September 25, 2007

Convoked to study the "Evan- gelization in the Present and Future of Latin America," the Third General Conference of Latin America Bishops met in Puebla, Mexico, January 27 to February 13 this year. Behind the innocuous sounding agenda a major struggle in the Catholic Church of this con- tinent was going on to determine the Church's role in Latin American society. Since the con- ference ended some church groups have used its final docu- ment to defend progressive socio- economic programs. Meanwhile, conservative members have been making advances in their goal to take control of the Latin American church hierarchy. FROM MEDELLIN TO PUEBLA The struggle in the Puebla con- ference was unleashed by the Second General Conference held in Medellin, Colombia a decade earlier. A major turning point for the Church, Medellin lined up Catholics on the side of social change to benefit the poor. The JulylAugust 1979 bishops in 1968 voted to break away from identification with the wealthy landowning class and to choose identification with the poor and oppressed. Although many prelates have subsequently reneged on their commitment, the Medellin documents give Church approval to those working for basic social change. They have also given some impetus to what has come to be known as the "theology of liberation." Working from the posi- tion of the poor and oppressed, liberation theologians believe theo- logy has to be done in relation to a specific historical situation, and socio-economic analysis is as es- sential to their work as biblical ex- egesis. However, the conservative sector of the hierarchy has strong- ly opposed the appropriation by liberation theologians of Marxism's tools of analysis and its insight into the dynamics of the social process. Between Medellin and Puebla many Christians have been victims of persecution and martyrdom. Catholic lay persons-as well as priests and bishops-who took Medellin seriously were arrested, tortured, exiled or assassinated. As social injustices and conflicts became sharper, the people strug- gling for revolutionary change have sometimes turned to violence. Those responsible for preparing the Puebla Conference-the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), under the direction of Colombian bishop Alfonso L6pez Trujillo, general secretary (1972-1979)-as Frei Betto observes, felt fearfully impressed by this panorama. The CELAM Secretariat sought to steer clear of another Medellin capable of stimu- lating a politically progressive pas- toral activity. In CELAM's view: * Conflicts with the state should be avoided; * The "popular Church" or "the Church that Is Being Born from the People" should be discouraged; * The theology of liberation should be condemned as a kind of Marx. ist Trojan Horse within the Church; and, * Bishops who are not in agree- ment with the idea of evangelism as limited to the change of cultural values are to be denounced as try- ing to form a "parallel magis- terium." The secretary general's Prepar- atory Document (PD) for Puebla, with a triumphalist view of the Church in Latin America, proposed a "division of work" with the state looking out for the material welfare of Latin Americans while the Church, through its evangelization, would create a "culture" founded on explicitly Christian ethical and moral values. As the Brazilian theologian Clodovis Boff said in a scathing critique, the PD proposed 41update * update . update . update nothing less than the creation of a new Christendom. Treatment of Indians, campesi- nos and workers was omitted. The PD showed greater concern for the secularization of Latin American culture than for the misery of great masses of people exploited by the capitalist system. Many bishops' conferences, es- pecially that of Brazil, severely criticized the PD. CELAM sub- sequently prepared a replace- ment, the Working Document (WD), which delegates received shortly before leaving for Puebla. The WD was an improvement, but it still had a spiritualistic twist, used apologetic language and had a doctrinal dogmatic outline that ig- nored the contributions of Latin American theologians and includ- ed those of certain Europeans. CONSERVATIVE SCHEMES L6pez Trujillo and Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops and head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America-- one of the three Puebla Con- ference presidents, the others be- ing Cardinals Aloisio Lorscheider of Brazil and Ernesto Corripio of Mexico-used some questionable practices to manipulate and con- trol the Puebla meeting. Through his contacts with conservative bishops in each country, L6pez Trujillo had been able to prevent the election of many progressive bishops as delegates. Among those excluded were: Sergio M6ndez Arceo (Cuernavaca), Samual Ruiz (Chiapas), Miguel Obando y Bravo (Managua) and Pedro Casalddliga (Sao Feliz). Nevertheless, the elections did send some outstanding liberal bishops to Puebla: Oscar Romero (San Salvador), Luis Bambar6n (Chimbote), Adriano Hip6lito (Novo IguacO) and Paulo Evaristo Arns (Sao Paulo) among others. The naming of delegates apart from those elected by the Latin American Church was another method of control. The Vatican Since Puebla, the Latin American bishops still have not reached consensus about the Church's proper role in politics. 42 NACLA Report ;E_update* update . update * update Curia named some 20 members. The Pope named 12 Latin Ameri- can bishops, all conservative or extremely conservative, including two who hold the rank of General in the armies of their coun- tries-Cardinal Anibal Mufioz Du- que (Colombia) and Bishop Alcides Mendoza Castor (Peru). In addi- tion, CELAM and the Vatican ap- pointed several representatives of European funding agencies as delegates. The CELAM secretary general sharply reduced the number of periti (theological experts or con- sultants) in attendance and re- quired that they have Vatican ap- proval. All but two of them, as one observer said, "seemed more in- terested in serving the Church then in liberating the Latin American people." The secretary-general denied press credentials to half a dozen journalists-including the dis- tinguished Catholic writer Mary MacEoin, correspondent for Noticias Aliadas and Latinoamerica Press-for "lack of objectivity" in their reporting. Despite their exclusion from the Conference, dozens of Latin American theologians and repre- sentatives of grassroots commu- nities went to Puebla. An informa- tion center under the aegis of Mex- ico City's CENCOS was set up in Puebla where these people provid- ed information and reports for the bishops. In contrast to the tightly controlled CELAM distribution of information, CENCOS held press conferences several times a day, offered open information and showed an attitude of respect for press freedom. Of the CENCOS group, Cardinal