In This Review

New Worlds: A Religious History of Latin America
New Worlds: A Religious History of Latin America
By John Lynch
Yale University Press, 2012, 424 pp

Lynch narrates the 500-year history of the Catholic Church in Latin America with fluidity and intelligence. He appears fundamentally sympathetic to the church’s doctrines and faith and adopts a middle-of-the-road position on the institutional church’s responses to political and social challenges. He criticizes orthodox bishops who became too close to reactionary elites, condemning the church’s record on slavery as “riddled with inconsistency, evasion, and prevarication.” But he also criticizes radical liberation theologians for blurring the distinction between Catholicism and Marxism, and he expresses contempt for Fidel Castro, who repressed the Catholic Church while tolerating syncretic Afro-Cuban religious practices. Lynch prefers moderate reformers, such as those who spoke out against the genocide of the Spanish conquest, even as he recognizes their frequent ineffectiveness during periods of polarization. In more recent times, Lynch finds value in the activist responses of church leaders in Brazil and Chile to military repression while expressing disappointment in the complicity of their Argentine counterparts. He concludes that although “tradition confronts modernity, authority and liberty in the Church have remained indivisible, each a restraint on excess in the other.”