Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medellín Is "Fantastic": Drafts of the 1969 Rockefeller Report on the Catholic Church

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medellín Is "Fantastic": Drafts of the 1969 Rockefeller Report on the Catholic Church

Article excerpt

In a January 1989 pastoral letter, Archbishop Próspero Penados del Barrio of Guatemala railed against Protestants' growing influence in this Central American nation. From 1969 to 1989, Guatemala's Protestants increased from 2 percent to approximately 33 percent of the population, the most dramatic increase in Latin America. The archbishop blamed the United States for this growth.* 1 As he alleged, "The diffusion of Protestantism in Guatemala is more part of an economic and political strategy" of U.S. business and political interests, "than of an authentic religious interest." To Penados, the U.S. desire to promote Protestant conversion was nothing new. In 1969, Penados noted, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller recommended that President Richard Nixon support Protestant churches' attempts to counter the Catholic Church's social justice efforts in Latin America.2 Nixon asked Rockefeller to consult with Latin Americans to assess U.S.Latin America policy and to inform its future development. As part of this project, Rockefeller evaluated the Alliance for Progress, the U.S. aid program to Latin America initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Based on visits to twenty countries, Rockefeller's findings were publicly released in 1969 as the Rockefeller Report on the Americas: The Official Report of a United States Presidential Mission for the Western Hemisphere (Report).3

Penados was not alone in making these accusations. In the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. and Latin American Catholics who opposed U.S. policy toward Central America cited the Report as the beginning of U.S. government efforts to eradicate progressive trends in the Catholic Church. In a 1978 interview, Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo of Cuernavaca argued that U.S. analysts seemed "very preoccupied with the paths the church is taking." As his first example, he cited the Rockefeller Report's discussion of the 1968 Medellin conference,4 at which the Latin American bishops concluded that both internal and external structures of society oppressed the majority of Latin Americans through "institutionalized violence."5 In 1980, journalist Penny Lemoux argued that Rockefeller "warned the U.S. business community of the anti-imperialist nature of the Medellin documents." She also contended that the Report's observation that the Catholic Church was "vulnerable to subversive penetration" provided the basis for 1970s U.S. policy toward the Church in Latin America.6

In the subsequent decade, progressive Catholic press accounts in the United States and abroad extended Lemoux's argument by emphasizing the similarities between the Report and President Ronald Reagan's approach to Central America.7 Critics linked the Rockefeller Report to the Santa Fe document in which presidential candidate Reagan's advisers asserted that "Marxist-Leninist forces have utilized the church as a political weapon against private property and productive capitalism by infiltrating the religious community with ideas that are less Christian than Communist."8 These allegations regarding the Rockefeller Report have continued into the twenty-first century.9

The charges exist within academia as well.10 Some scholars have argued that the Rockefeller Report advocated the use of conservative religious groups to stamp out progressive Catholicism. As one academic has alleged, the Report noted that "the Catholic church has ceased to be an ally in whom the U.S. can have confidence" and therefore recommended that the U.S. government counter the growth of liberation theology through "an extensive campaign with the aim of propagating Protestant churches and conservative sects in Latin America."* 11 Neither passage exists in the Report, as at least one scholar has noted.12

Although the Report did state that the Church was "vulnerable to subversive penetration," it did not comment on potential implications for U.S. policy. Observers of the Report have combined this statement, Rockefeller's footnote on the Medellin conference, and subsequent U. …

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