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, recent reform movements have not totally captured the Catholic community or followed a single, unified path. Rather, the Church is in a continuous transition which has greatly intensified in the last decade, building on a long tradition of division and dissent that dates as far back as the early sixteenth century, when Father Bartolomé de las Casas provoked a debate over the Indian policy of the Spanish conquerors.

An examination of the effect of the structure of the Catholic community on decision-making and a discussion of recent trends among Catholic élites will help to clarify the Church's function as an agent for change in Latin America.

Such an analysis must begin with the Catholic people in Latin America, by distinguishing between the masses, 90 percent of whom profess to be Catholics, and the é1ites, who have a greater understanding of what their religious commitment means. The former are not profoundly Catholic by any criterion: theological awareness, sacramental participation, mass attendance or conformity to the Church's ethical teaching. Since Catholicism does not seriously shape their public actions, it is inappropriate to praise or blame the Church for what these "Catholics" do. More or less illiterate, participants in various forms of culture religion, in minimal contact with the Church, the lower classes have not shared in the renewal of Catholic life in Latin America. Their place in the Church, nevertheless, represents one of the great unsolved pastoral problems.

The élites, on the other hand, are composed of bishops, clergy and laymen whose educational level and participation in Church institutions enable them to internalize Catholic teaching and apply it to their everyday decisions. Recent changes in the outlook of the Church have produced a wide range of reactions among these élites. Those who attended religious schools or belonged to Catholic Action a generation ago usually have a quite different point of view from today's younger generation, and clearly, the views of individual Catholics, though deriving in part from Church teaching, are shaped by a whole range of non-religious factors: the views of relatives, the outlook of the social class to which they belong, personal economic interests or other educational influences.

Brazil, for example, was the scene of two extremely different dramas of Catholic activity in early 1964. In one, hundreds of thousands of upper- and middle-class women engaged in "Marches of the Family with God for Liberty," protesting against the "communism" and "corruption" charged to the régime of João Goulart. In the other, the most concerned youth, largely products of élitist Catholic Action organizations, participated in a range of activities by which they hoped to share in a "revolutionary" movement leading to "socialism" in Brazil. How did Catholic motivation and principles influence the two patterns of action? The former reflected the training of the official Brazilian Church in the 1940s and '50s, which regarded communism as the chief threat to everything that was valued, and defined political action moralistically as opposing corruption and defending the family. At the same time, the class interests of these people, their anxiety about inflation, economic chaos, the possibility of proletarianization and a political swing leftward, reinforced the themes mediated by the Church. The latter group, on the other hand, represented a new generation more preoccupied with underdevelopment and injustice than with supposed Marxist dangers. They were imbued with a theology challenging them to participate with non-Catholics in movements leading to change and the creation of a more just social order. The context in which they acted- as students and intellectuals in universities, sharing in discussions on development and its ideological prerequisites, and engaging in projects among the lower classes-similarly reinforced the radical ethical perspective they received in Catholic Action.

Differences of opinion among Catholic élites, then, seem to come from two influences: (1) the various interpretations of social responsibility prevalent in the Catholic community, which may correspond in greater or lesser degree to the current teachings of the Pope, bishops and theologians; (2) nonreligious factors, which influence the values and responses of an individual-indeed even the way he reads the Church's teaching. The Church recognizes this interplay, for it assumes that its social principles are generalized and that each person, living with his own problems, must in the final analysis make his own choices as to their proper application.

Keeping in mind the distinction between masses and élites, and the factors producing varied élite reactions, how does the position of the Church on key Latin American issues in fact develop? According to the ideal Catholic model, decision-making moves from the top, the papacy, downward to the laymen. The Pope enunciates broad principles on a certain topic, as Paul VI did on problems of development in Populorum Progressio or on responsible parenthood in Humanae Vitae. Subsequently, regional and national organizations of bishops may apply papal teaching to the more specific problems within their jurisdiction. The Latin American Bishops' Council, usually called CELAM, has been especially active in analyzing regional issues in the light of papal declarations and giving guidance to the national hierarchies which have moved rather slowly in Church renewal. Below CELAM, most of the national councils of bishops have issued documents speaking more directly to Catholics in their countries. In the last stage of this model, priests and laymen read what the authorities of the Church have said and apply it to their own situations.

The dominant note in this conception is the initiative and guidance of the Church's highest authorities in confronting and acting on issues. The documents of CELAM and the national bishops' organizations reflect their adherence to papal orientation in frequent reference to encyclicals. On all levels of this process the teaching conveys a sense of reasonableness, moderation and almost celestial wisdom, marked by careful and unified devotion to past tradition and superior authority.

If this ideal model were wholly accurate, one could comprehend the Church's relation to Latin American problems merely by searching out what the Pope and bishops have said, To adopt this simple method, however, would distort the manner in which Catholic thought, individuals and organizations interact with society and would miss the dynamics behind the current struggle for relevance in the Church.

The papal and episcopal documents deserve examination not for their transcendent wisdom but because they reflect the consensus, compromises, trends and pressures of various interest groups within the Church. The Pope and the bishops are not innovators on social issues; rather they respond to the ideas and activities of individuals who have been dealing with these issues, reacting to changing public pressures, testing policies, and who feel that the Church should now take an official position on them.

The problem of economic development is a clear illustration. The papacy has a long history of speaking on social problems-labor organization, just wages, the role of the state in the economy and the function of private property-going back to the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). It did not, however, deal with what we understand by the term "economic development" until 1961, when Pope John broke the ice with some minimal remarks in his Mater et Magistra. A more detailed discussion appeared in the Vatican Council Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1963), but only in 1967 did Pope Paul (in Populorum Progressio) dedicate an entire encyclical to development.

This lag in the official teaching of the Church did not deter many Catholic students, politicians and government officials from absorbing the new economic views that began to circulate after World War II, largely through the influence of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America. They formed organizations and took positions, sometimes in conflict with other Churchmen, for years before the Church officially spoke. Certain progressive bishops, such as Msgr. Hélder Câmara, a Brazilian, and the late Msgr, Manuel Larraín, a Chilean, had important influence on higher Church authorities, arguing that they must deal with these issues in terms of fundamental Catholic ethical convictions and to avoid the Church's becoming irrelevant.

The documents of the Church reflect polar pressures. On the one hand, because they must satisfy both liberal and conservative prelates, they often resort to vagueness and ambiguity to gain acceptance. On the other hand, the liberals, because of their greater conviction and sophistication on the issues under discussion, tend to dominate meetings of the bishops and frequently succeed in getting their views inserted in the documents.

Grasping the dynamics of change in Church policy thus requires careful attention to innovating élites, which include some bishops but primarily priests and laymen. Innovation is a prerequisite to adaptation and relevance in Church teaching, but by its very nature it involves action which lacks the security of official Church approval. It is not surprising, then, that innovators appear as radicals in conflict with current interpretations of Catholic social doctrine. Many aspects of the present consensus, as reflected in the episcopal documents, were regarded by the Church as irresponsible only a few years ago. While official teaching already contains features that will mature into greater significance in the future, those who want to understand what the role of the Church may be thirty years hence should look not to the consensus of today but to the attitudes of innovating élites which are shaping the consensus of tomorrow.


The current modernization of the Church in Latin America began in the 1930s, when Catholics were stirred by fresh and exciting political options associated with neo-Thomism and fascism-both claiming to interpret authentically the papal social teaching. The neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain converted a segment of the young intellectuals in the Church to religious pluralism, democratic processes, the defense of individual and group rights, and opposition to totalitarianism. In Chile, for example, the major legacy of this period was the Falange Nacional, a party founded in 1938 on neo-Thomist principles, which attracted the ablest young Catholics and evolved by 1957 into a Christian Democratic Party. In Brazil, the Church's major group of intellectuals, associated with the Centro Dom Vital, devoted themselves to communicating neo-Thomism, strengthening liturgical life and forming Catholic Action groups as a prelude to revitalizing Catholicism in the country.

By the fifties, then, the Church was in a state of flux. With varying force and effort in different countries, certain bishops, priests and educated laymen were criticizing the internal structure of the Church and arguing for greater social relevance. Significantly, by the time of the Vatican Council the Latin American bishops generally supported the reforms recommended there. During the fifties, also, a few Latin American Catholics were beginning to go beyond Maritain, adopting existentialist motifs from Emmanuel Mounier and Louis J. Lebret, and analyzing nationalism and Marxism for their relevance to the problem of underdevelopment.

In discussing élite movements within the Latin American Church, many writers have emphasized-too simply-the emergence of what they call a modern, reformist or progressive position as opposed to a more traditional one. At the same time they have emphasized characteristics which fit their own presuppositions about Latin American development within the context of options offered by the rivalry between the Western and communist blocs. These errors have led to a neglect of the division within the modernizing élites and overlooked the linkage of some Catholics with non-Catholic intellectuals in seeking an approach to the region's problems which is distinctively Latin American and free from the interests of the cold-war contestants.

The outside world first awoke to a new Catholic attitude to Latin American development in the late fifties. Articulated by spokesmen who favored reform, it was validated through activities conducted under Church auspices, such as the promotion of labor organizations, credit unions or housing for the poor. The major symbol, however, came to be Chile's Christian Democratic Party, which emerged as a dynamic new hope, gaining impetus from the disappointment in older political movements and the turn taken by the Cuban Revolution. Under the leadership of outstanding intellectuals like Eduardo Frei and Radomiro Tomic, the Christian Democrats, who had languished as a mini-party for two decades, began after 1957 to build new strength among the progressive middle class, youth and women, and to become the leading alternative to Chile's Marxist Popular Action Front. Their moderation and reformism, balance between private initiative and state planning, sympathy with the Alliance for Progress, affinities with Christian Democratic movements in Western Europe, and messianic sense of being Latin America's alternative to Marxism, attracted admiration and support from abroad.

The Chilean Church came to represent an ideal pattern of the new Catholicism. Alongside the Christian Democratic Party a number of progressive priests were busy in community organization and development, formation of unions and similar constructive projects. An outstanding group of Jesuits trained in the social sciences promoted discussions among younger Catholics aimed at formulating policies to meet the country's problems. In 1962, the Chilean episcopate threw its support on the side of basic reforms in agriculture and education and urged prompt attention to unemployment, malnutrition and urban housing conditions. In the same year the bishops of Talca and Santiago donated lands owned by the Church for an experiment in agrarian reform that was to shape subsequent legislation. The Chilean Church thus presented a unified approach to development; from hierarchy through clergy to laity, the interlocking components of the Church projected a constructive image that attracted increased support from Chile's indifferently Catholic population. Most important, the results were effective, for in the 1964 presidential election Frei conquered the perennial candidate of the Popular Action Front, Dr. Salvador Allende.

Since 1965, however, the unity of this approach has deteriorated. Despite impressive programs of industrial investments, agrarian reform, public control of copper production, and social programs aimed at the lower classes, the Christian Democrats have lost electoral support and squabbled internally. In May 1969, several leading members, including Senator Rafael Gumucio, of a family renowned for its devotion to the Church, withdrew to form the Unitary Movement of Popular Action (MAPU). The Jesuits, who are popularly regarded as the intellectual mentors of the Christian Democrats, are now divided, and their journal incurred the censure of the bishops, apparently for publishing an article reflecting some appreciation for Che Guevara. In August 1968, a group of priests, nuns and laymen seized the cathedral of Santiago, chiefly to protest against the coming of Pope Paul VI to Colombia; they organized themselves into the "Young Church" to prod the ecclesiastical authorities and to act against continuing injustice in Chile.

Hindsight enables us to see that the woes of Chile's Church did not begin in 1968. The Chilean pattern, or what observers thought was the Chilean pattern, existed alongside another quite different Catholic perspective on Latin American problems. As far back as 1957, a minority of the Christian Democratic Party proposed united action with the Left, but were outvoted by those who advocated a "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism. The party platform had long opposed capitalism, but this was usually interpreted by outside observers as support for a mixed economy. Few noticed that some leading Christian Democrats wanted to abolish capitalism and replace it by "communitarianism," which they described as "a form of socialism." The slogan for the 1964 election, "Revolution in Liberty," clearly meant reformism; but some younger militants apparently believed that victory would usher in a real revolution, in the sense of a new economic order, a restructuring of social and political power, and an independent foreign policy. Some of the more active Catholics, furthermore, did not sympathize with Christian Democracy, viewing it as an unwarranted attempt to stamp a Catholic hue on a pluralistic and secularized society.

Since the late fifties, these and other more radical themes have circulated among Latin American Catholics, but they received sparse attention. The chief center of religious leftism or radicalism was in Brazil, where Catholics in the early sixties shared with communists and other Marxists the leadership of the National Student Union and the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers. As radicals came more and more to dominate the news media, critics incorrectly belittled the coherence and significance of their position. In 1966, one of Colombia's most competent priests, a sociologist trained in Europe, died fighting with a guerrilla band, A couple of years later, one of the outstanding young bishops of Northeastern Brazil publicly praised Cuba as an example of resistance to "North American imperialism." The most recent incident centered on the voluntary withdrawal from sacerdotal functions of a learned priest in Mexico, whose criticism of the American Church and government had provoked a Vatican investigation into his opinions.

The participants in these actions were neither unstable nor eccentric, but were among the outstanding Catholics in their countries and representative of a growing critical outlook within the Church. To regard them as irresponsible crypto-Marxists because of their often enunciated anti- capitalism and anti-imperialism distorts their intention and significance. It fails to distinguish Marxism from the quest of sophisticated Latin Americans for an autonomous economic policy and a replacement of power structures that have held the bulk of the population in passivity and backwardness.


A more appropriate framework for analyzing the more radical Catholic trends is suggested by recent events in Latin America. It seems evident that the Alliance for Progress-at least under that name-is passing. Ironically, since the basic ideas of the Alliance came from Latin America, in the proposal of Brazil's President Kubitschek for a Pan-American Operation and in the suggestions of the Economic Commission for Latin America, the initiative of President Kennedy and the intrusion of United States interests into aid policies transformed the image of the Alliance into something North American. Nevertheless, as a Latin American answer to Latin American problems, the Alliance was responsive to concerns which had preoccupied some of the region's most reflective élites for decades. This quest for autonomy does not necessarily mean an irrational rejection of suggestions from abroad, but a conviction that solutions must be molded to fit local contexts and that foreign rather than Latin American interests dominate initiatives so far taken by the developed countries. "Escape from dependence" is a common theme in what is sometimes called "regional nationalism."

Recently this outlook has gathered new strength. The Peruvian expropriation of the International Petroleum Corporation and Chile's new policies toward the Anaconda Company are responses to popular aspirations for control over basic natural resources. Peru's staunch defense of its territorial waters to a 200-mile limit, firmly backed by Ecuador and Chile, is linked not only to the economic significance of Peru's role as the world's leading fishing nation but to the defense of national dignity. More significant than these actions has been the initiative by the Latin American countries, through the Special Commission for Latin American Coördination (CECLA), in informing the United States what they want rather than waiting supinely for Washington to determine its policy to the south. The frank comments of Colombia's President Lleras and Chile's Foreign Minister Valdés to President Nixon, and the harsh criticisms of the Rockefeller Mission in the Latin American press, all reflect a festering irritation and impatience, even among moderates, for greater independence of action.

The Church fits into this context. Like certain other Latin American institutions, it has had to work its way out of traditional perspectives and functions bound to the underdeveloped past, through a stage of almost uncritical adoption of guidance from outside sources whose financial backing, power and technical competence seemed to hold the key to renovation and development. The next stage, into which some Latin American institutions appear already to be moving, is likely to be based on greater self-analysis and reliance on internal resources.

For the Latin American Church such maturation has implications not only for public policy but for the renewal of Christian life. As a young Chilean bishop describes it, "The Chilean Church presently depends on foreign money, foreign clergy, foreign ideas. The reconstruction of the Church will begin when it has to depend on itself." Autonomy for the Latin American Church means independence not only from the developed nations but from Rome as well. At the bishops' synod held in Rome in October 1969, Latin Americans were among the leading spokesmen for greater freedom of decision.

Not surprisingly, those with innovating social and economic views often have critical suggestions for the Church as well. In the past, the values, contacts and support of the Church tended to mirror the power structure. The proposals for a new Church represent a reversal of tradition. In contrast with the posture of strength from which the Church operated- socially prestigious, friendly with the oligarchy, exaggerating the Catholic commitment of the population-the critics hope for a weak and poor Church, humble and rooted in the lower classes, dynamized by small groups acting with strong conviction to better society. Fundamentally, they believe that the Church should recognize its minority status, as representing a small number of profound Christians in a religiously diversified and secularizing region.

