The Role of the Catholic Church in Latin America

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The first Catholic priests came to South America with the conquistadors and through social and political force superimposed 16th century Catholicism upon conquered peoples and in subsequent generations upon slaves arriving in the New World. Catholicism has, likewise, frequently absorbed, rather than confronted, popular folk religious beliefs. The resulting religion is often overtly Catholic but covertly pagan. Behind the Catholic facade, the foundations and building structure reflect varying folk religious traditions. (2)

This could be a result of so much territory with so little resources equals heresy and abuse. For most of Latin history, however, the number of priests has been insufficient to effectively minister to all the people. Religious vacuums have thus been created, especially in rural areas and on the outskirts of urban areas. Anthony Gill, who describes the religious economy of Latin America, writes, "The evangelization mission of the Catholic Church, to ensure all members of the population were inextricably bound to Catholicism, suffered due to the simple dynamics of restricted supply under a monopolized religious market" (1). People, rather than traveling great distances to visit a priest, turned to various forms of folk Catholicism to solve everyday issues regarding sickness, financial gain or loss, and romance.

The saying that "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" seems to fit some accounts of the Catholic Church in Latin America. Far away from the authority and watchful eye of the Vatican, atrocities in the name of the Church had taken place. Though I believe it was not the norm but the exception.

But with that said, some positive social changes have come about from the introduction of Catholicism to Latin America. In its true form, the church has been a source of basic human rights for the people. The church would often oppose the government's unjust treatment of the people, who otherwise had no other representation. The church also...
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