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The Catholic Church in Peru: 1821-1985, A Social History.

By Jeffrey Klaber, S.J. Washington: Catholic University of America, 1992. Pp. xi + 417. $49.95.

The Catholic Church has played a major role in Peru's development from the time of contact with Spain and continues to wield considerable influence. In addition, the forging of a common Peruvian identity is largely the work of the Church. Klaiber's impressive book, a slightly revised edition and translation of his La iglesia en el Peru, su historia social desde la independencia, fills a much-felt gap.

Spain brought militant Counter-Reformation Catholicism to the New World in the 16th century. The long colonial era in Latin America developed a particular tradition of paternalism, authoritarianism, and centralization in establishing the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. Contrary to a widespread perception, newly independent Peru of the 1820s inherited an institutionally weak church. Vast geographic areas were not easily reached. The colonial church was never a monolithic entity, but fragmented into small groupings of practicing faithful and beyond them the large masses of "Christians vaguely identified with Catholicism through certain external signs and practices" (14). Furthermore, independence plunged Peru into political and social turmoil. The Church faced a shortage of priests, a decline in the number of religious orders, and attacks on the Church by a succession of liberal governments who rejected both Spain's heritage and Catholicism. Another serious cause of the Church's profound crisis was the decision by the government to restrict the number of convents or monasteries, at a time when church income decreased considerably, as did priestly vocations. Decisions had to be made about admitting indigenous candidates to seminaries, despite existing cultural barriers. For Peru was a divided society, part of it European with components of an acculturated mestizo middle class, but a large mass remained indigenous and unacculturated.

A new Catholic militancy emerged in 1855-1900 to fight liberal anticlericalism. By the second half of the 19th century women became the mainstay of the faithful. K. presents a masterful synthesis of the resurgence of religious life, spanning the century beginning in the 1860s, largely due to the work of teaching orders, foreign as well as Perovian. By the 1860s, convent- or monastery-based schools, parish schools, and seminaries which also educated laymen flourished. Franciscans, Augustinians, Dominicans, Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart Sisters and others ran vigorous educational establishments. Education was the most efficient weapon against anticlericalism and in countering the effects of Protestant inroads into education. The Jesuits returned after their colonial suppression, but were banned once again from Peru in 1886. This second expulsion triggered a renewal of Catholic militancy giving birth to the Catholic Union, which became a successful player in Peruvian politics. There is no doubt that although Catholic schools educated preponderantly the upper and middle classes, they often also educated the poor. The schools were crucial in forming a Christian laity. Several Peruvian presidents and other leaders were products of Catholic schools.

The contemporary period is the main focus of K.'s work. An informative chapter delineates the complex worlds of "The Rural Andean Church," which is profoundly religious and where popular religiosity and diverse cultural expressions in worship thrive. Here the institutional Church's social control is weakest. Benevolent societies and confraternities not only were the primary vehicles maintaining religious practices but also contributed to keeping alive the cultural identities of these isolated Andean communities.

Catholic lay militancy before and after World War II paved the way for profound transformations in the Peruvian Church, partly in reaction to the conservative area of 1919-1930. Propelled by Catholic Action groups and inspired by the Church's social teachings, the militant laity and important sectors of the Catholic press wanted to reform society. As a result of the laity's political activism the Church changed direction towards greater openness and pluralism. An important modernizing. factor was the influx of foreign missionaries, especially the Maryknolls. "The militant church was transformed into the modern church" (244). K. emphasizes that the 1955-1975 period was the most crucial in Peruvian church history as a fairly conservative Church modernized and opened up, right along with the Second Vatican Council.

During the reformist military regime of Velasco Alvarado in 1968-75 the Peruvian Catholic Church served as the model for Latin America. It is no small coincidence that the father of the liberation theology movement, Gustavo Gutierrez, emerged in Peru during this period. The Church in Peru embraced the goals of social and economic reforms set forth in the Medellin and Puebla episcopal councils. Despite fears of Marxist infiltration into the liberal Church and the creation of a parallel "popular church" none of these materialized in Peru. Gutierrez maintained close ties with Cardinal Landazuri, "so much so that many considered the cardinal a sort of protector of liberation theology" (309). However, the new social consciousness inspired many to find new meaning in Catholicism and at times a greater commitment.

K.'s research in primary and secondary sources in Spanish and other languages has been exhaustive. The scope of this work is impressive, and it is written in a lucid and readable style. K. is an American Jesuit and historian, who lives in Peru, teaches at the Pontificial Catholic University in Lima, and does missionary work in the burgeoning pueblos jovenes or new settlements. This book, a major contribution in both its Spanish and English editions, unquestionably contributes to a greater understanding of the Church's growth and development in Peru; and because Peru is a major multicultural country where the Church is very important, it presents a paradigm for studying evolution and change in the Catholic Church in Latin America.
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Author:Dorn, Georgette Magassy
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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