Participatory democracy involves more than voting in elections. The bishops see the importance of organized groups that are not part of the government, what is often called civil society. These play a role similar to the “intermediate institutions” that Alexis de Toqueville found in the United States in the early nineteenth century.
They particularly note several groups which have been organizing in recent years, exerting influence in the public sphere, and being less marginalized.
Participatory democracy is growing stronger with the more assertive presence of civil society, and the emergence of new social actors, such as indigenous people, Afro-Americans, women, professionals, a broad middle class, and organized poor people, and more room for political participation is being created. These groups are becoming aware of the power they hold in their hands and of the possibility of bringing about major changes for achieving more just government policies, which will reverse their situation of exclusion.
But the bishops have a few concerns about the direction of civil society.
In this regard, a growing influence of United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations is evident, although their recommendations are not always in line with ethical criteria. Their actions sometimes radicalize positions, foster extreme confrontation polarization, and place this potential at the service of interests foreign to their own. In the long run their hopes could be frustrated and negated.
What might the bishops be referring to?
I am going out on a limb and suggesting that this might be related to concerns about “radical feminism,” “homosexual rights,” and other related issues. They also might be a bit concerned about the promotion and support by non-governmental organizations of civil society organizations in conflict situations in Latin America, particularly over land, mining, and some environmental concerns.