Ecuador, The Catholic Church in
ECUADOR, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
A South American nation that takes its name from its geographical position on the equator, the Republic of Ecuador is bordered on the north by Colombia, on the east and south by Peru and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Formed of a rim of coastal land, two humps of the Andes, and an area of green jungle of unknown size and unsurveyed resources called the Eastern Zone, Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands. The coastal plain to the west rises to a highlands region known as the sierra and then falls to rolling hills overtaken by jungle vegetation. Cotopaxi, a mountain located south of Quito in the Andes, is the tallest active volcano in the world.
Natural resources in Ecuador include petroleum reserves, timber, fish and hydropower, while agricultural production consists of bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, plantains and sugarcane, as well as the raising of livestock. El Niño's effect on agricultural production coupled with unstable oil prices sent the economy into a tailspin during the late 1990s, but hopes were that rising oil prices would aid the new government in stabilizing Ecuador's financial situation in the next decade.
Colonial Period. Europeans first entered Ecuador with Francisco Pizarro in 1531 when he was travelling along the coast on his way to conquer Peru. While Pizarro moved to plunder Cajamarca, Peru, in 1532, the commander of his rear guard, Sebastián de Benalcázar, moved on the Incan kingdom of Quito. Although Pizarro intended that the lieutenant should also found a city there, Benalcázar left in pursuit of gold and emeralds rumored to be near Popayán. Flemish Franciscans, led by Jodoco ricke, who had been the chaplains of the Benalcázar column, remained in a small settlement called San Miguel
de Quito, located near the present city of Quito. In December of 1534 the city of San Francisco de Asís de Quito was founded with 203 Spanish vecinos and two African servants. Guayaquil was begun the following year.
Several groups of religious soon made the new city their home. The Franciscans transferred their residence from San Miguel to San Francisco de Quito early in 1535; the Mercedarians established a friary in Quito friary in April 1537; and the Dominicans who also accompanied Benalcázar to the area established their residence there in June of 1541. The Augustinians began to construct their friary in Quito in the summer of 1573, while the Jesuits arrived in July 1586. As was natural, the first missionaries to enter the new territory selected the best spots in which to work. The Franciscans, drawing on their experience in Mexico, quickly spread out among the sierra tribes and were soon teaching almost two-thirds of the people in that area, including the famous Otavalo natives. The Mercedarians undertook organized work among the tribes of the coast, especially in the provinces of Manabí, Puná and Esmeraldas. The Dominicans, arriving in early 1541, finding Gonzalo Pizarro's expedition to the Land of the Cinnamon in the planning stages, sent one of their number, Fray Gaspar de carvajal, along as one of the chaplains. Carvajal wrote an account of the discovery of the Amazon River, and the Dominicans remained to work among the tribes of the Ecuadorean jungle.
Central to each order's task of evangelizing the native people was the establishment of a school, most of which provided a free elementary-level education. The Franciscans, under Jodoco Ricke and inspired by Pedro de gante, founded in Quinto the Colegio de San Andrés in 1551, the first school to teach fine arts in Quito and a dominant influence on artists as far away as Colombia and Bolivia. More importantly, perhaps, the Colegio taught natives how to plow, harvest and care for domesticated livestock. In 1603 the Augustinians established the first faculty of theology in the University of San Fulgencio, while in 1622 the Jesuits of Quito opened the doors of the University of San Gregorio Magno, which specialized in the humanities and noted among its graduates such men as Juan de Velasco y Petroche, Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo, and General Ignacio de Escandón. In the late 17th century the Dominicans opened the University of San Fernando, which would evolve into Santo Tomás, the first university in Quito to teach medicine, mathematics and civil jurisprudence. Among its graduates were José Joaquín Olmedo, Coronel Juan de Salinas and José Mejía Lequerica. In 1754 the Jesuits introduced the first printing press in their residence at Ambato.
