Up to 1,000 churches of various denominations have been shut down by authorities in Angola, on the western coast of Africa.
A new law determines that churches can only operate if registered with the government. To register they must be able to prove they have at least 100,000 faithful, and pastors are only allowed to preach if they have a degree in theology.
The law has especially affected small and unaffiliated Protestant churches in this Portuguese-speaking country, many of which have their roots in other African countries, or in Brazil.
The crackdown has been going on for a few months now but picked up speed in the weeks before Christmas. Francisco de Castro Maria, director of religious affairs at Angola’s Ministry of Culture, told Vatican News: “Over 50 per cent of the churches in our country are foreign, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Nigeria or Senegal. These new rules are the result of a long struggle against the establishment of new religious cults in Angola, which began in 2013.”
There are reports of dozens of pastors being arrested, many in the restive enclave of Cabinda, where there is a strong movement in favour of independence. They are charged with persistently opening their churches following the enforced closure, thereby breaking the law.
The Catholic Church in Angola has not taken a stand on the law, but one bishop who asked not to be identified said that the bishops tended to support the measure as a way to curb the expansion of what he said were mostly cults, many of which were only after money and caused social instability.
“But we must be careful not to create martyrs unnecessarily,” he added, stressing that the Church was watching cautiously and condemned any use of violence in the operations. “There are rumours that the Catholic Church is behind the law, but that is not true,” he said.