Date of Award

Spring 1996

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Phil Wittman

Second Advisor

Erik Pratt

Third Advisor

John Hart

Abstract

The Roman Catholic Church has been an integral part of the Hispanic world. The case of Nicaragua is no exception. Roman Catholic Missionaries arrived in Nicaragua simultaneously with the conquistadors. Since that time Nicaragua has dealt with civil war, revolutions, and political instability. The Catholic Church has sought to minister to the Nicaraguan people, regardless of the political stage. However, during the nineteen-sixties and seventies both Nicaragua and the Roman Catholic Church were experiencing revolutionary times. Nicaragua was dealing with the powerful Somoza regime, U. S. intervention, and a revival of the Sandino reform. The Catholic Church began to deal with changes in itself, after the Vatican II council (ending in 1965) split the Catholic clergy into two groups: the progressive clergy, made up of liberal bishops and poor clergy; and the traditional clergy, made up of the conservative members of the hierarchy and the middle class Church. In 1979 the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion National—FSLN) overthrew the Somoza government. In that revolution key figures of the Roman Catholic clergy played significant roles in shaping the revolution. The main focus of this paper will be to establish historical precedents for the t clergy's involvement in the 1979 revolution and to provide some understanding of why certain key figures assumed the positions they did. J. M. Kirk, in his book Politics and the Catholic Church in Nicaragua makes the claim, "the dominant trend has been for the Church to defend a political stability that most clearly favored the middle classes at the social and economic expense of the popular sectors" (1992, p. 3). I find some truth to this claim especially in the pre-Vatican II Church. It is my contention that in the post Vatican Church both sectors of the Catholic Church worked to bring about social order and political stability to benefit the populace of Nicaragua. However, the contrasting philosophies of the traditional and progressive clergy would cause them to play different roles in the revolution. The key figures of the traditional clergy would work through the existing political structures to try to bring about a mediated change, while the key figures of the progressive clergy would work through grassroot organizations and eventually actively participate in the Sandinista movement to bring about social justice. To understand why the clergy played the roles they did in 1979 it is important to examine the historical precedents of the Nicaraguan clergy and the role of the major political factions of the revolution. This paper will do just that. I will start out by illustrating the major clerical figures and their importance as historical precedents, followed by a close examination of the Somoza regime, the FSLN, the Catholic clergy in general, and the events that brought them together on December 27, 1974 (the date that the FSLN took government officials hostage to trigger the revolution). Then I will look at the events from 1975 to 1979 showing the involvement of all major players in the revolution. By this I hope to establish that not only did both the traditional and progressive clergy play a significant role in the revolution, but also that key clerical figures acted in line with a trend that was already established by their predecessors.

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