom since. . .
“I thought the Chilean Catholic Church was more humane and accepted people as they were. I was greatly disappointed.”
Under a 1984 law passed under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Catholic leaders control decision making about religion teachers in the public school system. Rolando Jimenez of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) called this dynamic “unacceptable” and a “conspiracy
A July finding by the IACHR said that in Pavez’s case evidence existed that the Chilean government had violated the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, specifically in regard to the right to privacy and due process. Previous appeals for justice in this case had failed, including a domestic lawsuit which ended unsuccessfully at the country’s Supreme Court. LGBT advocates are hopeful, however, that this latest legal development from IACHR will lead to justice and to the law’s repeal.
Jimenez said victory would be a “symbolic and political” act for not only Chile, but for all Latin America in breaking up collaboration between nations and the Catholic Church. He said, in part, that a ruling for Pavez would “disarm conspiracy and violations which make accomplices of the Chilean State and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.” Pavez explained the specific LGBT implications, saying:
“It shouldn’t be that someone can silence a person who wants to speak of God but has a different sexual orientation. I will fight to the end to set a precedent in history.”
There are two possible outcomes at this point because of IACHR’s July determination that equality-related violations had occurred. While the Commission’s findings are non-binding under international law, the Chilean government could agree to a settlement in which it apologizes and awards damages to Pavez, along with repealing the 1984 law. If that doesn’t happen, Pavez’s lawsuit, aided by MOVILH, would proceed to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on the Chilean government.
Chile is not the only nation where Catholic leaders have control over state employees; a similar firing happened in Spain’s Canary Islands a few years ago. Many nations retain laws and cultures which are deferential to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Beyond the LGBT justice issues here, MOVILH’s Rolando Jimenez pointed out that this case also challenges an oppressive system by which Church and State leaders have retained power with unjust consequences.
God can transform injustice into grace and Latin America’s troubled recent history offers many signs of this transformation. Perhaps God will use Sandra Pavez’s case to bring justice not just to LGBT communities, but as a seed which then blossom into liberation for all people.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry