The Path of Latin American Catholicism

  • Emile Poulat
Part of the Latin American Studies Series book series (LASS)


Between Europe and America lies an ocean, the Atlantic, which, depending on your point of view, either separates or unites them. Is it preferable to note the banality of the statement, or to stress the reality of the distance? Words disappear, realities persist. In Europe, since the beginning of the century, national traits have become more marked, and yet at the same time the continent has developed a particular identity. Even through the very wars which ravaged her, she has built a community with an historic destiny based on her economic and political predominance in the world, her cultural and colonial expansion, and the forms taken by the ‘social question’ and the ‘religious question’. Western Catholicism as we know it, which is far from constituting the whole of the Latin Church, or even the whole of the Roman Catholic Church, is the product of this history. From Leo XIII onwards, it has been more and more marked by Catholic Action and by the Catholic social movement under names and in forms which have varied in time and in place.


Military Regime Social Doctrine Collegial Church Catholic Hierarchy Catholic Action 
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  1. 1.
    The following year saw the creation of the Pontificio Collegio Americano del Nor? and approval for the Pontifical French Seminary created in 1853. In 1934 under Pius XI, a Pontificio Collegio Pio Brasiliano was detached from the Collegio Latinoamericano, as had been previously separated from it a pontifical Canadian college in 1888 and a pontifical Mexican college in 1967. The Latinoamericano and the Brasiliano were made the responsibility of the Jesuits ‘ad perpetuum’. At the age of 31, the future Pius IX had belonged to the MUZZI mission, the first Pontifical mission in Latin America (Chile 1823–95) and had been profoundly marked by this experience.Google Scholar
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    Acta et decreta Concilii plenarii Americae latinae in Urbe celebrati anno Domini MDCCCXCI?, Romae, Typis vaticanis, 1900, CX—X462 p., plus an Appendi? of 779 pages. Present were 14 archbishops and 40 bishops. Among the eight consultors all resident in Rome were the Spanish capuchin, Vives y Tutó (who was appointed cardinal during the council) and Fr Wernz, the future general of the Jesuits.Google Scholar
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    The second was held at Medellín (Colombia) in 1968, the third at Puebla (Mexico) in 1979. Paul VI attended the first one and John Paul II the second one.Google Scholar
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    The United States, which is a member of the OAS, does not belong to CELAM. Cuba and Puerto Rico, which are members of CELAM, are not members of the OAS, the first because of its exclusion, and the second because of its political status. Similarly, there used to be an Episcopal Conference of Central America and of Panama. Since its replacement by national bishops conferences, it continues only as a Secretariat.Google Scholar
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    DT, ‘Amérique latine’, T.1, col. 1081 (Paris: Letouzey and Ané, 1900) quoted in the encyclopaedia Catholicism?, t.1., col. 458 (ibid., 1948). The Episcopal Conference of Brazil (CNBB) is the second most numerous in the world after that of Italy. In 1977, there were 637 ecclesiastical jurisdictions in Latin America of which 217 were situated in Brazil. The number of Catholics was estimated at 284 million out of a population of 336 million. These figures have to be treated with great prudence.Google Scholar
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    Two North American scholars have written theses on the work of Fr Vekemans. One purports to establish his links with the CIA while the other denies them. The answer to this question involves a series of problems which the sociologists must address. These are the links between sources of finance, channels of distribution, research programmes, relationships between power and knowledge and the way each of them is used, or between the disinterestedness of the researcher, the strategy of his intervention, the interests of his work and the publication of his results. More generally is involved the interplay of multiple finalities implied by the series of operations and politicoideological divergences between researchers. An academic conflict of a normal type is thus complicated in the heat of action by factors which are blind to nuances.Google Scholar
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    This is from Alex Morelli (1919–79)’s posthumous publication, Haciauna Iglesia popula? (Mexico, 1980). ‘This continent is a volcano’ he used often say. Having arrived in Montevideo in 1959, and having been expelled from Uruguay in 1965, he received from Edmond Michelet a diplomatic passport which facilitated his work. He took up residence in the great shantytown of Mexico city, Netzahualcoyotl (more than 2 million inhabitants).Google Scholar
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    The new form of Catholic Action was initially seen by enthusiastic lay people as an alternative to the general Catholic Action on the Italian model which enjoyed the support of the bishops, JEC, JAC, JOC, ACI, ACO, MIJARC ... These movements became rapidly politicised and this is a constant of the development of Catholic Action simply for over a century now. This was also the time when people read the Jerusalem Bible, translated Chenu, Congar, Lubac, sang the psalms of Gélineau, when the University Centre of Mexico modelled itself on the Centre Richelieu of the Sorbonne.... The dominant ideology was that of development, and it was not yet contested by the theory of dependence and the consequences which follow from it.Google Scholar