Arns said: I think these theologians were the clearest, most Christian testi- mony at the whole Pueblo meeting. More Christian then the testimony of the bishops in their conference. They worked well and would have been able to produce a document ten times more brilliant and perfect than the one we did. Instead of doing so, they humbly contributed to helping the bishops commit fewer errors. THE PUEBLA DOCUMENT The Conference focused on producing a statement or docu- ment and the process was a con- trolled one. Each participant was confined to one of 21 different commissions, each of which was assigned to draw up one section of the final document. Plenary ses- sions for joint discussion of each section occurred only during the final days, and debate was pro- hibited. In comparison with Medellin the Puebla document is pedestrian, but it is one progressive Catholic groups feel they can live with. In general, it goes beyond func- tionalist analysis and tends toward a structuralist interpretation of the Latin American situation. It con- demns "economic liberalism," calling it a "materialistic praxis" which is "blind to the demands of social justice" and "at the service of the international imperialism of money with which many govern- ments are associated and are for- getting their obligations for the common good." Puebla also condemned "classical Marxism" for its "collectivist, almost messianic vi- sion" of humanity. Besides reduc- ing human existence "to the development of material forces of production," for classical Marxism "the person is not originally a pro- duct of his consciousness; he is in- stead constituted by his social ex- istence." He is deprived of his freedom to choose "the road to his personal fulfillment" and lacks "the right to religious freedom, which is the base of all freedom." There was no condemnation of liberation theology as such. To be sure, John Paul II said that if the theology of liberation limited itself to the political or scientific fields it would become "a false theory," a statement with which all theo- logians of liberation would agree. The Puebla document gets ap- proval from Clodovis Boff for three of its condemnations and three of its non-condemnations: it con- demns "capitalist liberalism," the violence of states, and the "doc- trine of National Security"; it does not condemn theology of libera- tion, Marxism as a "methodology of analysis," nor socialism as a historical alternative. POST PUEBLA Progressive groups in Latin America are already buttressing their positions by appeals to the Puebla document. The ONIS priest group fo Peru, for example, issued a statement in June backing the public school teachers on strike and denouncing the military government's economic policy. The ONIS priests quote three Puebla articles, including No. 44, that criticize the Latin American governments' way of dealing with organized labor. Despite the release during the Puebla meeting by the magazine Uno Mas Uno (Mexico City) of a confidential letter from L6pez Tru- jillo to Brazilian Archbishop Lu- ciano Cabral Duarte boasting of his manipulation of the prepara- tions for Puebla, the CELAM direc- torate-overloaded with conser- JulylAugust 1979 43update * update update * update vative bishops-at a subsequent meeting in Los Teques, Venezuela, elected L6pez Trujillo president of CELAM. From his new high post, with a first vice-president of the same mind (none other than Lu- ciano Cabral Duarte, L6pez Trujillo is in a spot where he can impose his will on the Latin American Church. His will is essentially that of the conservative Vatican Curia which sees Latin America's Catholic population as becoming the ma- jority of the Church by the year 2 000. The Curia is not pleased with the thought of a majority of the world's Catholics following a radical or even progressive line. It is especially unhappy with the trend of the Brazilian Church, the most liberal in Latin America. From the Vatican, Cardinal Baggio has enormous power over the bishops and in the new CELAM President he has a lieutenant ready to implement his policies. Several recent events indicate the direction Baggio and L6pez Trujillo intend to follow. Under the aegis of Cardinal Arns, a meeting of persons involved in pastoral in- stitutes in Latin America was con- voked for August this year in Sao Paulo. Since it was not a CELAM activity and was oriented along progressive lines, Cardinal Baggio objected to it in a letter to the episcopal conferences in Latin America. The meeting was can- celled and those who had been in- vited, whether they had been ac- cepted or not, are being harassed. Even more serious is the evi- dent intention to increase the number of conservatives in the Brazilian hierarchy. Based on con- sultation with the CELAM secre- tariat and the papal nuncio in Brazil, Msgr. Carmine Rocco, the naming of new bishops seems to 44 follow a consistent line-the in- stallation of safe, conservative figures who will not rock the Church-state boat. Three recent examples are these: * Reinhard Puender, a German diocesan priest, was named bishop of Coroata (Maranha State). Puender comes from a family closely related to German Christian Democracy and is a member of the Focolare move- ment. * Joseph Hanrahan, an Irish Redemptorist priest, was named to head the prelature of Araguaia. Local observers see this appoint- ment as an effort to make the Dominican Fathers leave the Con- cecao do Araguaia region where they have opposed the military of- ficials' land and social policies. * Manuel Pestana was named bishop of Anapolis (Goias). Pes- NEW MEXICO BOOK PUBLISHED NACLA has just published Beyond the Border, an examina- tion of the social, political and economic ties between Mexico and the United States. The book brings together for the first time revised and updated materials from past NACLA Reports on border industries, Mexican labor struggles, and rural under- development. Entirely new are an overview-analysis of the entangled web of interconnections between the two countries, labor migration tana is a member of the ultra- rightist TFP (Tradition, Family, Pro- perty) movement. In all these appointments the Brazilian hierarchy's special regional commissions named to advise the Vatican on candidates for h-,hops were ignored. For Car- dinal Baggio and Bishop L6pez Trujillo, it is essential to control the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. Their method is that of gradually changing the ranks of bishops to bring in more "orthodox" ele- ments, more submissive to Vatican instructions and less critical of the country's socio- political situation. The tactic is one that could succeed; there are presently some 50 appointments to be made to Brazilian dioceses.

Tags: Catholic bishops, CELAM, Puebla, liberation theology

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