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The Church and Politics in the Chilean Countryside.

A study of the interaction of the Catholic Church and agrarian politics in Chile from 1925 to 1964. Stewart-Gambino argues that, despite a verbal commitment to the social doctrine of the Church and to an officially neutral position in partisan politics after separation of Church and state in 1925, many Chilean bishops and priests continued for decades afterwards to offer clear moral support for the reactionary Conservative Party. They did this to stop the advance of Marxism in Chile, especially in the countryside where this party was the major political bulwark against the left. Only when the Conservative Party began to lose ground politically in the late 1950s did the Church begin to create significant change-oriented social programs for peasants and to shift its tacit support to a progressive Christian Democratic Party as a more effective defender of church interests rurally and in national society.

S. argues that she is unique in reaching these conclusions, and that she is the first to have studied the structural constraints placed on Chilean church decision making by the political system. Unfortunately, she misrepresents the work of other scholars, including my own book (The Church and Politics in Chile, Princeton, 1982), at times citing quotes out of context. I actually make arguments similar to hers, documenting significant episcopal support for the right well beyond 1925 as well as strong urban Catholic electoral support for the Conservative Party as late as 1958. I also show that new political configurations (the decline of Conservative Party power, an upsurge of Marxism, and the emergence of a viable Christian centrist party) were major (albeit not exclusive) reasons why the Church created widespread social programs to stop the left after 1958 and offered tacit, but clear support for Christian Democracy leading up to the 1964 presidential election.

Her misrepresentations flaw an otherwise well-researched and clearly written book that offers important data on religion and politics in the Chilean countryside during the first half of this century.
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Author:Smith, Brian H.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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