Silva Henríquez, Raúl (1907–1999)

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Silva Henríquez, Raúl (1907–1999)

Raúl Silva Henríquez (b. 27 September 1907; d. 1999), archbishop of Santiago, Chile (1961–1983), during a period of intensifying political struggle between the Left, Right, and Center, which culminated in the 1973 right-wing military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

Unlike the majority of Chilean bishops, Silva was a member of the Salesians, a religious order dedicated primarily to missionary and educational work. Trained as a lawyer at the Catholic University in Santiago, Silva studied philosophy and theology in Italy, where he was ordained in 1938. Upon his return to Chile, he served as a professor and administrator in the Salesian major seminary and secondary schools. In the 1950s he became the director of Cáritas, a church-sponsored social welfare agency that focused on the urban and rural poor.

Silva was appointed to the archbishopric of Santiago in 1961 as a compromise between ostensibly more liberal and conservative candidates. The prelate soon became identified with the progressive sector and was particularly active in promoting workers' rights and agrarian reform, in part through divestment of some of the Catholic Church's own properties. He was made a cardinal in 1962.

Silva maintained courteous relations with the Socialist government of Salvador Allende (1970–1973), repeatedly serving as a mediator between it and the centrist Christian Democratic opposition. Eventually he came to accept military intervention as necessary in view of escalating public chaos and a deepening economic crisis. After the coup that ousted Allende, as the extent of assassinations, torture, and disappearances, as well as generalized repression became apparent, Silva helped organize the ecumenical Committee of Cooperation for Peace. When Pinochet forced that institution to close in 1975, the prelate created the Vicariate of Solidarity to provide legal, medical, and social services to victims of the Pinochet regime. He also supported the creation of the Academy of Christian Humanism to analyze public policy issues and assess government responses. By the time of his retirement in 1983, he had become one of the most outspoken critics of the military government. He was 91 years old when he died in the Salesian monastic order rest home in Chile in 1999. He was buried in the cathedral of Santiago.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Modern Period; Salesians.


Hannah W. Stewart-Gambino, The Church and Politics in the Chilean Countryside (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Aguilar, Mario I. "Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez, the Catholic Church, and the Pinochet Regime, 1973–1980: Public Responses to a National Security State." The Catholic Historical Review, 89 (Oct 2003): 712-731.

Reyes, Francisco. El Cardenal: La batalla del humanismo cristiano: Crónicas de un alegato por la democracia. Santiago, Chile: CESOC-Ediciones Nortemar, 1999.

Sapag Chain, Reinaldo. Mi amigo, el Cardenal. Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Copygraph, 1996.

                                Margaret E. Crahan