The Catholic Church and Democracy in Chile and Peru

Michael Fleet and Brian H. Smith

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 1998

Winner, Catholic Press Association Book Award for Professional Books, 1998

Recent changes imposed by the Vatican may redefine the Chilean and Peruvian Church’s involvement in politics and social issues. Fleet and Smith argue that the Vatican has been moving to restrict the Chilean and Peruvian Church’s social and political activities. Fleet and Smith have gathered documentary evidence, conducted interviews with Catholic elites, and compiled surveys of lay Catholics in the region. The result will help chart the future of the Church and Chile and Peru.


“Michael Fleet and Brian Smith have produced an interesting comparison of the roles played by the Catholic Church in Chile and Peru during the transition from military to civilian government. They show why the Church in Chile was an important influence in the movement toward a quasi-democracy whereas the Peruvian Church was not. Their analysis has significance beyone these two cases, for similar transitions have recently occurred in several Latin American countries.” — Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

“[A] major comparative historical analysis of Catholicism and politics in Latin America …. It is a work of extraordinary depth. Highly recommended to anyone interested in a fresh analysis of Church-state relationships in Latin America.” — Choice

“Michael Fleet and Brian H. Smith’s excellent new book … demonstrates how far social science scholarship on the church has come in three decades. Fleet and Smith’s study of the Chilean and Peruvian Catholic churches is theoretically sophisticated, richly informed with empirical and historical detail, carefully and systematically comparative, and well written. In short, for research scholars and teachers alike, the book will be profitable to study and a pleasure to read.” — Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs

“[A] remarkably thorough study of Chile and Peru. The book lays out a coherent narrative of the evolution of ecclesiastical and church-sponsored politics in these countries since the early days of Christian Democracy, with an emphasis on the recent period leading up to the transition to democracy. This is no mean feat, as anyone familiar with the alternately tendentious and spotty nature of the sources can attest. Fleet and Smith advance the agenda of research on the politics of Catholicism. They are especially good at delineating the tension between the church’s intramural absolutism, notably but not exclusively with regard to questions of sexual morality, and its pragmatic but not quite principled dedication to liberal democracy and procedural pluralism.” — The Journal of Religion

“…an important and welcome comparative contribution to the subject under consideration. Those interested in, and concerned with, recent times in Chile and Peru… will find a great deal of information in this book.” — Iberoamericana