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The Changing Role of the Catholic Church in Latin America

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´╗┐NAME OF STUDENT: NIKITA PARDESI STUDENT I.D #: 806006486 TITLE OF PAPER: The Changing Role of the Catholic Church in Latin America The Catholic Church is inextricably linked to the political, social and cultural roots of Latin America. However, as often acknowledged in international relations scholarship, the role of the Catholic Church has changed significantly over time and continues to evolve in Latin American society. Whilst it is acknowledged that various academic conceptualizations of Latin America may be provided, for the purposes of this paper, it is simply defined as the countries of the South and Central American mainland where Spanish or Portuguese is the official language and it also includes the countries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The overarching aim of this paper is to paint a general picture of how the role and the influence of the Catholic Church in Latin America have changed significantly since the period of colonization. Consequently, this paper firstly aims to discuss the role of the Catholic Church during the age of conquest by focusing mainly on Spanish and Portuguese imperial agenda and the destruction of indigenous religions. The traditional role of the Catholic Church is discussed in terms of the colonial period and the relatively intimate relationship between the Church and the State. Secondly, this paper aims to discuss liberation theology as illustrative of the growing awareness that the traditional role and values of the Catholic Church are substantially inadequate when addressing social issues prevalent in Latin America, particularly that of poverty eradication. ...read more.


Liberation theology is a political movement within the Catholic Church that seeks to promote social justice by addressing poverty and underdevelopment of the poor. Liberation theology as well as, to a great extent, the Medellin and Puebla Conferences, represent the recognition of the failure of the orthodox Catholic Church in dealing with the social issues of the poor.[11] Liberation theology was significantly founded on Marxist insights as it highlighted the class structure in Latin America that was perpetuated by the State and the institution of the Church. Instead of focusing on religious doctrine that emphasized success and rewards in the afterlife, it emphasized instead the need to achieve success and development in the present life. Therefore, it advocated preparing the poor with the necessary skills to bring them out of poverty. In an effort to pursue its objectives, Christian Based Communities were set up in rural areas in order to train peasants with skills considered helpful in their economic advancement.[12] However, this new movement created some friction within the Catholic Church itself as reflected by its rejection of the Marxist claim of class struggle by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Consequently, liberation theology reflected a transformation and a new radical branch in the Catholic Church. It is illustrative of the degree to which the changing socio-economic landscape impacts the nature of institutions. The growing concern for poverty creates an ideological fracture within the traditional institution of the Church that prioritizes human and social justice. ...read more.


Marx and Durkeim attribute this phenomenon to modernization and urbanization as they posit that religion becomes increasingly futile in modernized society. However, the Catholic Church still maintains an important social and cultural role in Latin America in terms of individual identity. It also plays an important pacifying role in some aspects of the social and political landscape as reflected by its role in the Chiapas movement in Mexico. Therefore, to a significant extent, the modern role of the institution of the Catholic Church is arguably that of a civil society organization in the sense that it assists the government and society in addressing and resolving social and economic issues. The role of the Catholic Church has changed significantly since the age of conquest. The age of conquest and the period of colonization represented the dominance of the Catholic Church in the political, social and cultural spheres of Latin American society. However, in sharp contrast the power of the Catholic Church in dictating the established order has significantly declined. It is acknowledged that the Church?s declining influence varies to different degrees among Latin American countries. However, the general overarching trend across Latin America is the declining influence of the Catholic Church, especially as it relates to laws, policies, social norms and social dynamics. The main driving forces behind the declining role of the Catholic Church is the changing nature of society itself due to the influences of globalization, democracy and religious pluralism. ...read more.

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