Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Historical Attitudes of the CIA Towards the Catholic Church in Latin America

The Central Intelligence Agency has declassified a large group of documents, mainly relating to the Cold War up to 1973, available at

The bulk of these documents are concerned with the Soviet Union and Communist China.

The CIA was also concerned with the spread of leftism in Latin America that came from within the Catholic Church. This ought to make interesting reading: the CIA leadership tends to come from what used to be called the 'Eastern Liberal Establishment', the descendants of the Puritans and broad-church Anglicans living off of inherited wealth and influence. Although now largely apostate and secularized, this group's culture is still influenced by the Reformation: particularly the idea that one's own salvation can be known with certainty, and that a sign of God's favor is wealth and health. Flowing from this idea is that the poor and sick are almost certainly damned: consider the military policies that can come from this attitude! What later became known as the heresy of Liberation Theology was indeed a problem for the United States and for the Church, but the Church and State had different solutions to this problem, which still greatly affect us today.

See the formerly secret CIA document The Committed Church and Change in Latin America, dating from 1969, and declassified in 2007:
After centuries as a major force for conservatism and status quoism in Latin America, the Catholic Church has become a breeding ground for a wide range of socio-political action groups ranging across the spectrum from extreme radicals to extreme reactionaries. Rather than tranquility and order, new radical Church factions espouse revolutionary change; they demonstrate and disrupt with such vigor that in some instances they have all but upset delicately balanced political and social systems.
In the early 19th century, revolution based on the secular French model swept throughout Latin America; the revolutionaries were harshly anti-Catholic, and so the instead of the old unified society, the Church in Latin American became more closely aligned with large landowners to the detriment of the poor. This situation became reversed by the mid-1950s.
As a result, at mid-century the Church was still mainly oriented along lines stressing those portions of the papal encyclicals Rerum novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo anno (1931), which defended the rights of private property and condemned Socialism, but playing down the concern for the working man, and the admonitions as to the responsibilities of property owners, which were also expressed in those papal encyclicals.

Since the mid-1950s, the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America has been reoriented from its traditional role as a major bastion of the status quo to become one of the principal proponents of change in the area.
The Church had embraced the wrong status quo, because of the anti-Christian Socialists, and then many of her members switched sides to embrace the opposite, but equally erroneous opinion.
The [Catholic] Radicals are willing to align with anyone and to use any means to destroy the established order. This raises the noise level and increases the likelihood of violence, especially in societies where the political framework is fragile. Most of the Moscow-aligned Communists in Latin America, however, are much more conservative than are the Radicals...

The only certainty is that the Church will become more rather than less involved in the changes that are occurring.
The opposition and struggle between rich and poor is the antithesis of Catholic culture, and the Church's temporary alignment with the elite was of course misguided, as was its later alignment with the Marxists.
Perhaps the most notable shift, however, was in the relationships of the Church with the dictatorial governments. There was increasing evidence that some bishops, as well as the lower clergy, were growing restive over the Church's relationships with dictators such as Perón, whose preemption of charitable activities in Argentina and fostering of a cult of worshipers of Evita Perón and of himself was anathema to the Church in general...

Some of the major problems that have confronted the Church, since mid-century, were created or intensified by the upsurge in migration from the countryside to urban areas that accompanied the development of industry...
This migration to wage-paying jobs in cities ultimately increased poverty and dependence. The Church sees wage labor as a problem, and would rather have the economy be made up of independent farmers, artisans, merchants, and professionals. The modern world of both the political Left and Right wants to mobilize the masses in urban areas, and neither wants an 'unproductive' religious life. Latin America saw a priest shortage, with young men being led away from the Church by the allure of money, leftist politics, and worldly pleasure.
...When their efforts to attract more seminarians had little success, the Latin American bishops turned to other parts of the world, particularly North America and Western Europe, for assistance.

