The bishops at Aparecida looked at the coming of the Gospel to the Americas and the ongoing evangelization with what I think are somewhat rose-colored glasses.
In paragraph 4, the bishops see the openness to the Gospel, rooted in the values already present in the indigenous peoples who lived in the “Americas” before the Spanish Conquest and so the native peoples were able …
to find in the Gospel life-giving responses to their deepest aspirations: “Christ is the Savior for whom they were silently longing.”
A footnote refers to the document of Puebla, ¶ 401:
Cultures are not vacuums devoid of authentic values, and the evangelizing work of the Church is not a process of destruction; rather, it is a process of consolidating and fortifying those values, a contribution to the growth of the “seeds of the word present in cultures.”
This reflects the thought of Justin Martyr who wrote in his First Apology that “there seem to be seeds of truth among all people,” and can be found in other Fathers of the Church who taught that God had prepared the way for the Gospel in Greek culture and philosophy.
Such a view can is expanded in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, ¶ 58:
God, revealing Himself to His people to the extent of a full manifestation of Himself in His Incarnate Son, has spoken according to the culture proper to each epoch.
In an obscure 1986 encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, ¶53, wrote of the need …
to embrace the whole of the action of the Holy Spirit even before Christ-from the beginning, throughout the world, and especially in the economy of the Old Covenant.
To concretize this, the bishops note the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholicism is no longer a Spanish colonial import; Mary appears to Juan Diego as an indigenous woman speaking Nahuatl, not Spanish.
They state that Guadalupe “was a decisive event for the proclamation and recognition of her Son, a lesson and sign of inculturation of the faith, manifestation and renewed missionary impetus for spreading the Gospel.”
Paragraph five gives what many would consider a white-washed account of the role of the church in Latin America and the Caribbean:
From the initial evangelization to recent times, the Church has experienced lights and shadows. It wrote pages of our history with great wisdom and holiness. It also suffered difficult times, both because of attacks and persecutions, and because of the weaknesses, worldly compromises and inconsistencies, in other words, because of the sin of its children, who obscured the newness of the Gospel, the splendor of the truth, and the practice of justice and charity. Nevertheless, what is most decisive in the Church is always the holy action of its Lord.
A footnote cites a 2007 papal audience in which Pope Benedict XVI notes:
Certainly the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the work of evangelization of the Latin American continent: the sufferings and injustices that the colonizers inflicted on the indigenous populations, often trampling their human rights, cannot be forgotten….
He notes how bishop Fra Bartolomé de las Casas among others had condemned the crimes, but insisted that these crimes “should not hinder grateful acknowledgement of the admirable work carried out by divine grace among these peoples over these centuries.”
I would suggest that the bishops’ statement – “what is most decisive in the Church is always the holy action of its Lord” – needs to be used with extreme caution, lest it be used to cover up crimes committed by members of the church, including the hierarchy.
This points to a controversial issue about the sinfulness of the Church. Can we call the Church as institution sinful or can we only impute sinfulness to her members and her leaders?
For deeper examination, the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.