Courtesy Reuters

The Roman Catholic Church in Latin America has long been criticized for helping to maintain an anachronistic social system and economic underdevelopment-low levels of education, a rigid class system, disinterest in economic achievement and valorization of order and tradition. Catholics themselves admit that few creative thinkers have come from Latin America, that theologically and administratively the institution has conformed to patterns drawn chiefly from southern Europe. Yet today no institution in Latin America is changing more rapidly than the Catholic Church, and in directions that have important implications not only for defining new relationships between Christianity and the values of society, but also for the role that the Church will play in the region's development.

Like many cultural changes, however, this one has been neither as abrupt nor as total as casual observers have often reported. Just as the Church was never as monolithic or reactionary as its critics claimed,

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