The Catholic University of America

Final Examination of

Fr. Paz Alexander Martinez

for the degree of

Doctor of Theology

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

10 a.m., Caldwell Room 125



"Luis Chávez y González, Archbishop of San Salvador (1938-1977): The Changing Face of the Salvadoran Church"


Fr. Paz Alexander Martinez

Director: James D. Riley Ph.D.



In considering the history of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador during the 20th century, many people have focused on the civil war and the religious persecution of the 1980s—notably, the murder of priests, religious, catechists, lay people, and the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero.  Treatments of this volatile period have usually emphaszied the implementation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Medellín conference (1968) through liturgical reforms, popular movements and comunidades eclesiales de base.

In most accounts of modern Salvadoran history, little more than passing mention is given to Luis Chávez y González, Archbishop of San Salvador (1938-1977), who attended both Vatican II and Medellín.  Nonetheless, it was Chávez y González, who played the pivotal role in implementing the teaching of both the Council and the Conference in El Salvador.  Even prior to the Council and the Conference, Chávez y González began implementing a series of reforms in clerical formation, parroquial organization and social involvement by the Church.  The nearly four decades of his archepiscopal leadership were both the preparation and the antecedents for the notable changes that subsequently occurred in the Salvadoran Church.

From the beginning of his episcopate, Chávez y González was concerned with the formation of the clergy, the establishment of a Catholic University, the sponsoring of catechetical seminars and pastoral workshops, the training of the laity, and the creation of workers’ cooperatives and financial institutions for the benefit ordinary people. In addition, he was involved in the founding of primary schools and literacy programs, as well as the establishment of professional and academic associations.

The fifty-four pastoral letters of Chávez y González not only addressed such ecclesial themes as the Christian life and popular piety, but also social issues such as the condition of the working class, the rights and duties of employers and employees, inflation and economic development, and especially the mission of the laity in transforming the world.  He also introduced pastoral initiatives, such as Catholic Action (1939) and the Archdiocesan Social Apostolate (1962) and sponsored three model comunidades eclesiales de base in Suchitoto, Aguilares y Zacamil.

This dissertation investigated the life and work of Chávez y González, which have previously not been studied in detail.  Relying on archival materials and oral interviews, in addition to numerous publications, this dissertation presents an historical interpretation of the changes that occurred in the structure of the Salvadoran Church during his episcopate—particularly the transition from a traditional to a more progressive Catholicism.  His eclesial vision and his pastoral activity were often intertwined with national and international events.  Special attention is paid to his concern about: social problems, such as the poverty and the education of the Salvadoran people; the formation of the clergy both prior to and following Vatican II; parish activities and the role of the laity; the relationship of Church and society.

In sum, this dissertation provides an extended historical account of the life and work of Luis Chávez y González and his lasting impact on the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador.


(The text of the dissertation is in Spanish.)