Diocesan Organization. On Jan. 8, 1545, Pope Paul III erected the Diocese of Quito and named the chaplain of Francisco Pizarro, D. García Díaz Arias, as the first bishop. Díaz Arias was succeeded by another exemplary bishop, the learned Dominican Pedro de la Peña, consecrated in 1565. Although a zealous priest and a trained canonist, Peña's work was cut out for him. In an effort to organize the diocese, he visited his entire territory and in 1570 convoked the first diocesan synod, during which he outlined the basic laws and responsibilities, while at the same time, taking from the friars some native parishes which were then given to the diocesan clergy. During a second visita, Peña went in to the jungles to confirm the work of the synod and also to stabilize the reductions of the natives, thus founding most of the towns of modern Ecuador. He died in 1583.
Another outstanding community leader was Bishop Alonso de la peÑa montenegro (d. 1687), who is considered the founder of Quinto's Christian economy. In his Itinerario para párrocos, the bishop furnished not only the usual instructions for his priests, but also established norms for the payment of indemnities incurred by employees while at work, a just wage, the shortening of the work for the natives on the haciendas; he even set down rules of basic hygiene. Notable, too, was the development of a guild system under the aegis of the Church that protected the rights and health of the workers. Some of these guilds continued to exist into the late 20th century, although diminished in influence.
After the evangelization of the natives living along the coast and in the sierra was completed, missionaries turned to the natives of the headwaters of the Amazon, a far more risky endeavor. In 1563 the Crown established a royal audiencia at Quito, practically coterminous with the bishopric of the same name. As the missions spread, so did the territory of Quito, and modern Ecuador. The Dominicans who had accompanied the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro remained in the area, while the Mercedarians, Franciscans and Jesuits entered it in the late 16th century. While the Franciscans were moderately successful, especially after the foundation of the Mission College of Popayán, the work of the Jesuits was far more significant. Maynas—an area stretching along the courses of the upper Amazon down to the Solimões and well into eastern Peru along the Ucayali and Huallaga Rivers—became the mission field of such workers as Rafael Ferrer, Francisco de Figueroa and Samuel fritz. Unfortunately the Brazilians frequently raided the missions of the Solimões, and in 1767 the Quito Jesuits were expelled by the Crown from the remaining areas. In a subsequent decree, the Crown would entrust these missions to the Franciscan Mission College of Ocopa under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Lima and the viceroy of Peru. From this move Peru gained almost two-thirds of its present territory and Quito, which had governed the area for almost two centuries, retained only the memory of past dominion.
Revolutionary Period. By the end of the 18th century Quito had become a center of intellectual and political fermentation. Bishop José Pérez Calama (1790–92), friend and mentor of Father hidalgo of Mexico, helped to reorganize the studies of the Dominican University of Santo Tomás in accord with the new philosophy. Santa Cruz y Espejo was spreading his political ideas of complete emancipation while the friars, restless under the alternativa, longed for the day when they could enjoy free elections. José Joaquín de Olmedo was formulating the projects that would make him famous at the Cortes of Cádiz. Energized by new ideas, the Catholics in Quito were among the first to call out for independence from Spain. The first freedom manifesto was launched on Aug. 10, 1809, in the Quito Augustinian friary. Declaring the region independent of Spain, the bishop of Quito, José de cuero y caicedo, was elected vice president of the first patriotic junta, and later president. Priests and friars served as the first legislators and the first draft of a constitution was written by a priest, Miguel Rodríguez, disciple of Santa Cruz y Espejo.
Unfortunately, this very first attempt was to presage the fate in store for the Church before independence was ultimately won. The bishop of neighboring Cuenca (erected in 1769), a fanatical royalist, actively persecuted the patriotic priests of his own diocese and also sheltered the royalist priestly sympathizers of Quito. As the fortunes of the civil war swayed to and fro, Cuero y Caicedo was driven from Quito, and other nationalist leaders soon followed. The powers of Church leaders forced to flee the country were exercised by vicars who were no more able to maintain a neutral position than their bishops had been. Royalist opponents simply appointed a new vicar when they came to power so that at one time Cuenca had three vicars, each representing a different political faction and each persecuting the followers of the others. Ongoing military operations only added to the confusion and ruin. On May 24, 1822, the royalists were defeated on the slopes of Mt. Pichincha by Colombian forces that simply annexed the audiencia of Ecuador, forming Gran Colombia from Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. In 1830 increasing chaos prompted General Juan José Flores, a
Venezuelan mestizo and commander of the Colombian army in Ecuador, to declare Ecuador independent.
