John Lynch

The post-colonial church

The collapse of the Bourbon state and the onset of colonial rebellion in Spanish America were observed by the church not simply as secular events but as a conflict of ideologies and a struggle for power that vitally affected its own interests. Controlled as it was by the colonial state, the Bourbon church reacted to the trials of the state. And in the war of ideas the church saw allegiance to Spain, obedience to monarchy and repudiation of revolution as moral imperatives and their denial as a sin. Yet the church in America did not speak with a single voice.

The majority of the bishops rejected the revolution and remained loyal to Spain. They owed their appointments to the crown, they had sworn allegiance to the king, and they were under immediate pressure to conform and deliver to the king a docile people. Bishops were urged 'to cooperate by their example and their doctrine in preserving the rights of legitimate sovereignty which belongs to the king our lord'. During these years bishops helped to finance, arm and activate anti-insurgency forces, and they launched weapons as well as anathemas against their enemies.

The clergy were divided but many, especially among the lower clergy who were predominantly creole (American-born), supported the cause of independence. Some priests played leading roles in the struggle, many more were activists in the rebel ranks, and numerous volunteers served as chaplains in the armies of liberation. In Mexico the early insurgency was dominated by priests, two in particular: Miguel Hidalgo, a country priest of progressive views, and Jose Maria Morelos, another reformist and a natural guerrilla leader. On their defeat they were not only executed by royal authority but also condemned and excommunicated by the church.

The turning point for the church in Spanish America was the year 1820, when a liberal revolution in Spain forced the king to renounce absolutism

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