The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond

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The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond. By John Frederick Schwaller. New York: New York Univ. Press, 2011. Pp. ix, 318. $35.

This volume traces the major themes and issues in the history of the Catholic Church in Latin America from Columbus to the present, a difficult task for a region today comprising eighteen nations, each with its own distinctive history. Understanding that he cannot be encyclopedic, John Frederick Schwaller presents a "general framework" designed to help readers make sense of a long and complicated history by paying particular attention to the political and economic influence of Catholicism in the region.

There is little doubt, argues Schwaller, that the Catholic Church is the "central institution" in the history of Latin America. He demonstrates convincingly that church-state relations have usually been one of the most important issues, if not the single most important issue, in any given viceroy alty or nation. From a priest's rebellion against Cortés during the conquest of Mexico, to the Bourbon monarchs' showdowns with the Jesuits, to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's confrontations with Cardinal Raúl Silva Hénriquez, the relationship between the church and secular powers has had profound implications for the direction and stability of Latin American society.

Given the centrality of the church in Latin America, the ongoing struggle for priestly vocations detailed throughout the book strikes a slightly discordant note. …