More than most studies of religion in Latin America, this volume relates the evolution of the Catholic Church in contemporary Latin America to international trends. The nature of change within the church is consequently more fully revealed, as is the special stimulus of developments in Latin America. This makes this book the most satisfying introduction to Catholicism in contemporary Latin America published to date.

The author’s purpose is to examine the nature of the recent revitalization of the church in theological, pastoral, and political arenas and the conflicts and mobilization that have resulted from these developments. Cleary’s analysis relies on knowledge derived from some twenty years as a missionary in Latin America, as well as a review of the general literature on the topic. His direct participation imbues his account with a sense of intimacy, as well as welcome insights into personalities. It also causes him to clearly indicate his own preference for progressive change both within the church and in Latin American society in general.

Cleary identifies six factors that led to the gradual modernization of the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1960s: lay movements, the influx of foreign church personnel, the creation of new transnational and national structures, the activities of papal nuncios, the emergence of new leadership groups, and the roles of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. While such developments have been studied before, Cleary relates international and national influences to a greater degree. Major emphasis is, however, given to the Latin American roots of Catholic reformism and progressivism, particularly pressures for socioeconomic change and church preoccupation with the erosion of its influence among the general populace.

The author does not shy away from criticizing positions or groups for which he has a great deal of sympathy. For example, he notes that liberation theologians tend to utilize dependency theory without taking into account some of the refinements which social scientists have adopted. At times, however, Cleary fails to perceive some of the complexities of the phenomena he is analyzing. His conclusions concerning the impact of the Second Vatican Council, as well as the Puebla conference of Latin American bishops, tend to ignore the degree of political struggle that occurred outside the formal sessions. Similarly, his examination of the cursillos ignores the degree to which they have been used by such groups as the Argentine military to disseminate and legitimate conservative views. Finally, his description of base Christian communities deemphasizes the heterodoxy of their theological and political positions. In spite of such limitations, Cleary’s work is an apt choice to introduce the nonspecialist to the topic.