International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of approximately 350,000 square miles and its population is approximately 24.5 million. According to the latest government figures, in 2000 approximately 70 percent of the population were Roman Catholic, approximately 29 percent were Protestant, and the remaining

1 percent practiced other religions or were atheists. There are small but influential Muslim and Jewish communities. The capital city of Caracas has a large mosque, and the country's Jewish community is very active. According to the Government, Protestant churches are the country's most rapidly growing religious community.

There are approximately 4,000 foreign missionaries working in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, and the public order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Ministry of Interior and Justice is the government office responsible for maintaining a registry of religious groups, disbursing funds to the Roman Catholic Church, facilitating the travel of missionaries and religious officials, and promoting awareness and understanding among the various religious communities. Each local church must register with the DJR in order to hold legal status as a religious organization and to own property. The requirements for registration are largely administrative. However, some groups have complained that the process of registration is slow and inefficient.

In 1964 the Government and the Holy See signed a concordat that underscores the country's historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church and provides government subsidies to the Church, including to its social programs and schools. Other religious groups do not receive such subsidies.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion. However, the Catholic Church receives subsidies not granted to other churches, and there are some restrictions on the legal rights of religious groups.

The Government annually provides over $1.5 million (approximately 1.1 billion bolivars) in subsidies to the Catholic Church's schools and social programs. Other religious groups are free to establish and run their own schools, which do not receive subsidies from the Government.

The Catholic Church has expressed concern that a new program for government-provided itinerant school supervisors could, in theory, become involved in the operation of private religious schools, under the provisions of an October 2000 decree by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports. However, as of the end of the period covered by this report, this decree has had no impact on the operation of private religious schools.

In May 2001, representatives of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Churches rejected participation in the newly created "Interreligious Parliament of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" (PIV), a government-organized group of numerous religious organizations whose stated purpose is to coordinate their social programs. In a statement released on May 10, Catholic Church representatives expressed concerns for the Church's autonomy and claimed that the PIV appeared to be an effort to centralize unduly the social work of various churches and religions.

On November 21, 2000, as part of a broader ruling on whether certain entities qualify as members of the Government's definition of civil society, the Supreme Court ruled that religious organizations are not part of civil society, and that as such they may not represent Venezuelan citizens in court nor bring their own legal actions. The Catholic Church expressed concern over this ruling; however, as of the end of the period covered by this report, this ruling had had no impact in practice on Church activities.

Foreign missionaries require a special visa to enter the country, which is obtained through the DJR. Missionaries generally are not refused entry, but many complain that the DJR often takes months or years to process a request due to general bureaucratic inefficiency.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

On several occasions, the Roman Catholic Church has been monitored or threatened by state agents for political reasons; however, there were no such cases reported during the period covered by this report.

The radio station operated by the diocese of Coro had no further problems with the authorities during the period covered by this report. In 1999 two military intelligence agents allegedly warned that they would be monitoring and recording future broadcasts following the broadcast of statements made by the Bishop of Coro against the new Constitution.

There was no reported progress in the official investigation into the April 2000 videotaping by State Security Police (DISIP) agents of a Mass said by Monsignor Baltazar Porras, the president of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV). Monsignor Porras previously had criticized the Government publicly on a number of issues, including a lack of electoral transparency, supraconstitutional activities of the National Legislative Commission, and the Government's rejection of some international aid during devastating floods at the end of 1999. Following the videotaping incident, the Director of DISIP immediately apologized and the agent was suspended. Bishops also had reported receiving telephone threats during the CEV's assembly at that time.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the various religious communities generally are amicable.

There are numerous ecumenical groups throughout the country.

The Catholic Church is a vocal participant in the national political debate.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Embassy maintains close contacts with the various religious communities and meets periodically with the DJR. The Ambassador meets regularly with religious authorities, and the Embassy facilitates communication between U.S. religious groups and the Government.