Religion in Costa Rica
Roman Catholicism is the official, traditional, and dominant religion in Costa Rica. After the government, the Catholic church is the most powerful institution in the country. Since 1949, Costa Rican Constitution provides freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the overall free practice of religion. According to annual International Religious Freedom Reports of the US government, Costa Rican Government generally respects religious freedom in practice. There are few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. However, prominent societal leaders generally take positive steps to promote religious freedom. In 2011, University of Costa Rica published the latest survey on Costa Rican demographics in which it has estimated that 47 percent of the adult population identify themselves as practicing Roman Catholics, 23 percent as non-practicing Catholics, 16 percent as evangelical Protestants, 6 percent as belonging to other religions, and 8 percent as having no religious affiliation.
Roman Catholic Church in Costa Rica
Although the Caribbean Coast was the first that was ‘discovered’ by Christopher Colombo in 1502, the first explorations and settlements of the Spanish ‘conquistadores’ in Costa Rica were on the Pacific Coast, in the Nicoya Peninsula, where several thousands of Chorotega Indians accepted Roman Catholicism. Nicoya village is the site of the first Roman Catholic church on Costa Rican ground, erected in 1544. Other parts of Costa Rica at the time were inhabited by scattered indigenous groups in low numbers.They were almost annihilated by various European diseases, carried on by advancing Spanish settlers. In 1563, Juan Vásquez de Coronado, first governor of Costa Rica, established Cartago in the Central Valley as the national Capital. Once all the gold was shipped to Spain, Costa Rica fell on the coattails of Spanish colonial system, and the low numbers of its indigenous population helped remain there for more than a century. Semi-integration of Church and State was rooted in the simultaneous introduction of Christianity and military conquest of the colony as the church was guaranteed a privileged position in the society and had monopoly over education.
Although there were opposing opinions among clergy on the proclamation of the Independence in 1847, political tensions surrounding the movement were low due to Costa Rica’s geographic isolation and relative weakness of the traditional oligarchy. First Costa Rica constitutive law–‘Ley Fundamental’ declared Catholicism the official state religion and guaranteed its protection by the State. This was reconfirmed in the latter 1847 Constitution, prohibiting the practice of other religions at the same time, but recognized the right of other cults. In order to attract immigrants from Europe and the States, the Constitution was altered again in 1879, explicitly guaranteeing religious toleration.
The Diocese of Costa Rica was established in 1850, which further consolidated country’s independence. Catholicism was recognized as the official state religion in Costa Rica; Catholic education was guaranteed; State was obliged to assume financial support of the Church and assist in the propagation of the faith and acknowledged the Church’s right to possess and acquire property and establish monasteries.
The phenomenon of the Church forming its own party is unique in Central America and has remained a tool of political expression even nowadays. Due to the formation of political groupings around personalities rather than emergence of any strong conservative party, the Church had no one to turn to, to defend its interests and simply formed its own party in 1894. Recognizing the importance of the Church’s support, Liberal governments for the following 40 years avoided confrontations with it, whereas the Church limited itself to purely religious functions and practically ignored rising social problems.
The Reformist Period
The crisis of the agro-export model in the 1940s led to social reforms, implemented by Calderon’s social Christian political project, which was embraced and supported by the newly installed Archbishop Sanabria. This support completely overturned the Church’s political discourse on social matters at the time, and was essential to the success of the social reforms in the economically struggling country.The religious social orientation was weakened somewhat after Sanabria’s death in 1952, after which the Partido Liberación Nacional, characterized by its conservatism, dominated the political arena and frowned on liberal social organizations. Following a long period of silence under Sanabria’s successor, the Church addressed pressing social matters again in the late 70s, with a feeble attempt to cure the symptom, rather than the cause of the crisis.
Catholic Church Today
Although the Government continues to maintain close relationship to the Catholic Church, 47% of the Costa Rican population expressed that they would rather live in a secular state, according to recent survey by Unimer, conducted for the newspaper La Nacion in March 2013. This is a 7% increase of the number recorded in the poll two years prior—41%. A Majority of the people simply do not have a strong identification with the church or with its teachings and 30% of those surveyed in the most recent poll said they didn’t care if Costa Rica has an official religion or if it was secular.
Other religions in Costa Rica
The 1880s mark the earliest Protestant missionary efforts in Costa Rica, guided by English speaking West Indians. They settled on the Caribbean Coast after one of the biggest development projects ever endeavored in Costa Rica—construction of the railroad connecting the Central Valley and the Caribbean. The growth of the Protestant Movement, especially since the 1960s has led to the current state of ‘religious pluralism’. Approximately 92 percent of Protestants are Pentecostal and 8 percent are Baptist. A Community of Quakers from the U.S. state of Alabama moved to Costa Rica in the 1950s and founded the town of Monteverde, along with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) estimates its membership at 35,000. The Lutheran Church estimates it has 5,500 members. The Jewish Zionist Center estimates that there are 2,800 Jews in Costa Rica. Although they represent less than one percent of the population, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strong presence on the Caribbean coast. Seventh-day Adventists operate a university that attracts students from throughout the Caribbean Basin. The Unification Church has its headquarters for Latin America in San Jose. Other religious groups include followers of Islam, Taoism, Krishna Consciousness, Scientology, Tenrikyo, and the Bahai Faith. Indigenous people are more likely than non-indigenous people to practice animism.