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National Political Influence and the Catholic Church

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Democratic transitions recently became a topic of great discussion among political scholars as a domino effect of democratization began in Latin America in the 1970s and continued through Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. In many of these transitions, the Catholic Church[1] played a crucial role as the protector of civil society during periods of communist and right-wing authoritarian rule, as well as taking an active role to promote the establishment of democracy (Bruneau 1994, Levine 1980, Stepan and Linz 1996, Peréz-Díaz 1993, Ramet 1987). While the Church’s political role in transition is important, significantly fewer scholars have explored how democracy affected the Catholic Church within the national context (Eberts 1998, Ramet 1999, Vilarino and Tizon 1998). Even fewer have attempted cross-national comparisons of the Church, thus permitting generalizations to be made about the political influence of the Church since the institution of democratic governance (Casanova 1993, Gill et al.1998).

With the establishment of democracy the Church was expected to flourish, due to its organizational and political advantage within new democracies. However, initial research suggests otherwise. Using the involvement of the Church in abortion policy as an indicator of political influence, it is clear the cases of Spain, Brazil and Poland vary extensively. The Polish Church maintained the most political influence, followed by the Brazilian and Spanish Churches (Neilsen 1991, Volenski and Gryzmala-Mosczynska 1997, Gautier 1998, Casanova 1993, Linz 1991, Morris 1993). In Brazil and Poland, the Church played an instrumental role in the democratic revolution, making a political decline in the Church almost inconceivable. While initially th...


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...ee is regarded as a non-member state permanent observer allowing it to occasionally participate in General Assembly discussions and decisions and participate in UN International Conferences. Holy See, however, has no voting rights.

[3] Secularization refers to the number of clergy that disaffiliated from the Church (i.e. transfer from ecclesiastical to civil).

[4] Vatican II theology “stressed a very different notion of the Church as the people of God, assigned a more important role to the laity, redefined the authority of the Pope over the hole Church and the bishops over the diocese” (Mainwaring 1986). Vatican II theology stressed the need for social justice and vowed to help the less fortunate, this came to be known as the option for the poor.

[5] The Roman Curia is the collection of ministries for governing the International Church (Della Cava 1993).


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