If the real Church is a minority, it must be doubted that Catholicism has a special mission to "save" Latin America through organizations of Christian inspiration like the Christian Democratic Party. This insight, that much "progressive" Catholic action represents an attempt to establish a "new Christendom," originated with the Brazilians prior to 1964 and is gaining ever wider acceptance among thoughtful Churchmen. The next step is a policy of coöperation with other groups which share a concern for Latin American autonomy, economic development and drastic social change. These may include, and in some instances have included, Marxist groups, though the Marxist-Catholic alliance should not be exaggerated as a dominant motif. Many Catholics now hold a set of convictions that may be shared by communists but are also held by many non-communists as well: (1) development requires control of vital natural resources by Latin Americans; (2) public control of key sectors of the economy is preferable to private control; (3) Latin Americans must unite to prevent violations of their sovereignty based on ignorance of local reality, such as the American invasion of the Dominican Republic or the continued blockade of Cuba; (4) the majority of the population should acquire a critical awareness and establish organizations through which they, rather than the minority, can exert political pressure on issues of public policy. Given these principles, common activity with leftists and hostility to aspects of the United States presence in Latin America are natural corollaries. If Catholics now use such catchwords as "imperialism" and "colonialism" with reference to the United States and "class struggle" to describe their social structure, it is because Marx, who is a respected sociologist in many parts of the underdeveloped world, offers a set of categories that make sense to them.


The most recent statement of the bishops, that issued by CELAM at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, is entitled, "The Church in the Present Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the [Vatican] Council." It illustrates how themes once considered radical are now acquiring authoritative respectability as part of the consensus. Even though it suffers from the ambiguity typical of episcopal pronouncements, the Medellin document reveals the domination of a relatively advanced group of bishops in its formulation. In contrast with attitudes of only a few years ago, the Medellin document avoids any pretense of giving "Christian answers" or assuming that the Church has a special solution to Latin American problems. Rather, the bishops insist that they merely want the Church to participate with other institutions in what is described as a given process of transformation.

Gone, too, is the long familiar anti-Marxist tone. To be sure, many bishops personally continue to consider communism the chief problem in Latin America, but the document, in its section on "International Tensions and External Neo-Colonialism," deals with something else: "the consequences for our countries entailed by their dependence on an external center of power, around which they gravitate." After referring to the depreciation of the benefits of international commerce for underdeveloped countries and criticizing the flight of capital, remission of profits and dividends, progressive indebtedness from borrowing and international monopolies, the document denounces "imperialism of any ideological type, which may be exercised in Latin America in an indirect form and even with direct interventions." The reference is clear. It contrasts with the sense of affinity toward the developed countries common in the Church only a few years ago. In questioning the virtues of private foreign capital and the effects of external financing, it reflects the belief of critical Catholics that anti-Marxism had obscured a more fundamental problem-the relations of Latin America with the United States and other developed countries.

The general diagnosis of Latin American problems in the Medellin statement is not unique, nor does it provide technical answers. These lie outside the competence of the Church. "Our contribution does not intend to compete . . . with our national, Latin American, or world organizations, much less reject or ignore them. Our purpose is to stimulate effort, accelerate accomplishments, deepen content, and penetrate the whole process of change with evangelical values." The Church, as a molder of consciences and an interest group, supports the contributions of other public and private institutions.

It views its special mission as "contributing to the integral promotion of man and the communities of the continent." Integral promotion refers to the fulfillment of man's multiple possibilities and responsibilities, while the focus on communities mirrors the long-time organic or "solidary" way in which the Church has viewed society. Though the latter stress has affinities with the corporativism of an earlier era, the bishops insist that the structures between person and government must be "organized freely, without undue intervention of the authority and dominating groups."

Related to "integral promotion," but representing a genuine innovation, is the focus on "awakening of consciousness" (or in its original Portuguese form, conscientização). This concept, which developed in radical Catholic circles in Brazil after 1960, refers to the transformation of the passive, exploited lower classes into conscious and critical masters of their own destinies. In its original form it implied a shift of power to the lower class, but as it spread it underwent some reduction of its revolutionary implications for social change. The bishops in the Medellin document frequently use the term in a somewhat diluted sense, as "awakening consciousness and community habits in all professional circles and groups."

The more vigorous sense of conscientização, however, appears in the section on education, a field in which an able group of advisers has encouraged CELAM to adopt advanced and innovating ideas. The Medellin document is clearly inspired by the views of Professor Paulo Freire, a Brazilian exile who is Latin America's most creative educational philosopher. Criticizing schooling at all levels, it concludes that schools are "more preoccupied with the transmission of knowledge than with the creation, among other values, of a critical spirit. From the social point of view, the educational systems are oriented to maintaining the existing social and economic structures instead of transforming them." The alternative proposed is "liberating education," which endows the student with some control over his own development; it should be "creative" and anticipate "the new type of society which we are seeking in Latin America." The Church "feels particular solidarity with every educational force tending to liberate our peoples." One can scarcely imagine a sharper reversal of traditional Catholic pedagogical concepts.