Independent Ecuador. Previously subject either to Lima or Bogotá, in 1822 the audiencia of Quito entered a state of independence lacking any real sense of national consciousness. Without trained corps of political administrators or fixed boundaries, the new nation relied on the Church as the sole cohesive force. While political leaders were forced, from necessity, to use the Church and its institutions, they also felt constrained to bend it to the will of the state. The instrument of this control was the highly regalistic constitution of 1824. Under this document, all Church appointments originated with the state. The state also dictated what textbooks could be used in the seminaries. No Church decrees, not even the decisions of a bishop's court, could be executed unless they had first been "revised" by a state-appointed lawyer.
Perhaps the most insidious means adopted by the state to ruin the Church was the application of the recurso de fuerza to churchmen. In colonial Spain, the legal codes provided that anyone who felt his rights infringed upon had recourse to the civil courts, or fuerza. During this recourse whatever was causing the injury, whether a decree or some action of another, had to stop until the court arrived at a decision. Following independence, if a priest did not like an order from his ecclesiastical superior, or if a friar or nun was displeased with an order from his or her superior, recourse to the civil court was not only admitted but required, thereby nullifying Church authority. In Ecuador another wrinkle was added: if some person connected with the Church believed his or her superior to be withholding some merited promotion, recourse to civil courts could also be used to force the superior to divulge the reasons for the lack of such promotion. To compound the problem, the state frequently refused to fill vacant sees. Thus Cuenca went without a bishop from 1827 to 1841; Guayaquil, erected a bishopric in 1838,
went without a bishop for ten years; and even Quito frequently suffered lapses of up to five years between bishops, although relations had been restored with the Holy See in 1836.
Under the new constitution the Church became the slave of the state and enthusiasm among the clergy consequently declined. Yet, despite this, the religious remained the best teachers in Ecuador and their schools were crowded.
Another threat to the Church came from Protestant pastors, especially Anglicans and Presbyterians from Great Britain. The Protestants were given full liberty of operation and when Bishop Arteta of Quito protested, he and his diocesan advisers were each fined 2,000 pesos.
The only effective voice of protest was that of Vicente solano, a Franciscan who began a journalistic campaign in defense of the Church in 1828 and persisted until his death in 1865. While in no way subtle, a careful reading of Solano's works showed that he was in many ways far ahead of his times, especially in his judicious assessment of revolutionary leader Simon Bolívar, the evils of militarism and the patronato, a tradition allowing the government to choose Church leaders. While Solano defended the Church, Gabriel García Moreno (d. 1875) defended the people of Ecuador from the forces corrupting his country. He opened negotiations with the Holy See that led to the concordat of 1866, welcomed the first papal representative to Ecuador, installed good bishops such as checa y barba and yerovi, erected the dioceses of Ibarra, Bolívar, Loja and Portoviejo, reformed the religious orders, and recruited orders to undertake the education of Ecuador's young people. Moreno was largely responsible for encouraging the Daughters of Charity to staff the nation's hospitals and the Redemptorists to assist in teaching the natives.
Between 1875 and 1895 the Church continued to enjoy the protection of the state on the whole. New orders were invited to enter the country—the Salesians entering Ecuador in 1888—and in 1884 Julio María Matovalle founded the Association of Catholic Youth, a forerunner of Catholic Action. Although peace and harmony prevailed, tendencies toward liberalism were present, such as the presidential decree of 1891 that terminated the Church tithe and substituted a three percent tax on landed property. Alerted by such government actions, in June of 1892 Ecuador's bishops issued their manifesto on liberalism, a document generally regarded as one of the most notable of its kind.
