Both the official and most popular religion in the Dominican Republic, Roman Catholicism has been a part of the region's history since the earliest European settlers made their way to the island. Current census data indicates that 95 percent of the population follows this religion.
In 1954, the government of the Dominican Republic signed a concordat with the Vatican, giving the Catholic church special privileges in the country. However, other groups are allowed to operate as well. The Catholic church is even given freedom from customs duties.
Religious marriages are only recognized if the ceremonies are Roman Catholic – though a civil union is considered legal, and pending legislation debates recognizing non-Catholic marriages. However, public schools have been required to read the Bible since 2000 even though this law is not enforced. Private schools are not required to include Bible readings.
Throughout recent history, the Catholic church has played a major role in the politics of the country. During the dictator Trujillo's reign of power, the Catholic church was important, but its political role was limited. Trujillo was on the verge of removing all of the country's bishops when he was assassinated in 1961.
Since then, the church has become more active in the community. However, throughout the 1980s there was little respect for the clergy in non-religious matters. Often the clergy were not Dominican by birth and were not seen as being particularly well-versed in local affairs.
Mass attendance was low, but faith is observed in different ways in the Dominican Republic. Brujos (witches) and curanderos (curers, medicine men) incorporate elements of Catholicism with folk religions. Brujos sometimes drive out spirits that possessed individuals, while curanderos consulted the saints to determine the herbs, roots, and other cures for patients. This is an area where Creole religions have overlapped with traditional Roman Catholicism.
As the most common religion in the country, there are a large number of adherents. The earliest appearance of the Catholic church on the island was the Diocese of Santo Domingo. Established in 1511, it became an Archdiocese by 1546. The Archdiocese Santiago de los Caballeros was first established as a Diocese in 1953 but was elevated in 1994. The Dominican Republic is home to the Caribbean's first constructed Catholic church.
There are also nine Diocese around the island. They are found in: Baní, Barahona, La Vega, Mao-Monte Cristi, Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia en Higüey, Puerto Plata, San Francisco de Macorís, San Juan de la Maguana, and San Pedro de Macorís. There is a Military Ordinariate as well.
This small country has been strongly associated with the Roman Catholic religion for centuries. Although the Dominican Republic has struggled and found ways to adapt in the new world, it still remains a Catholic nation.
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