On economics, the statement criticizes both "liberal capitalism" and Marxism, for both systems "violate the dignity of the human person, since one has as presupposition the primacy of capital . . . in function of profit, while the other . . . in practice becomes a totalitarian concentration of power in the state." According to the bishops, economic enterprises should be "fundamentally a community of persons and unity of work, which need capital for the production of goods." They look with sympathy on coöperatives, ownership of capital by workers, and participation of labor representatives in managerial decisions as steps toward the new economic order which is usually called "communitarianism."

The bishops reject violence as an instrument of social change. While recognizing the justice in many arguments of those who advocate it, they insist that "justice, and consequently peace, will be achieved through a dynamic action of awakening consciousness and organization of the popular sectors, so that they can then urge the public powers, who are often impotent in their social projects without popular support." This position comes at a time when many Catholics, especially youth, have lost faith in nonviolent solutions. The alternative proposed by the bishops represents a significant advance over older positions, which emphasized reasonable, harmonious discussion as the legitimate means of overcoming injustice. Popular awakening and organization point explicitly to pressure by the lower classes as an instrument for defending their interests and sharing more fully in social decisions. Since one of the most obvious weaknesses of much traditional Catholic social thought was its failure to recognize the role of pressure and conflict in constructive change, conscientização represents a noteworthy breakthrough in this area.

Finally, the discussion of family planning deserves some mention. Here the bishops, no matter what they personally think, had to conform to the declarations of Pope Paul VI. The document fails to face frankly the need for family planning as part of economic development. Nevertheless, family planning is progressing at an encouraging pace. Even though some hierarchies have criticized family planning programs, nowhere is the Church carrying out a concerted campaign against them; key Catholic leaders support them; and in practice the Church has worked out ways of evading the official position to which it must give a nod. Lower-class women generally do not know the position of the Church and, if they do, ignore it. The most effective government program of family planning in the region is sponsored by Chile's Christian Democratic government, while the fastest growing may be found in traditional Colombia. In practice, modern Catholic élites believe that the Pope is wrong on this issue and that a future pontiff will modify it.


It should now be clear why simple generalizations about the Catholic role in Latin America are hazardous. The directions of élite action and official thought are in transition. Catholics know that the Church is not simply a structure to which they adapt themselves, but a community from which its members derive motivation and, ever more frequently, a critical outlook which is impatient for development, tired of injustice, resentful of outside paternalism. Just as the Church provides a perspective forcing its élites into criticism and action, the conscientious decisions Catholics make, in turn, reshape the consensus articulated by major spokesmen. Such a dynamic interaction cannot be encapsulated into a sharply defined contribution of the Church to Latin American development. In the final analysis, that contribution is made up of the actions of Catholics.

Nevertheless, as an institution with a position, the Church seems certain to share in the regional consensus favoring nonviolent change. Although it understands the necessity of economic development and supports it, the technical aspects of economic growth lie outside its professed competence and restrict action to a few trained individuals. The Church, therefore, has postulated for itself a special vocation in social development- criticizing injustice and carrying out programs for popular participation in social benefits and political decisions. If "regional nationalism" gathers strength in the major Latin American countries, the Church, while sympathizing with it, may have an important impact by insisting that governments dedicate themselves not only to national autonomy but to serious reform.

The important contribution of Latin American Catholicism to our understanding of social change, conscientização, will then assume a decisive significance. Latin America is underdeveloped, not only because it does not produce enough, but because the majority of the people cannot and do not know how to participate in national life. Just as the quest for self- definition of a minority, the Black conscientização, is shaking the United States today, the "awakening of consciousness" among Latin America's majority will have even more revolutionary, unpredictable consequences. In this process, which cannot be postponed indefinitely, Catholics and the Church may have a formative role. The maturity of thoughtful Latin American Catholics is most aptly symbolized by their recognition that this awakening should not be guided by "Christian principles," but that Latin Americans, who are people before they are Catholics, will define their own style of emancipation.

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