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  • El Concilio Plenario de América Latina: Roma 1899
  • Willi Henkel O.M.I.
El Concilio Plenario de América Latina: Roma 1899. Edited by Antón Pazos and Diego Piccardo. [Acta Coloniensia: Estudios Ibéricos y Latinoamericanos.] (Madrid: Iberoamericana, and Frankfurt am Main:Vervuert Verlag. 2002. Pp. 204 paperback.)

The present publication offers two outstanding contributions to a symposium that was held in the Vatican on June 21–25, 1999. Pazos is the author of the chapters 1–2 dealing with the Church in Latin America at the end of the nineteenth century and with the preparation of the Plenary Council of Latin America (PCLA). Chapters 3–4 are written by Piccardo, who presents the celebration of the PCLA and an analysis of its documents. Both authors make extensive use of the archival material that for a few years has been available from the Archivio della S. Congregazione degli Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari of the Vatican.

In 1888 Archbishop Mariano Jaime Casanova of Santiago de Chile took the initiative to write to Pope Leo XIII and propose the celebration of a PCLA. The Latin text of the letter is published in the appendix of the book (pp.163–66). The pope warmly welcomed the project and provided for an intensive preparation. In a circular letter to all the Latin American bishops the Secretary of State, Cardinal Rampolla, proposed the possibility of such a gathering, and he also asked an expert in canon law, Concha of Chile, to elaborate a scheme for the meeting. In 1894 Leo XIII appointed a commission of cardinals and experts to prepare and to study the project, involving all the Latin American bishops in the work of preparation; they were also asked to propose a possible place for the meeting as well as procedures. The answers of the bishops contained rich and useful material for the coming discussions. But also the commission of cardinals was quite familiar with the situation in Latin America; they discovered [End Page 185] weak points in Church-and-state relations. After almost a century after independence some clergymen and bishops had to continue with the patronato system; also pastoral needs were neglected.

Outstanding experts of canon law such as F. X. Wernz and G. Bucceroni, and especially J. de Llevaneras, the future cardinal Vives y Tutó, offered a careful examination of Concha's scheme; the experts were entitled to propose additions and changes. After this Wernz and Llevaneras were asked to prepare the final scheme of the agenda for the meeting of the PCLA. In order to avoid national rivalries Rome was chosen as the place of the CPLA, where the bishops met from May 5 to June 9,1899. The project was discussed in twenty-nine general sessions and voted on by fifty-nine Council Fathers in nine solemn sessions. The Pope proposed a cardinal as honorary president, and the archbishops were effective presidents of the meetings, taking turns; they presided according to the dates of their nominations. In the first General Session the members of the PCLA elected secretaries, judges, promoters, relators, notaries, and advisors; in the second session rules for procedures were established and freedom of speech was affirmed. In the discussions the considerable influence of Freemasons in some places and governments emerged. The PCLA clarified the question and facilitated the application of church norms in this regard. The fathers also showed an awareness of the problems of the aborigines. They recalled to parish priests the duty of learning native languages, avoiding racial neglect, and taking care of dying persons also in distant places. The need of seminaries, the solid formation of the clergy, and incardination were thoroughly discussed. However, the shortage of priests was not sufficiently presented. In some countries the application of the Church's social doctrine caused difficulties.

The Bishop of San Luis de Potesí, Ignacio Montes de Oca y Obregón, known for his literary talents, was asked to translate the Latin text of the acts into Spanish, which facilitated a greater diffusion. The revision of the acts was performed by the same commission of cardinals, who had prepared the PCLA. To them was added Cardinal Vives y Tutó. On January 1...


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