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The Catholic Church and its effects on Redistributive Conflict in Brazil

The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and most influential institutions in human history. While a long tradition in social sciences has examined the social and political effects of different denominations, we know little about whether doctrinal changes within the Catholic Church have influenced these outcomes. In this paper, we build on the framework developed by Tuñon (2017) and examine the consequences of the shift from progressive to conservative doctrine triggered by the appointment of John Paul II in 1978. This change had dramatic implications in Latin America, where progressive priests and bishops actively promoted redistributive agendas. We focus on the case of Brazil, where the progressive Church had been highly involved in the landless movement; a redistributive conflict in which poor and landless peasants invaded large landholdings to force land redistribution. We collect historical data on the identity, appointment, and turnover of all priests and bishops in Brazil from 1965 to 1997. We combine these data with a highly detailed dataset on the number of land invasions at the municipality-year level. Using the staggered replacement of progressive bishops for more traditional ones after 1978, we find that the removal of progressive religious leaders halted the land invasion movement. These results suggest that changes in the leadership of the Church can have important consequences for the emergence or suppression of social conflict.