Latin American Episcopal Conference

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The Latin American Episcopal Council (Spanish: Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano), better known as CELAM, is a council of the Roman Catholic bishops of Latin America, created in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Based in Bogotá (Colombia), CELAM pushed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) toward a more progressive stance. During the four next years, CELAM prepared 1968 Medellín Conference, in Colombia, officially supporting "base ecclesiastic communities" and the Liberation theology propounded by Gustavo Gutiérrez in his 1972 essay, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation. In 1968, Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, Mexico, was named president of the Department of Missions of CELAM.

CELAM support for Liberation theology was frowned on by the Vatican and Pope Paul VI, who trying to slow the movement after the 1962-1965 Council. Cardinal Antonio Samoré, in charge of relations between the Roman Curia and the CELAM as the leader of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, was ordered to put a term to this orientation.

With Alfonso López Trujillo's election in 1972 as general secretary of CELAM, conservatives gained control of this organization, at much the same time as they were beginning to regain control of the Roman Curia. Considered a papabile at the 2005 Papal conclave, López Trujillo stayed CELAM's general secretary until 1984.

However, at the 1979 CELAM Conference of Puebla, conservative reorientation of the CELAM was met by strong opposition from the progressive part of the clergy, which defined the concept of a "preferiential option for the poor". But with the election of Pope John Paul II in October, 1978, conservatives took control of both the Roman Curia and the CELAM. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was charged of bringing back the Vatican's authority in the Third World. In 1984 and 1986, the Holy See twice condemned elements of Liberation theology, especially the Marxist elements.

In his travel to Nicaragua, John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the "popular Church" (i.e. "base ecclesiastic communities" supported by the CELAM) and against Nicaraguan clergy's tendencies to support the Sandinistas, insisting on the Vatican's sole and only authority.

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (Archbishop of Tegucigalpa) was CELAM's general secretary from 1995 to 1999, and Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez (Archbishop of San Juan) also has been one.

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