The Modern Church and the State. In 1895, after a series of scandals by the conservative leadership, the Liberals came to power in the person of Eloy Alfaro, a friend of Juan Montalvo. For the next 15 years Alfaro became the dominant personality in the country, as Moreno had been previously, and the religious face of Ecuador was changed. The concordat with the Holy See was broken; foreign religious orders were forbidden to enter the country and, for a time, even individual foreign priests were excluded; education was placed under complete state control; the property tax was abolished without restoring the tithe; the old law of 1824 of the patronato was restored; and the consecration of the country to the Sacred Heart was officially revoked. In 1904 religious were forbidden to administer their own property and four years later it was confiscated without compensation. In 1906 complete separation of Church and state was decreed with a guarantee of religious liberty; however the Catholic Church was discriminated against and denied the right of incorporation before the law. In 1902 marriage had become a civil ceremony; in 1910 divorce was permitted by mutual consent. The legalization of divorce, as well as a 1935 decree declaring the Church to be without legal representation or protection, caused a near revolution, and the government was forced to negotiate with Rome for a new understanding.
On July 24, 1937 a modus vivendi was signed between the Holy See and Ecuador that settled many of the main difficulties and ushered in a period of harmony. Diplomatic representation was resumed after a lapse of more than 40 years, the Church was permitted legal representation under certain circumstances, religious were paid a small amount in compensation for the property taken from them in 1908, and the Holy See was again allowed to appoint bishops directly after informing the government of their choice. The constitution of March 6, 1945, recognized complete separation of Church and state. It also permitted divorce even though this has since been rendered a little more difficult.
The Modern Church. Increasing poverty resulted in political upheaval throughout much of the mid-20th century, and the loss of a war with Peru in 1941 did little to improve the country's stability. José Maria Velasco Ibarra ruled the country during much of the period 1944–1972, and the constitution of 1945 was suspended by a military junta that took power in July of 1963. Oil was discovered in the region in the 1970s, although the wealth it generated did not trickle down to the poorer classes. A series of failed and often corrupt governments ended in 1988 with the election of Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, who nationalized the oil companies. A coalition government in 1992 attempted to institute free-market policies in the country, but cuts in social policies sparked discontent and resulted in the election of populist president Abdala Bucaram (known as "El Loco") in 1996. Despite, or perhaps because of such constant political upheaval, by the end of the 20th century the government had once again established strong ties to the Church, which was considered a stabilizing force.
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 Ecuador contained 1,109 parishes, tended by 975 diocesan and 820 religious priests, while its 300 brothers tended to institutions of learning and 4,800 sisters operated schools, hospitals and dispensaries. Education was the greatest preoccupation of the Church, and the government supported the efforts of Catholic schools, although religion was not taught in state-run schools. In addition to primary and secondary schools, the Church operated Catholic training schools
for teachers with official accreditation as well as the Catholic University of Quito.
During the 1990s Church leaders actively assisted in moderating several political standoffs. German-born Ecuadorian bishop, Emile Stehle, served as a mediator in several hostage situations involving a Marxist guerilla group active near the border with Colombia. In 1999 Church leaders aided in peace talks that resolved a border conflict with Peru that had escalated into war in January of 1995 after Ecuadorian troops invaded a northern section of Peruvian jungle territory disputed for over a century. Present at the signing of the peace accords, a representative of the Vatican expressed Pope John Paul II's appreciation for providing "an opening to lasting peace." Ending the conflict allowed Ecuadorian bishops to return to addressing the humanitarian needs of a social fabric stressed by a long-running economic downturn, and criticism was leveled at President Bucaram for his decision to allocate money to foreign debt repayment rather than social programs. Bucaram was ultimately impeached on allegations of corruption in 1997 and Fabian Alarcon appointed his successor. Social issues such as abortion rights and an increase in crime due to drug trafficking continued to be addressed by Church leaders through the Latin American Bishops' Council (CELAM), although the Church's efforts to aid the government in implementing a welfare program resulted in several non-fatal bombings in 1998. Although the poverty of rural areas of Ecuador during the 1960s had provided Protestant evangelical groups with inroads to spread their faith, the Catholic Church was still the professed faith of the majority of Ecuadorians by 2000.
Bibliography: l. linke, Ecuador (3d ed. New York 1960). j. tobar donoso, La Iglesia ecuatoriana en el siglo XIX (Quito 1934); La Iglesia modeladora de la nacionalidad (Quito 1953). j.m. vargas, Historia de la Iglesia en el Ecuador durante el patronato español (Quito 1962). i. alonso et al., La Iglesia en Venezuela y Ecuador (Madrid 1962).
[a. s. tibesar/eds.]