Medellín Documents

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The Medellín Documents are the promulgated official results of Consejo Episcopal Latino-Americano (CELAM), the general assembly of bishops of all Latin America convened in Medellín, Colombia, in Aug.Sept.1968. The assembly was only the second such general episcopal conference ever held on the soil of Latin America, and the first since Vatican Council II. Often compared with Vatican Council II, Medellín in its impact was similarly crucial in shaping the modern discussions and contemporary agenda of the Latin American Church. The conference centered from the outset on the themes of revolution and class conflict. The working document for the CELAM meeting had been circulated to the bishops and made public two months before the assembly convened. This working draft is of considerable importance in itself and caused a furor that determined which issues the bishops must face to retain any credibility with the young, the militants, and the most vocal clergy. The working draft is a pale reflection of the kinds of radical agenda communicated to the preparatory committee by groups of Latin American priests and laity. The working document had been forwarded to Rome for a critique, and Rome had objected to its excessive concern with secular issues, but the document was circulated without incorporating Rome's objections. Pope Paul VI had already determined to attend the opening session of the conference in conjunction with his attendance at the Eucharistic Congress then being held in Bogotá. On three occasions the pope tried to dissuade the bishops from encouraging the militants who were interpreting the papal teaching set forth in Populorum progressio as condoning the resort to violence in resisting injustice. The pope's efforts were not completely successful.

The final documents of the conference incorporated the substance of the working draft in its descriptions of the tragic condition of the social order in most of Latin America; were unsparing in the condemnations of the imperialist powers and the violence of capitalism; agreed with papal emphases that the Church's main effort should be to appeal to the consciences of the ruling elites and that resort to violent resistance usually brings more suffering to the poor and may lead to newer forms of oppression. However, especially in the section on peace, the conference condemned the use of force by the ruling classes to repress opposition, characterized the current state of Latin America as a state of oppression and established violence, and seconded the teaching of populorum progressio that insurrection is legitimate in the face of evident and prolonged tyranny that attacks fundamental human rights and dangerously injures the common good. Various documents, including the report on pastoral planning for the different groups, cite favorably the social consciousness of revolutionary elites, in contrast to the insensitivity of traditionalist Catholics. The document on poverty calls for a new life-style for clergy and a new Church that will continue the painful process of turning from a position of support for the privileged minority to one of identity with the impoverished majority.

Bibliography: The Church in the Present-Day Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council II Conclusions (English tr. of the Medellín Documents, USCC Publ. Office, Washington, D.C. 1968). Between Honesty and Hope, tr. j. drury, Maryknoll Documentation Series (Maryknoll, N.Y. 1970) 171277. a. gheerbrant, The Rebel Church in Latin America (London 1974). e. mutchler, The Church as a Political Factor in Latin America (New York 1971), esp. 98130.

[e. j. dillon]

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Medellín Documents

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