Friday, December 12, 2008

Church accessory to murder?

A question from a reader: The Catholic Church is accused of being an accessory to the murder of thousands in Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Has the Church taken a defensive position in this matter?

My answer: I am assuming that this question refers to the role of the Church in the many wars in Latin America between Leftists and Rightists that have plagued the region for the past three decades. I wonder first off who is making the accusation and what side of the spectrum they come from. But regardless of that, the situation in the Latin American countries is so varied that it is hard to make any general statement about the Church in those countries, and the Vatican has made no such “defense” to any charges against it (although Latin America is referenced in the 1926 Iniquis Afflictisque of Pius XI that decried persecution of Catholics in Mexico). That being said, we may note a few things:

(1) The Church has formally condemned Communism on many occasions, the strongest being in the 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris of Pius XI. This often created an unnatural alliance between the Catholic Church and Rightist groups (Batista in Cuba, Franco in Spain) who also were out to destroy Communism. This was the case in the Colombian war of 1946-1953 (known as "La Violencia") in which the Catholic majority sided with the conservatives against the Communist aggressors.

(2) In states where Left wing, Socialist or Communist groups took power, the Church always sufferred extreme persecution. Such was the case in Mexico between 1917-1934 and in Cuba from 1960-1969.

(3) In some states where Right wing governments were in control, the Church was still mistrusted because of its care of the poor; many saw the Church as a seat of Leftist agitators. This was the case in El Salvador during the civil war of 1980-1992, in which the famous Archbishop Romero was assassinated by a government Death Squad.

(4) In many Latin American countries, the rural clergy have made alliances with Communist groups and have sometimes incited them to violence. This has happened in Brazil and Nicaragua, where the hierarchy supported the Communist Sandanistas against the Rightist Somozas. After the Sandanistas took power, however, they began to persecute the Church for its alleged support of the Contras and the Americans.

As you can see, the position of the Catholic Church in Latin America is a complicated one indeed and only an in depth study of Church-State relations in every individual country could due full justice to the question. Often times the accusations against the Church in this region are part of leftist propaganda meant to discredit their right-wing opponents or are part of the “Black Legend” that attempts to tarnish Catholicism by lumping it in with many real and imaginary abuses of the Spanish in Latin America.

I hope this helps.

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