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    The most recent criticism is Roland Gaucher, Les Finances de?’Église de Franc? (Paris: Albin Michel, 1981) ch. VI. (The CCFD is compared to Secours Rouge.)Google Scholar
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    The State made a contribution to the erection of the new basilica which was inaugurated when the solidity of the old building gave grounds for worry.Google Scholar
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    When Jean Paul II visited Mexico for the Episcopal Assembly of Puebla (1979), President López Portillo saluted him at the airport. This was the minimum requirement of courtesy. When the President’s daughter married in 1981, the newspapers were full of details of the civil ceremony without ever mentioning the religious ceremony which had taken place in the strictest privacy of the presidential residence.Google Scholar
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    The confiscation of the property of the clergy which was subsequently sold to lay purchasers.Google Scholar
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    On this period, Rodolfo Ramon de Roux, Église et société enColombi? (9 April 1948). Fonctions sociales et fonctionement de?’institution catholiqu? (Paris, 1981), 334 p. (third year thesis, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales).Google Scholar
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    Can one then speak of a‘disintegration of the Catholic ideological block’ or suppose that this integration was more apparent than profound? It was only in 1931 that the Holy See brought about the creation of a Catholic Action complemented by the Catholic trade unions and subsequently by Christian Democracy. This however was but a development of the traditional core. While the appearance of Christians for Socialism is something new, the detestation of conservative catholics is a simple reappearance in force.Google Scholar
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    Charles Antoine, Le Sang et?’espoir. Ces chrétiens?’Amérique latin? (Paris: Le Centurion, 1978) 148 pp. A detailed but non-exhaustive chronology is to be found in América latina Boleti? (October 1978) published by the International Student Christian movement and the Jeunesse étudiante chretienne internationale (JECI): ‘Padeceran persecucion por Mi Causa’. Diez anos de conflicto Iglesia-Estado en America latin?, 320 pp.Google Scholar
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    Leader of the Golconde group which had published in January 1969 a ‘Manifesto for Socialism’. This text declared itself in favour of the revolution and the institution of a socialist-type society.Google Scholar
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    ‘L’Église paie un lourd tribu en Argentine’, published in Le Figar? of 20 February 1978, under the signature of Jean Bourdarias: how then could the Argentinian bishops remain silent?Google Scholar
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    The classic text is Gustavo Gutiérrez, Teología de la Liberación: Perspectiva? (Lima, Peru: CEP, 1971); translated into French: Theólogie de la Libération. Perspective? (Bruxelles: Edns Lumen Vitae, 1974), 343 p.; Ruben A. Alves, Christianisme, opium ou liberation? (Paris: Edns du Cerf, 1972), 195 p. While there have been priest guerilleros, such as Camilo Torres, and then Domingo Latin, both of whom were killed in combat, there was also the non-violent way illustrated by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Le Christ au ponch? (Paris: Centurion, 1981), 160 p. (The author received the Nobel Prize for Peace 1980.)Google Scholar
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    It is as if from within their political independence, the Latin Americans had become conscious of an economic and social dependence for which marxism provided them of a model of analysis. Similarly, as if within their colonial dependence, the Africans had felt a loss of their cultural identity and thus felt that they never had acceded to their authentic Christian personality. For their part, western theologians under the influence of liberal society, explored a theology of secularisation and then in reaction to this, a theology of revolution. These are the new paths of political theology which has a rich and long past.Google Scholar
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    Charles Antoine, ’Integrisme brésilie? (Paris: Centre Lebret, 1973), 121 p. Another question is what the ideology of national security, and more generally, Latin America, owe to maurrassisme. See Miguel Rojasmix, ‘Charles Maurras en Amériquelatine’, Le Monde diplomatiqu? (November 1980).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Pablo Richard, Origine et développement du mouvement ‘Chrétiens pour le Socialisme’, Chili, 1970–197? (Paris: Centre Lebret, 1976) 166 p. See also Pablo Richard, Mort des chrétientés et naissance de?’Églis? (Paris: Centre Lebret, 1978), 25 p. More general and theoretical: Giulio Girardi, Chretiens pour le socialism? (Paris: Edns du Cerf, 1976) 206 p. (bibliography, pp. 149-60).Google Scholar

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© Dermot Keogh 1990

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  • Emile Poulat

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