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U.S. Catholic Press on Central America

The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America

From Cold War Anticommunism to Social Justice

Edward T. Brett

The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America traces the remarkable transformation in reports on Central America by popular Catholic periodicals in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950s writers for these periodicals vigorously opposed the Arbenz government in Guatemala. Influenced by McCarthyism, secular media coverage, and reports from the archdiocese of Guatemala City, they called on the U.S. government to overthrow the Arbenz regime before its “communism” infected the Americas. Just fifteen years later, these same writers were lamenting the collapse of the “reformist” Arbenz government and calling for the U.S. to reassess its policies toward the entire Central American isthmus.

What caused such a dramatic shift? In the first half of his compelling study, Edward T. Brett emphasizes the importance of U.S. missionaries in this evolutionary process. He carefully explains the effect of the murders of Archbishop Romero, the four U.S. churchwomen, and the six Jesuits and their housekeepers in El Salvador on reporting in Catholic journals. The second half of the book details the responses of the transformed U.S. Catholic press to the crises arising in Central America in the late 1970s and 80s.

Brett also devotes considerable attention to the methods of a small group of conservative Catholic publications, which, unlike the majority of Catholic periodicals, championed the policies of the Reagan administration on Central America. He concludes by placing the Catholic critique of U.S. Central American policy within the larger context of U.S. Catholic history. In so doing, he demonstrates that the American Catholic response to its government’s isthmian policy marks the first time in history that the U.S. Catholic Church publicly opposed its government on an issue of foreign policy.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04341-4
280 pages
Publication Year: 2003

Edward T. Brett is professor of history and department chair at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“One has to admire Brett’s thoroughness in surveying thousands of press items. He gives the tenor of an article in a few skillful lines, periodically illustrating with substantial quotes.” — The Americas

“The present study, which thoroughly and systematically reviews all the relevant U.S. Catholic publications, traces the journalistic opinion-shifts in a remarkably readable way. . . . an excellent study of evolving political-religious views within the broader context of the evolution of twentieth-century U.S. Catholicism.” — Religious Studies Review

“This is a truly excellent piece of research and analysis, with a writing style inviting even to the novice to U.S.-Central American relations.” — History: Reviews of New Books

“This is a very good book, needed by every Catholic parish, high school, and college library." — American Catholic Studies

“This careful, well-documented study is a significant contribution to an understanding of the events and their interpretations that afflicted Central America between 1954 and 1990.” — Catholic Library World

“Brett’s book offers a unique, well researched avenue for understanding the complexity of religious, political, and social issues in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.” — Catholic Historical Review

“. . . Brett’s account of the evolution of U.S. Catholic attitudes toward Central America provides a balanced overview that should appeal to interested laypeople as well as students and scholars of religion and politics. Brett’s meticulous attention to details, balanced approach, and readable prose make the book an excellent choice for undergraduate courses on religion and politics in Central America.” — The Journal of Religion

“. . . a fine contribution to church history. . . .” — The Journal of American History

“. . . Brett provides useful background on the region’s transformation since 1945. . . . highly meaningful eyewitness testimony from Central America, of which numerous samples are presented in this valuable book.” — American Historical Review

“Brett provides a good summary of the breakdown in relations between the Sandinista government and the Nicaraguan Church hierarchy, from the bishops’ early opposition to Somoza and tacit support of the insurrection against him, to the acrimony caused by the Sandinistas’ attempts to appeal to the lay Catholics over the heads of the bishops by promoting the popular church, culminating in the raucously impolite reception given Pope John Paul II in 1983 and the Church hierarchy’s open identification with the contras.” — Latin American Research Review

“Edward T. Brett provides a deft history of Central America during the Cold War. . . .” — Political Communication

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The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America

From Cold War Anticommunism to Social Justice

Edward T. Brett

The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America: From Cold War Anticommunism to Social Justice
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

The U.S. Catholic Press on Central America traces the remarkable transformation in reports on Central America by popular Catholic periodicals in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950s writers for these periodicals vigorously opposed the Arbenz government in Guatemala. Influenced by McCarthyism, secular media coverage, and reports from the archdiocese of Guatemala City, they called on the U.S. government to overthrow the Arbenz regime before its “communism” infected the Americas. Just fifteen years later, these same writers were lamenting the collapse of the “reformist” Arbenz government and calling for the U.S. to reassess its policies toward the entire Central American isthmus.

What caused such a dramatic shift? In the first half of his compelling study, Edward T. Brett emphasizes the importance of U.S. missionaries in this evolutionary process. He carefully explains the effect of the murders of Archbishop Romero, the four U.S. churchwomen, and the six Jesuits and their housekeepers in El Salvador on reporting in Catholic journals. The second half of the book details the responses of the transformed U.S. Catholic press to the crises arising in Central America in the late 1970s and 80s.

Brett also devotes considerable attention to the methods of a small group of conservative Catholic publications, which, unlike the majority of Catholic periodicals, championed the policies of the Reagan administration on Central America. He concludes by placing the Catholic critique of U.S. Central American policy within the larger context of U.S. Catholic history. In so doing, he demonstrates that the American Catholic response to its government’s isthmian policy marks the first time in history that the U.S. Catholic Church publicly opposed its government on an issue of foreign policy.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04341-4

280 pages

“One has to admire Brett’s thoroughness in surveying thousands of press items. He gives the tenor of an article in a few skillful lines, periodically illustrating with substantial quotes.” — The Americas

“The present study, which thoroughly and systematically reviews all the relevant U.S. Catholic publications, traces the journalistic opinion-shifts in a remarkably readable way. . . . an excellent study of evolving political-religious views within the broader context of the evolution of twentieth-century U.S. Catholicism.” — Religious Studies Review

“This is a truly excellent piece of research and analysis, with a writing style inviting even to the novice to U.S.-Central American relations.” — History: Reviews of New Books

“This is a very good book, needed by every Catholic parish, high school, and college library." — American Catholic Studies

“This careful, well-documented study is a significant contribution to an understanding of the events and their interpretations that afflicted Central America between 1954 and 1990.” — Catholic Library World

“Brett’s book offers a unique, well researched avenue for understanding the complexity of religious, political, and social issues in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.” — Catholic Historical Review

“. . . Brett’s account of the evolution of U.S. Catholic attitudes toward Central America provides a balanced overview that should appeal to interested laypeople as well as students and scholars of religion and politics. Brett’s meticulous attention to details, balanced approach, and readable prose make the book an excellent choice for undergraduate courses on religion and politics in Central America.” — The Journal of Religion

“. . . a fine contribution to church history. . . .” — The Journal of American History

“. . . Brett provides useful background on the region’s transformation since 1945. . . . highly meaningful eyewitness testimony from Central America, of which numerous samples are presented in this valuable book.” — American Historical Review

“Brett provides a good summary of the breakdown in relations between the Sandinista government and the Nicaraguan Church hierarchy, from the bishops’ early opposition to Somoza and tacit support of the insurrection against him, to the acrimony caused by the Sandinistas’ attempts to appeal to the lay Catholics over the heads of the bishops by promoting the popular church, culminating in the raucously impolite reception given Pope John Paul II in 1983 and the Church hierarchy’s open identification with the contras.” — Latin American Research Review

“Edward T. Brett provides a deft history of Central America during the Cold War. . . .” — Political Communication