Since the Communist takeover of mainland China was closing down that traditional area of missionary activity, the Maryknoll nuns and priests, and some members of other religious orders, were diverted to Latin America...
That was a big mistake. Many laymen and secular clergy also went to Latin America, to the point where in some countries, foreigners made up a large majority of the clergy.
The foreign Catholics, whether laymen or priests, and particularly the younger priests going to Latin America for the first time, have often undergone cultural shock from the conditions existing in urban slums and rural villages.
The foreigners became troublemakers, but were often tolerated, due to the pressing need for clergy. (We see the same thing in the West today.) Serious changes in emphasis in Latin America occurred after the Second Vatican Council, especially inspired by its document Gaudium et Spes, which emphasized the material improvement of man's condition.
[Although Pope Paul VI] has resisted innovations in matters of faith and morals and has opposed radical changes in Church ritual [until that point in time], he too has encouraged the progressive elements in the Church to undertake the wide range of reforms needed to make social justice--a redistribution of goods and services to benefit the impoverished masses---more of a reality and less an empty phrase...

At the same time, and despite the Pope's clear warnings as to the dangers of too rapid change and to the often counter productive effect of violence, the more impatient and radical reformers have seized on those portions of the text that lent support to their views...

In view of the criticism in some quarters that [Pope Paul VI's encyclical Populorum Progressio] was "warmed-over Marxism" it is worth noting that in his critique of the defects of laissez-faire capitalism, Paul VI not only was reflecting his own experiences; he was also firmly in the tradition of his predecessors, Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII, all of whom had condemned the exploitative nature and lack of social consciousness in economic liberalism. This does not mean that the Church rejected private ownership. In fact, Paul VI specifically exhorted governments to associate private initiative with development....
The author of this CIA paper seems to have a fairly good grasp of Catholic social doctrine, but seems to be overly optimistic about the prospect of progress, and shows little spiritual understanding:
...the Latin American Catholic Church is being brought into the second half of the Twentieth Century much more rapidly than seemed possible a decade ago. A key factor in that process is the pervasive influence of the Vatican. Despite Paul VI's traditive position on theological matters, he has been innovative on social, economic and political issues. Although his pronouncements on birth control disappointed those aware of and concerned with the population explosion in Latin America, and his strictures against the use of violence have alienated some extremists, the Pope has continued to press forward on his twin goals of peace and social justice.
The author reiterates that calls for radical reform often came from foreigners:
When serving as worker priests in urban slums, carrying out pastoral duties in remote rural areas, teaching in Catholic schools, preparing seminarians for the priesthood, and when engaged in a multitude of other activities, the Maryknollers, Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Oblates and members of other religious orders have initiated and fostered the concept of a Committed Church dedicated to the service of the masses.

The members of the regular clergy have training, financial resources, contacts in the Vatican and influence in the local hierarchies that are not available to the secular diocesan clergy. As a result the regular clergy tend to be the leaders, particularly in the initial stages of reform movements in the Church...

The change in the role of the Jesuits in Latin America is particularly significant. Members of the Order, which was organized to serve the papacy in the Counter-Reformation... have openly declared the necessity for abandoning their previous role and devoting themselves to the service of the masses. Again this decision has been taken by the younger Jesuits and receives little active support from many of the older members of the Society of Jesus...,
All of these religious orders, which became concerned with the world and not souls, have imploded since this article was written.

The author then goes into categorizing the various factions within the Church:
Any attempt to divide the members of the Catholic hierarchy, clergy and laity into such categories as liberals, moderates or conservatives, is complicated by the tendency of many of the individuals involved to be vigorously liberal on one issue, noncommital on another and quite conservative on a third, particularly where doctrinal matters are concerned.
This causes immense confusion among Americans, who are used to clear-cut political labels! The powerful fringe groups mentioned include the 'Reactionaries', who supported the strong-arm military governments and landowners, and the 'Committeds' who want massive change, either with or without violence. However, the great bulk of Catholics fell into the 'Uncommitted' category: they see the need for peaceful, orderly change where it is needed while also being attached to tradition and the Magisterium. Clearly, the orthodox position was most found in the 'Uncommitteds', but that voice was largely ignored.

This article documents the strong shift in power towards the 'Committeds', and that the radical fringe of that movement, which espoused violence, had an influence greater than their numbers. At that time, open revolution seemed unworkable, even though it had the support of the Communists, and instead the emphasis shifted towards
...opposing the system while remaining in it. This is what has been called the Fourth Man theme, weakening the fabric of the institutions of a society to cause it to disintegrate from within. The Radicals who favor this method receive much less publicity... Because they remain within the Church and retain access to both the Committed and the Uncommitted groups, the non-violent Radicals pose an even greater threat to the "Establishment" than do the open advocates of violence who lack the numbers and means to achieve their goal...

