This is undoubtedly the best English-language book on modern Argentine Catholicism. Blessed with a good knowledge of secondary sources and a well-written chronology, For God and the Fatherland generally succeeds.

Michael Burdick provides a compelling discussion of events since the 1950s. It is interesting to learn that the bishops of the normally conservative Argentine church refused to issue greater sanctions against the leftist Movement of Priests for the Third World (MTSM), which incorporated Marxism in its ideology. He also offers an excellent discussion of the philosophical foundations of radical philosophy among priests, and the context that fostered a restatement of the “salvific mission” of the church. What is striking is how deep the split was within the church between progressive clergy and traditional bishops, beginning in the mid-1960s. Burdick refers to repeated intraclerical conflicts simmering throughout Argentina.

There are many other interesting contributions. We learn that Peronist leftist leaders had a background in Catholic youth groups. In May 1972, Perón wrote to the MTSM to encourage its work, inviting its leaders to visit him at his home. Surprisingly, the Vatican never condemned the MTSM, either. But Burdick leaves no doubt that after the 1976 military takeover, nearly all the bishops foolishly sided with the military; they even blessed the farcical Malvinas invasion. For that reason, Raúl Alfonsín raised the divorce issue and proposed the separation of church and state.

These accomplishments notwithstanding, Burdick’s study could have been better. First and foremost, it needs far more analysis of the colonial era and the nineteenth century. This is basically a twentieth-century study, which provides only 25 pages for the pre-1900 period. Although cogently written, the discussion is largely political rather than intellectual or cultural, thereby giving the narrative a somewhat brittle tone. The use of a model introduced early is inconsistent and not particularly original. A comparative context also would have helped in gauging Catholic sentiment in other Latin American countries. The research is adequate, but not overwhelming. The primary sources are largely periodicals or organizational files, along with interviews. The book’s scope is limited: it places far too much emphasis on the MTSM to the exclusion of mainstream Catholicism. Moreover, it strays from religious themes when discussing post-1974 events.

Some of the author’s conclusions are debatable. For one thing, it is inaccurate to portray Perón’s regime as totalitarian. Certainly, the statement that under Juan Carlos Onganía, “for the first time religious orthodoxy became a unifying factor” (p. 128) overlooks the past. When discussing the “Catholic monopoly of the right” (p. 219), Burdick forgets the military. Finally, the book lacks a precise conclusion about MTSM involvement in the revolutionary process of the early 1970s; Burdick states that such a crucial factor is “unclear” or “ambiguous” (p. 168).