The Roman Catholic Church
The role of the Roman Catholic Church in society was the most divisive political issue in Ecuador for more than a century after independence. Despite the confiscation of its land by the Alfaro government at the beginning of the twentieth century, the church in the Sierra retained its preeminent position in social and economic life. In the more remote villages and small towns of the Sierra, the parish priest was often seen as the ultimate temporal, as well as spiritual, authority. The church gave religious and moral legitimacy to the actions of its defender, the PC. By contrast, the Costa was the base of the PLR, whose major platform traditionally had been anticlericalism. PLR policies caused the clergy and many devout laymen to rise to the defense of the church and its prerogatives. Nonetheless, by 1945 the church-state conflict had ceased to be a significant political issue on the national level.
In the 1960s, the church hierarchy, influenced by reformoriented papal encyclicals, endorsed land reform, a more just system of taxation, and workers' human rights. The church underwent a process of significant internal transformation and ideological renovation and found itself cast in the role of an advocate of farreaching change and innovation. Nevertheless, Thomas G. Sanders noted that the Catholic Church in Ecuador had become firmly committed to nonpartisanship by the late 1970s. According to Sanders, the Ecuadorian church's more neutral role contributed to political stability and strengthened pluralism by emphasizing national unity and the need to promote social justice.
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