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Swiss referendum frees Catholic Church

The Vatican can now create new dioceses in Switzerland without first consulting the Government.

The Tablet reports the a referendum earlier this month favoured dropping a 127-year-old provision in the Swiss constitution that regulates the activities of the Catholic Church. Switzerland was the only country in Europe still maintaining such control.

The regulation stems from the protracted nineteenth-century struggle between the Catholic Church and the German government known as the Kulturkampf, which spilled over into Switzerland and led to a series of anti-Catholic measures. Restrictions on the Jesuits were not lifted until 1973.

The constitutional reform has reawakened religious sentiment in Switzerland, whose population is divided almost evenly between Catholics and Protestants. Polls showed half of eligible voters were undecided shortly before the vote; in the end 64.2% favoured abrogating the law. In Protestant cantons, the vote oscillated between 50 and 60%.

Protestant church groups did not give official advice on how to vote, but spokesmen complained that the federal government had sided with the Catholic Church on the issue. The Swiss Parliament decided last year that the law went against religious liberty, and favoured amending the constitution. Some Swiss theologians argued in favour of maintaining the provision, on the grounds that the Catholic Church has never accepted the Protestant Reformation. The dissident Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, told a Bern newspaper he also favoured retaining the law because of the Church's continued 'central authoritarian administration'.