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  • The Vatican and Catholic Activism in Mexico and Chile: The Politics of Transnational Catholicism, 1920–1940 by Stephen J. C. Andes
  • Matthew Butler
The Vatican and Catholic Activism in Mexico and Chile: The Politics of Transnational Catholicism, 1920–1940. By Stephen J. C. Andes. [Oxford Historical Monographs.] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2014. Pp. xiv, 250. $99.00. ISBN 978-0-19-968848-7.)

Stephen Andes’s excellent study of transnational Catholic politics in Mexico, Chile, and Rome connects two national histories to interwar Vatican diplomacy. The book is rigorously transnational in methodology, too, and plumbs Mexican, Chilean, and Vatican archives. Thematically, Andes offers a politico-diplomatic history of the “Romanization” of Latin American Churches, a theme that the historiography usually addresses with reference to cultural topics and earlier periods. Andes makes an original intervention by illuminating a critical phase in which Catholics aimed to build a neo-Christendom, so discomforting national governments if not Rome itself. Superior Vatican sources also give him access to the corridors of political power, substantiating a convincing thesis of attrition and laicization. On one hand, he argues, Rome pursued an unwavering strategy from Leo XIII’s papacy, canalizing Catholics away from radical confessional parties into civic bodies (especially Catholic Action). The reduction of autonomous organizations, furthermore, increased Rome’s political bargaining power, with the papacy emerging as essential state interlocutor. Counter-intuitively, Andes concludes that the differentiation of Catholics’ political/religious lives facilitated the growth of Christian Democracy by getting the Church out of politics; henceforth, secular parties could draw inspiration from Catholic doctrine without implicating the institution.

The book first charts the revamping of the nunciature system and creation of an Ecclesiastical Affairs section as the means through which Vatican elites engaged secular governments and dominated episcopates. Core chapters describe an “intraecclesial power struggle” (p. 4) between Roman and Latin American Catholicisms. Three chapters on Mexico trace the rise of a headstrong social Catholicism through Jesuit-run bodies like the Social Secretariat or the secret brotherhood of the “U.” By the end, we see how Ecclesiastical Affairs pressured the bishops to curb such militancy in the interests of a Church-state modus vivendi. Andes has fascinating finds concerning the role of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who compelled Mexican lay leaders to obedience in New York in 1936; he reveals how intense Vatican pressure was brought to bear on Leopoldo Ruiz as Mexico’s homegrown (and often despised) apostolic delegate. By 1938, then, the division of Catholic activism into nonconfessional parties and pious organizations accountable to Rome was achieved.

To Andes’s credit, he is even-handed in his discussion of Chile. Here, an outmoded Conservative Party used to shielding the Church stood between Rome and a concordat. In these chapters, we see another division by the 1930s with younger Catholics embracing Catholic Action as a sociopolitical alternative to conservatism. The book closes with a valuable first study of the 1933 Iberoamerican Congress, attended by political Catholics such as Eduardo Frei and Manuel Ulloa. The congress, Andes argues, encapsulated Rome’s attempt to form loyal political cadres across Latin America, although its long-term impact is less clear. [End Page 963]

In sum, Andes stresses Rome’s gravitational pull and pragmatism: the wager that a centralized accommodation of states––even Mexico’s––would eventually win toleration for Catholics, so was preferable to allowing national Churches to mobilize freely. This is no top-down reading, however, but a nuanced account of how the terms of Catholic politics were internally renegotiated along transnational circuits in ways that tipped in Rome’s favor. One famous example must suffice: Andes shows that Rome’s decision to negotiate with the Mexican government to end the Cristero revolt was not autocratic bad faith but a reflection of its long-term aspirations for the region, of changes in Vatican politics (the ascendancy of moderates under Cardinal Pietro Gasparri), and of its sense of the balance of power in Mexican and U.S. Catholic circles. If the drift was toward Rome, contingencies, conjectures, and coalition politics abounded.

Of course, the book is not perfect. Andes’s diplomatic sources minimize the domestic friction generated by nunciature politics. Latin American Catholics’ ability to...


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