The Americas 59.1 (2002) 132-133
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In this study Patricio Valdivieso attempts to analyze the roots of Chilean Catholic social thought and to trace the development of a Catholic social program in Chile between 1880 and 1920. The book offers a broad introduction to European social thought of the nineteenth century and a fine analysis of how Chilean bishops, priests, and laymen became increasingly influenced by the experiences and actions of the European Catholic Church. It is based solidly on a broad set of sources and the author demonstrates that he is fully in command of the corresponding literature on European social thought and on Latin American Church history.
The topic and its timeframe are well chosen. The decades between 1880 and 1920 represent a crucial period in the history of the Latin American Catholic Church, when in many countries this central religious institution was increasingly confronted with modernization and secularization processes, including what is often called the "Social Question." In this latter area the Church competed with its prime enemy: socialist parties and trade unions. In many Latin American countries the future position of the Catholic Church depended on how it would cope with these threats.
The first chapter sets the stage in form of a detailed description of the social consequences of economic modernization in Chile. It includes data on demographic development, on processes of change in agriculture and industry, on social conflicts, and on waves of social protest. Chapter two forms the core of the book. The author first delivers an in-depth presentation of the history of European Catholic social thought of the nineteenth century. He focuses on the discussion of the Social Question and the impact of the famous papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891). Then he turns his attention to how European Catholic ideas were received by different segments of the Chilean Church, how they collided with traditional Chilean Catholicism and how Churchmen ultimately forged their own Catholic social program. The author rigorously traces the different ways European Catholic thought penetrated the Chilean Church. Just as in many European countries the social program was aimed at maintaining Catholicism as an attractive alternative to the increasing influence of impious socialists. The central question of the third chapter is how different social groups in Chile gradually developed a general consciousness of the implications of the country's "Social Question" and how the Church attempted to present solutions to the problem. In other words, the chapter demonstrates the practical realization of the Catholic social program in the form of establishing a Catholic workers' association, the demand for public housing programs, etc. [End Page 132]
On the one hand, I was impressed by the thorough and profound discussion of some aspects of the topic (e.g., the background information on the process of modernization, the extended presentation of European social thought). On the other hand, these detailed presentations went at the expense of a number of key questions that the book should have addressed. For example, instead of dedicating 150 pages on Chile's economic and social history, it would have been desirable to learn more about the characteristics of the Chilean Church as compared to the Church in other Latin American countries. Also, the central element of the book, namely the development of a Chilean Catholic social program, lacks an answer to the question of how the specific social and economic conditions of Chile required modifications and adjustments of European models. By addressing these issues the author would have made a more distinct contribution to the study of Latin American Catholicism.
Still, this is a very useful book for scholars interested in the history of the Catholic Church in Latin America and in processes of secularization and modernization. Valdivieso succeeds in presenting an extremely well researched study. The book should provoke more high-quality case studies which would help us to...