ROBERTO DI STEFANO
Beginning with the dissolution of colonial Christendom, the development of church property has been closely tied to processes of secularization in Latin American countries. This process is to be understood not as the marginalization of religion but as the restructuring of religious matters in modern societies. The practice of lay patronage—which was common in America, as it was in Europe for centuries—channeled family wealth into the financial support of certain institutions, which in turn allowed lay patrons to intervene in decisions about religious life. In the case of Buenos Aires such properties were absorbed or expropriated during the nineteenth century as part of a process of centralization, in which local church authorities, the papacy, and the state all participated. Thus in Buenos Aires the process of disentailment of church property did not involve the transfer of property from the church to the state, as might be supposed by extrapolating from the liberal reforms that took place in other countries. Rather, there was a process of appropriation by the state and by the church of property and managerial authority that had previously been held by families and various local institutions. It is worth asking if this phenomenon was unique to Buenos Aires, or if it can be generalized in some measure to other parts of the Hispanic world.