No wonder that the work of conversion in Mexico followed hard upon the heels of conquest, and to quote Bourne’s words farther,
“The Aztec priesthood relaxed its bonds and the masses were relieved from the earlier burdens of the faith. In the old world the progress from actual to vicarious sacrifice for sin had been slow and painful through the ages; in the new it was accomplished in but a single generation. The old religion had inculcated a relatively high morality, but its dreadful rites overhung the present life like a black cloud and for the future it offered little consolation.” …”The work of the Church was rapidly adapted to the new field of labor.”
The triumph of the Church’s influence was the preservation of the natives and their gradual uplift. This was a slow process and required almost divine patience, but it was infinitely better than the method by which the English-speaking colonies, in a chapter of history that is almost untellable in its completeness, brought the natives of the country that they had invaded to ruin and practically obliteration. This experiment in applied sociology so successfully accomplished must be placed to the credit of the Spaniards also, and it stands out with all the more interest by contrast with English neglect of duty…
If the effort to understand Spanish America now so manifest will only go to the extent of having our people realize the full truth that until the nineteenth century English America was far behind Spanish America in facilities for higher education, in culture and literature, in the application of the arts to municipal life and, above all, in interest in science, then the prevalent impression that the Popes and the Catholic Church are opposed to genuine progress and true science will disappear. Catholic America was far ahead of Protestant America in scientific education and research until the untimely break from Spain left the Spanish-American countries the prey of political disturbances.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)