...the Radical would destroy the present order of things even though he may have little or no idea of what would replace it.
This was a brilliant strategy of destruction, used not only in Latin America, but in North America and Europe as well. We have all heard of extremists who still call themselves "Catholic", although they oppose nearly everything in the Church.
There is a logical assumption that the various kinds of Communists and other extreme leftists are trying to penetrate the Committed sectors of the Catholic Church in Latin America.
The CIA author discounts this idea at the time of the writing (1969), but it later proved to be at least partially true, as Liberation Theology gained momentum in the 1970s.
In view of the naivete of the more idealistic reformers on economic matters and their rejection of capitalism, as a system that had been tried and found wanting, it is not surprising that they are ready to give state socialism a chance no matter who is sponsoring it.
The author concludes that the Latin American shift towards anti-Capitalist, Socialist regimes (that would also be anti-American) rests solidly in the Catholic Church, and not with the Communists. This will have a major policy influence in the United States in the decades to come.
In sum, the Committed sector of the Latin American Church has become increasingly critical of and determined to change the institutions and patterns of living in the area' s societies. While the members differ over tactics, including alliances with non-Catholic forces, they are agreed on the necessity for basic change. The proportion of individuals urging open resort to violence is still small. The concept that the injustices of the status quo are being maintained by institutionalized violence, and can only be changed by counter-violence, however, is gaining wider acceptance among Progressives as well as Radicals. For better or for worse, the Roman Catholic Church, once a bulwark against revolutionary change in Latin America, is becoming more and more committed to basic structural changes. Whether those changes will come by peaceful or by violent means, and when, remains to be seen; the only certainty is that there will be change.
The author then goes on to make some predictions.
If the Committed Church becomes more radical, it is likely to lose the financial support of not only the national authorities--where there is still a degree of union between Church and State--and the upper and upper-middle classes, but perhaps also the funds provided by the Church authorities in Western Europe. In that event, since the Church receives very little in the way of contributions from the lower and lower-middle class groups, the Church would be well on the way to becoming the "Poor Church" the Radicals are demanding, And while a "Poor Church" might indeed be closer to the masses, it would have fewer resources with which to continue--let alone expand--the services it now provides, and which most Latin American governments do not have the funds or personnel to assume.

In view of the residual strengths of the institutions and governments the Radicals are seeking to destroy, they are apt to be frustrated repeatedly and to become even more susceptible to the overtures of extreme leftists, including orthodox Communists as well as the Castroite and Maoist types. Almost certainly the Communist movements will continue and probably increase their efforts to penetrate the Radical Church groups and exploit their potential for creating tensions and divisions in the Church and society. In this regard the Communists' ability to provide an international network for transmitting communications, funds and supplies between widely separated areas, could be a useful bargaining point since the Radicals now lack such facilities.
How the author sees this affecting the United States:
The tendency of some leaders of the Committed Church to favor state socialism, to denounce U.S. private investment as exploitive and to support nationalization of U.S. holdings, almost certainly will continue. As younger, even more nationalistic individuals assume leadership roles, the hostility towards U.S. investment is likely to grow and to be an increasingly abrasive factor in U.S.-Latin American relations.
And this is the remarkable final paragraph of the report:
Finally, one of the few things on which the Radicals, some Progressives, and the bulk of the Uncommitted and Reactionary clergymen and laity, can agree is that birth control (or family planning) programs are the tactics by which U.S. officials and private interests are seeking to keep Latin America from having a much larger population than the United States does. This is also one of the few things on which nationalists of both the extreme right and the extreme left can agree. Thus U.S. efforts to bring population increases in line with resources are likely to encounter a broad range of opposition with which much of the Committed Church will be aligned.
While the author seems quite empathetic about the desire for Socialism in Latin America, he has no sympathy for Humanae Vitae. But on both these issues, the Church, in his opinion, is the problem in Latin America.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your intelligent blog. I hope to read more of it when I have time. God bless you!