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Luis Felipe Mantilla, "Scripture, structure and the formation of Catholic parties: The case of Venezuela," Party Politics, 18 (May, 2012), 369-390. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Why does religion become a focal point for party organization in some contexts but not in others? This question has been asked by comparativists for decades (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967), but the growing prominence of religion in a variety of political environments gives questions of this type renewed salience (Gill, 2001). This article addresses the curious trajectory of Catholic political parties in Latin America, which emerged as vibrant players in the electoral arena during the early- and mid-twentieth century, but had largely vanished as a distinctive political force by the dawn of the twenty-first. It focuses on the case of Venezuela in order to gain a better understanding of the conditions that first facilitated and later impeded the formation of Catholic parties. Specifically, it carries out a systematic qualitative comparison between the different role played by Catholicism in the process of party formation during two periods of social and political upheaval.

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Last Paragraph:
This article set out to address the broad question of why religious parties form in some contexts but not in others, with a focus on the decline of Catholic involvement in the political arena since the late 1960s. It began by contrasting two comparable situations potentially conducive to Catholic-inspired party formation: the political crises experienced by Venezuela in 1936-57 and 1988 to the present. The main findings point to the importance of structural changes within the Catholic community, and specifically to the effective strength and autonomy of lay groups compared to the clerical hierarchy. Counter-intuitively, it has argued that the reforms associated with Vatican II have strengthened the latter vis-a`-vis the former, by increasing the ability of bishops to coordinate their actions at the national level and by breaking the monopoly on lay activism once held by Catholic Action and similar organizations. Clerical authorities, represented by the CEV, now have the ability to respond quickly to secular challenges and to establish a strong claim to the official position of the Church as a whole. In contrast, lay organizations that could develop alternative political positions, such as CEBs, are fragmented and focused on local, pastoral, issues. Other lay organizations, such as those focused on education and health, act as a buffer between the CEV and the government, allowing the former to negotiate and occasionally cooperate with the government on specific issues while at the same time maintaining a generally antagonistic stance. The situation contrasts starkly with the one that prevailed during the 1930s and 1940s, when the clerical hierarchy was disorganized and lay associations were held together by a Catholic Actiontype framework. This does not mean that ideological change does not matter, or that it did not play a significant role in the disappearance of Catholic political parties. However, while authors have identified ideological change as an important factor in determining the fate of Catholic religious parties in Latin America (Mainwaring, 2003), far less attention has been paid previously to the role of structural change within the Catholic Church and in church-society relations. Further empirical research will be necessary to provide additional empirical evaluation of the arguments formulated here. In particular, examining how differences in the structure of religious communities relate to varying types of political involvement in the electoral arena would be crucial to evaluating the generalizability of these findings to other regions, and possibly other religious traditions.

Last updated August 2012