Dominican Republic, The Catholic Church in
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispañola, the Dominican Republic borders Haiti on the west. To the north and east is the North Atlantic, while
to the south is the Caribbean Sea. The region is characterized by rocky highlands rising to mountains and cut through by fertile valleys that supply the region with its agricultural base. The tropical climate is marked by annual hurricanes that strike the island during the summer months. Natural resources include nickel, bauxite, gold and silver; among the country's chief agricultural exports are coffee, sugar and cocoa.
Early History. The island of Hispañola—known by its native peoples as Quisqueya, Bohío, Bebeque and Haiti— was discovered on Dec. 5, 1492, by Christopher Columbus, who dubbed it Hispañola. Columbus erected on the island the first building in the New World, the Fuerte de la Navidad. On his second trip in 1493 he founded the first city, La Isabela, which was abandoned after a few years when Bartolomé Columbus established Santo Domingo, the oldest city of America. Christopher Columbus, who established the first government of the Indies, was also the island's first governor. With him began a series of rulers that would later include some of the great figures of the Dominican Church.
As the civil government of the Indies was exercised in Santo Domingo through the first governors and the royal audiencia, ecclesiastical government extended its jurisdiction to the same dominions. The island's civil governments alternated between periods of progress and decadence, and its policies resulted in the virtual extinction of native peoples and their replacement by African slaves. In 1586 British explorer Sir Francis Drake invaded Hispañola, sacking and burning the city of Santo Domingo.
Development of the Church. In 1493 Father buyl arrived in Santo Domingo, and within 15 years established several bishoprics, churches and convents. By the 16th century the cathedral of Santo Domingo was the center of the faith, overseeing a house of Jesuits as well as convents in San Francisco, Santo Domingo, Mercedes, Santa Catalina de Sena, Santa Clara and the Ermita del Carmen. The life of the colony centered on the Church, which established schools, universities and hospitals, housed in great examples of colonial architecture. Many of these buildings were still standing at the close of the 20th century.
The Church's tradition was enriched by the bishops and archbishops of Hispañola, many of whom exercised their sacred ministry in other parts of the Indies, thus creating a spiritual tie between the most distant regions: the men of the Church were true forgers of Hispanic unity. Among them were the humanist Bishop Alejandro ger aldini; Bishop Sebastián Ramírez de Fuenleal, later president of the audiencia in Mexico; Alonso de Fuenmayor, first archbishop of Santo Domingo; the preacher Nicolás Ramos, who took part in the controversies over the translations of the Bible in Spain; the archeologist and historian Agustín dÁvila y padilla; Domingo de Valderrama, theologian and famed preacher, who had been professor at the University of Lima; Domingo de Navarrete, missionary in China; and many other great figures of the Church, letters and government in the New World and in Spain.
Area Becomes Focus of Competing Colonial Interests. Because of Spain's monopoly on commerce within her colonies, pirates sponsored by other governments attacked settlements in the north and west of Hispañola. On the nearby island of Tortuga and thence to the Dominican coast, French, English and Dutch forces fought until France finally won control of the western part of the island. Despite taking violent measures against the intruders, after 1630 Spain's control of the eastern part of the island was constantly threatened. However, in 1655 the Spanish-Dominicans successfully repelled invading forces sent by British ruler Oliver Cromwell. Although the Ryswick Treaty of 1697 divided the island into two colonies, Spanish and French, a perpetual state of war existed because of French aggressions. The Treaty of Aranjuez in 1777 did little to reduce the French and Spanish hostilities, although it set a boundary line between the two colonies. Finally, in 1795 through the Treaty of Basel, Spain ceded her half of the island to France, an action rooted in economic necessity. While slaves from Africa had been imported by the French— more than 30,000 per year from 1750 to 1789—to farm western lands, the section of Hispañola under Spanish control, where cattle ranches predominated, suffered continual labor shortages due to emigration. In 1789, the year Spain relinquished its rights to the island, there were only 125,000 people living in the east under Spanish rule, whereas at least 450,000 slaves occupied the French region to the west. Political boundaries aside, this situation
would ultimately result in an island divided along ethnic lines: in the west, Haiti developed a homogenous French-speaking European/African society which became prosperous, while in the Dominican Republic people of predominately Spanish origin, who spoke a purely Spanish language, suffered under relative poverty.
