The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What Was the Role of the Catholic Church?

32 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2014 Last revised: 29 Jul 2014

Date Written: May 5, 2013


El Salvador and its Central American neighbors are experiencing a terrible tide of criminal violence. Homicide rates are some of the highest in the world. This scourge of violent crime is a major concern of policymakers both in the region and in Washington, DC. Indeed, through regional security initiatives the U.S. government has invested more than $500 million in violence reduction programs during the last five years. European development agencies and international NGOs, similarly, have privileged violence reduction in their programs of financial and technical assistance to El Salvador and neighboring countries. Until recently, however, no policy initiatives seem to have made a significant dent in the problem. This paper addresses one development that has been portrayed in some circles as game-changing, and that now constitutes a critical point of reference for violence reduction programs going forward. The truce among rival gangs in El Salvador worked out in March 2012, which has held since that time, has reduced homicides to half their previous levels. The paper examines in particular the widely held belief that the Catholic Church “brokered” that truce in light of the wider set of actors actually responsible and considers the various ways that religion may have an impact on contemporary violence in the region.

Keywords: El Salvador, MS-13, Barrio 18, gang truce, Central America, Catholic Church

Suggested Citation

Dudley, Steven, The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What Was the Role of the Catholic Church? (May 5, 2013). CLALS Working Paper Series No. 1. Available at SSRN: or

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