Post-Medellín Challenge and Response
The conference at Medellín thrust the Latin American church into new commitments in the same way that Vatican II had done for the universal church. Within the church itself, the changes proposed by each council met resistance from those who found the shift in orientation too sudden, or too far-reaching. What would happen to the authority of the magisterium in a pluralistic church? In Octogesima Adveniens ( 1971) Pope Paul VI wrote of the need to recognize the diversity of the world's Catholic population, and acknowledged the church's inability to offer a universal solution for all times and all peoples. But could this diversity eventually weaken the universal church? He had strongly encouraged a participatory role for the laity--but was it not ultimately the hierarchy, and especially the pope, who were entrusted with preserving the integrity of the institutional church?
From a historical perspective it is evident that an important source of strength in the church has been the maintenance of a strict traditional, or hierarchical, authority structure. Since Leo XIII, most encyclicals have relied on the teachings of previous popes and most papal statements have referred extensively to earlier papal documents. 1 The maintenance of papal authority was deemed vital to the integrity of the church. Despite the sincere statements of many popes concerning pluralism there was a strong tendency to see diversity as a threat to authority, just as unity was considered a source of strength. This attitude was dominant until the Second Vatican Council, where church authorities seemed to endorse the idea of promoting strength through diversity. Yet it has been difficult to adhere to that path. Often, the rhetorical support for pluralism has not been realized in the concrete actions of the hierarchy, from the Vatican to local bishops. This gap between rhetoric and practice is vividly demonstrated by the events surrounding the Nicaraguan Revolution, as we will see in Chapters 7 through 10.