The Church in the 18th Century. Although many of the island's Christian monuments were erected during the 16th and 17th centuries, an enterprising spirit still remained by 1700. New churches were constructed and centers of culture and charitable refuges founded. The intellectual life of the island during the 18th century was dominated by Francisco Rincón, archbishop of Santo Domingo, then Bogotá; Domingo Pantaleón Alvarez de Abreu, educator, organizer, author and archbishop of the island in 1738 and then in Puebla de los Angeles; the Mexican Augustinian Ignacio de padilla y estrada, who was archbishop of Guatemala and Yucatán; from 1789 to 1798; and the Dominican Fernando Portillo y Torres, later archbishop of Bogotá (d. 1804).
Formation of Modern Republic. During the French era, both Church and country weathered several hazards. Revolutionary leaders Toussaint L'Ouverture in 1801 and Dessalines in 1805 invaded the Spanish part of Hispañola and decimated the remnants of the old Spanish colony. In 1804 a slave uprising against France resulted in the formation of the state of Haiti, and in 1808 the Dominicans reconquered the eastern part for Spain. Inspired by revolutions in South America, on Dec. 1, 1821, Dominicans led by José Nuñez de Cáceres created the ephemeral independent state of Spanish Haiti under the protecting flag of Gran Colombia. The reconquest and expulsion of the French gave rise to the period of España Boba, and the prestige of the Dominican Church was, in part, reestablished. For the first time, a native of the island, Pedro Valera y Jiménez, occupied the archbishop's throne.
In 1822 Haiti invaded the new nation to the east, sparking a second wave of nationalism that resulted in the
independent state of the Dominican Republic. Brought about through the efforts of such Spaniards as Juan Pablo Duarte and General Pedro Santana, the creation of the Dominican Republic on Feb. 27, 1844 was the culmination of the heroism and persistence of the region's Hispanic culture, fueled by the same spirit that had led to the first Spanish establishment in the New World. Two notable leaders of the Dominican Church would become presidents of the new republic: Archbishop Meriño in 1880 and Archbishop A. A. Nouel in 1913.
The constitution of the First Republic went into effect on Nov. 6, 1844, with Pedro Santana as president. Unable to maintain order due to persistent aggression from Haiti, in 1861 Santana asked Spain to resume control over the area. Under the leadership of Buenaventura Báez independence was achieved again four years later and the Second Republic was proclaimed. It, too, had a history checkered with violence and U.S. intervention was requested c. 1905 due to a bankrupt economy. In 1916 the United States took over full control of the Dominican Republic, installing a military government for almost eight years as a means of curbing internal violence. General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina became president in 1930 after overthrowing a constitutional government established in 1924; he retained control of the country until he was assassinated in 1961, his death fore-stalling a planned mass arrest of the nation's bishops. The political unrest of the 1960s resulted in the return of U.S. Marines, and a new constitution was implemented on Nov. 28, 1966, after which time the country established a stable democratic government under the Partido Reformista. In 1996 power reverted to the Liberation Party, a moderate government that began instituting a market-oriented economy.
Although Catholicism was not made the state religion through the constitution of 1844, in 1954 the Vatican signed a concordat with the state that extended to it preferential treatment as the majority faith. The state subsidized certain Church expenses and waived all applicable customs duties. In addition, members of the National Police were required to attend Catholic Mass. During the Trujillo administration Church leaders remained apolitical, the result of a policy of government harassment provoked by a pastoral letter against mass political arrests. The role of the Church had altered by the late 1990s, as Church leaders advocated for human rights issues and involved themselves with trade unions, peasant leagues, student groups and other local secular associations. In 1963 the government legalized divorce and began sponsoring family planning four years later, despite opposition from the Church, which was unable to rally members against these measures.
By 2000 there were 410 parishes within the Dominican Republic, tended by 300 diocesan and 394 religious priests, while 79 brothers and 1,500 sisters administered to Dominicans in areas of health care, education and other humanitarian concerns. The Church operated 190 primary schools in the country, as well as more than 100 secondary schools. In 1992, Pope John Paul II visited the Dominican Republic as part of a celebration of the discovery of the New World by Columbus.
See Also: santo domingo.
Bibliography: b. picardo, Resúmen de la historia de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo 1964).
[e. rodrÍguez demorizi/eds.]