Political Science ETDs

Publication Date



From the 1960s through the 1980s, Latin America's Catholic bishops' conferences diverged in their responses to state sanctioned human rights abuse. At the national level, some bishops' conferences played leadership roles in nascent human rights movements, others delayed public criticism while pursuing private human rights advocacy, and still others responded with silence or public support for repressive governments. Why? To answer this question, this study presents comparative case studies of the Catholic Church in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil with secondary comparative case studies of Colombia, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Drawing on the theoretical perspective of path dependence, I argue that varied patterns of Church-state interaction arose, in large measure, due to varied configurations in the institutional ties linking Church and state. Where ties are dense, the Church derives its interest in conjunction with the state, relies on the state to pursue those interests, and works to ensure a close and generally collaborative relationship with successive governments via generally non-contentious political behavior. Where ties are sparse, the Church derives its interest from other sources (the political ideology of bishops, the Vatican, the experience of clergy and/or adherents, etc.) and must rely on sources other than the state to pursue those interests. The result is the evolution of a Church that faces fewer obstacles discouraging confrontation when faced with state practices or policies that it opposes. Where ties are of intermediate density, the Church derives its interest from non-state sources (such as the Vatican), but often relies on state assistance or state approval to organize and pursue those interests. As a result, engaging in contentious interaction with the state can be discouraged by the state's leverage over some Church programs. In this situation, pursuing confrontation with the state necessitates difficult cost-benefit analysis for an episcopal conference. The resolution of intra-episcopal conflict prompts delays in decisive responses.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Stanley, William

Second Committee Member

Wood, Richard




Human rights -- Latin America -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church, Church and state -- Latin America -- Case studies, Catholic Church -- Political activity -- Latin America -- History -- 20th century

Document Type