Back to top


The National Chicano Priest Movement

A history of the priests’ organization that defended Mexican American rights within and outside the U.S. Catholic church.

January 2005
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
205 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 b&w photos |

From the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the 1960s, Mexican American Catholics experienced racism and discrimination within the U.S. Catholic church, as white priests and bishops maintained a racial divide in all areas of the church's ministry. To oppose this religious apartheid and challenge the church to minister fairly to all of its faithful, a group of Chicano priests formed PADRES (Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales, or Priests Associated for Religious, Educational, and Social Rights) in 1969. Over the next twenty years of its existence, PADRES became a powerful force for change within the Catholic church and for social justice within American society.

This book offers the first history of the founding, activism, victories, and defeats of PADRES. At the heart of the book are oral history interviews with the founders of PADRES, who describe how their ministries in poor Mexican American parishes, as well as their own experiences of racism and discrimination within and outside the church, galvanized them into starting and sustaining the movement. Richard Martínez traces the ways in which PADRES was inspired by the Chicano movement and other civil rights struggles of the 1960s and also probes its linkages with liberation theology in Latin America. He uses a combination of social movement theory and organizational theory to explain why the group emerged, flourished, and eventually disbanded in 1989.

  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. The Mexican American Catholic Experience
  • Chapter 3. The Origins of PADRES
  • Chapter 4. PADRES: In the Beginning
  • Chapter 5. PADRES Insurgency
  • Chapter 6. Social Activism and Its Cost
  • Chapter 7. Theory and Analysis: The Emergence of PADRES
  • Appendix: Methodology
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Richard Edward Martínez is an assistant professor in the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota. He holds a Ph.D. in urban planning from UCLA.


Browse this book with Google Preview »

A review of the major works on the Chicano Movement reveals the expected: people struggling for political rights, better education, land, and labor rights. It is rare to find any mention of the Catholic Church, which is rather striking given that, conservatively, more than 90 percent of Mexican Americans are Catholic. More important, the lack of attention suggests that the church had no significant role during the Chicano Movement era, which is far from true. This book seeks to place the Catholic Church in the historical context of the Chicano era. It shows that the church played a role in the movement and that Chicano priests were not mere bystanders.

The church is currently undergoing change and acknowledging the horrible things it has done in the past. The story told in these pages shows that the church has not always acted in the best interests of Mexican Americans. In fact, this relationship has been oppressive in many ways. The church was made aware of this in one of the most controversial (albeit largely unknown) battles of the movement—a battle waged by laypersons but primarily by two internal church groups. One of these groups was PADRES, a national activist Chicano priests' organization that was formed in 1969 and lasted until 1989. PADRES, Spanish for "priests," is an acronym for Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales, or Priests Associated for Religious, Educational, and Social Rights. In 1971 Las Hermanas (The Sisters), a national organization of activist Chicana/Latina nuns, was established; and it is still active. Through sustained agitation, often in collaboration, these groups resisted more than one hundred years of institutional racism, discrimination, and neglect of Mexican Americans at the hands of the U.S. Catholic Church. They challenged the oppressive relationship of the church to their people, the cultural practices that defined this relationship, and the ideology that supported it. They also pressured the church to become more involved in the struggles of their people for social justice in the United States. Many were directly involved at the grassroots level as activists and organizers.

Together, PADRES and Las Hermanas formed the first wave of organized resistance from within the church aimed at institutionalizing a Latino-specific agenda. In large part as a result of their efforts, the 1970s and 1980s witnessed an increase of activity by Mexican American and Latino Catholics across the nation and especially in the southwestern United States where Mexican Americans were concentrated. Thousands of Latino laypersons became involved at the local level in parish councils, thousands of others participated in the national Encuentros (Encounters, or conferences), the Spanish language became more common in formal church practices, the first Chicano and Latino bishops were appointed, many local parishes became sites where class struggles were waged, and the dominance of white priests and nuns in Latino Catholic ministry was greatly diminished. Moises Sandoval refers to these changes as the "Latinization" of the U.S. Catholic Church and rightly gives credit to PADRES and Las Hermanas. Ana Maria Diaz-Stevens and Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, who also credit PADRES and Las Hermanas, argue that this movement started in the Catholic Church but spread to Protestant and Pentecostal denominations to create a larger movement called "the Latino Religious Resurgence in the U.S." Are these token changes, or are they meaningful? This is an important question, but before it can be answered, we must take a close look at PADRES and Las Hermanas.

This is the first book dedicated entirely to the investigation of the PADRES movement. It began as a way to obtain my Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. It ended up as a way to honor what these Chicano priests tried to do. To be sure, this is but one book.Many more could be written. And I encourage others to do so.

This book presents an analysis of the emergence of PADRES and a brief history of the organization. Chapters 2 through 6 constitute the history section. Chapter 2, based primarily on secondary sources, briefly describes the Mexican American Catholic experience. Chapter 3 describes the historical context from which PADRES emerged, with an emphasis on the common experiences of PADRES founders. Chapter 4 describes the first two official PADRES meetings, the way in which PADRES became an exclusively Chicano organization, and the organization's goals, structure, and initial reception by white priests and bishops. Chapter 5 highlights PADRES' major battles, and chapter 6 describes PADRES' demise. Chapters 3 through 6 are based primarily on oral histories of founding members, supplemented by PADRES archival data.

Chapter 7, also based primarily on oral histories supplemented by archival data, addresses the question, how and under what conditions did PADRES emerge? I seek to answer this question by first assuming that PADRES was a social movement that emerged within an established organization with the goal of liberating its oppressed membership. I analyze its emergence within a social-psychological framework called the "insurgent state of being," which refers to an action-oriented state of being among movement participants comprising their thoughts, emotions, and identities. The development of these elements over time is influenced by specific direct experiences within three interdependent dimensions: inside the formal organization, outside the formal organization within the oppressed community, and inside small isolated groups. These experiences increase the likelihood that the elements will develop.

I propose that PADRES fits this framework: it arose as a result of its founders' common experiences inside the formal church, outside the formal church among the poor Mexican American Catholic community, and inside small isolated groups. I identify these experiences and suggest how and in what ways they were influential.


“This is a powerful documentary of a movement whose greatest visibility was in the barrios and inside the church, where the least history is known, where much uncovering has to be accomplished in order for the Chicano community to begin to know its own Catholic history.”
Rodolfo Rosales, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at San Antonio