The Catholic Church and political mediation in the Dominican Republic: a comparative perspective.

Journal of Church and StateVol. 46 Nbr. 2, March 2004

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The Catholic Church and political mediation in the Dominican Republic: a comparative perspective.

This essay looks at the Catholic Church and political mediation in the Dominican Republic during the 1980s and 1990s. It opens with a review of the Latin American context regarding the transition to democracy, the debt crisis, and the church's response to the new political reality. It draws some comparisons from Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, where the church played an important role mediating political conflicts. The core of the article concentrates on three parts: the Dominican transition to democracy, the church mediation in the Tripartite Dialogue of the 1980s and early 1990s, and in the general elections of 1986 and 1994.

The purpose of this article is to make the case that transition to democracy provided the framework for church participation in political mediation. Church mediation tends to occur in countries with weak political institutions or where political instability threatens the status quo. Political mediation offers the church a unique new role in Latin America because it appears as non-partisan in societies filled with social and political conflicts. I argue that a non-partisan political position does not mean that the church is neutral vis-a-vis politics or that it is not interested in politics or in order and stability. In fact, the church promotes liberal democracy as the most adequate political system. I submit that the church uses mediation as a way to reincorporate itself into the new political reality that results from transition to democracy in Latin America and, particularly, in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is used here to illustrate the political consequences of weak institutions and how the church accommodated democracy.

DISCOVERING THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY

The church as a political mediator in the transition to democracy has not been studied extensively. The authors of references concerning the issue have limited themselves to marginal comments about the church. (1) Church scholars, on the other hand, have produced a substantial amount of literature on the church, but they focus mainly on church and politics and not on issues that pertain to the transition to democracy. (2) Studies that examine the role of the church in the transition to democracy, and particularly the issue of mediation, are very limited. The most important include Fleet and Smith's The Catholic Church and Democracy in Chile and Peru (1998), Klaiber's The Church, Dictatorship, and Democracy in Latin America (1998), and Meyer's Samuel Ruiz in San Cristobal (2000). Among these studies, Klaiber's stands out as the best because of its insightful historical analysis of eleven countries and its comparative perspective regarding both the transition to democracy and the role of the church as mediator in Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chiapas, Mexico.

THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE CHURCH

The post-Vatican II church was significantly affected by Latin American social and political events. It was compelled to become involved in the political and social struggles of the 1960s and 1970s when military regimes ruled supreme. In many c...

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