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VATICAN CITY (RNS) The revival of liberation theology under Pope Francis is remarkable about-face for a movement that swelled in popularity but was later stamped out by the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and his longtime doctrinal czar, Benedict XVI.


  1. This is a ludicrously lopsided portrait of the reception of liberation theology in the Church, and even in Rome. First, in 1986 the USCCB published a document entitled “Economic Justice for All” that explicitly relies upon the option for the poor. It was only a slightly less doctrinaire body than it is today. Second, as moral theologian David Hollenbach, SJ, wrote nearly a decade ago, the preferential option for the poor is a “truly central [theme] in postconciliar Catholic thought.” He says, moreover, that “there can be little doubt that this has been one of the most important overall impacts of [Gaudium et spes] on the subsequent life of the Catholic Church throughout the world.” (David Hollenbach, S.J., “Commentary on Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World),” Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations, eds. Kenneth Himes, O.F.M., Lisa Sowle Cahill, Charles E. Curran, David Hollenbach, S.J., and Thomas Shannon (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005), 287-288.)

    I wish RNS would hire journalists who were qualified and knowledgeable on the topics they are expected to cover. It is a consistent problem and why I rarely take the time to read the pieces RNS publishes.

    • I do not think your attempted expansion that ends up being a diversion from other ideas of “liberation theology” holds any meaning. Instead of referencing individuals, titles, and even pages, what is it you are trying to note? What is it you are wanting to propose? The real problem is that there is no such thing as monolithic “Catholic thought.” Individuals might avoid speaking or writing to keep it seeming like that, or they might sacrifice their own honest thinking to maintain the good graces of another, but where’s the honesty in that?

  2. This story highlights the great fault of the church’s presumption that it has a right to dictate the specifics of theology. It is one thing to suggest, to advise, to preach. It is quite another to dictate or presume to require the submission of anyone to the thinking of another, especially when it comes to other-worldly ideas like religion.

    Even the Christian creeds should be suspect. The most common one attributed to the apostles because its specific source is unknown should be first. The creed that came out of the non-Christian Emperor Constantine’s council at Nicaea in 325 should be considered unnecessary having come from a murderous, conquering thug who saw the political advantage of exploiting the early Jesus communities for his dictatorial benefit.

    Those who “believe” that every formal member of the Catholic Church subscribes to the faith and moral dictates of popes, other clerics, or catechisms has their heads buried in theological sand.

    Are we now to think that liberation theology is in vogue because of Francis’ belief and practice that the church should be a poor church for the poor? That is as it should always have been.That will win lots more converts from the impoverished nations of Africa, and it might go some distance in recapturing those from Latin American countries who moved to evangelical churches because their style of emotional hype was more convincing than the classic formalities of Thomas Aquinas or Josef Ratzinger. But it will be a sad contradiction with the regal, monarchical clericalism of Catholic clergy–including the Vatican curia.

    Consider how many superb thinkers the Catholic Church silenced, tried to silence, or even excommunicated. People like Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff, Elizabeth Johnson for her “Quest for the Living God,” Magaret Farley for her “Just Love.”

    Pope Ratzinger and his theological dictatorship under John Paul II initiated that effort to smother the thought of others for theirs. It was Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul who felt it sane and religiously healthy to try to muzzle these people.

    When Ratzinger became Benedict, that continued under his first appointed replacement at CDF, William Levada. It was Levada under Benedict who thought it was time to muzzle U.S. nuns by going after them with gestapo tactics that have yet to be stopped by Francis.

    One must ask if Pope Ratzinger knew nothing of Bishop Gerhard Mueller, his second replacement at CDF, and his work with Gustavo Gutierrez in writing in support of liberation theology when he appointed Mueller as Levada’s successor. What mental, soul sacrifices must one make to be considered a faithful member of such a church?

    It is the second millennium since Jesus preached and others wrote about him. Nothing in the gospels or those other writings about Jesus portray him as a theological dictator. Religion and its churches have an awful history that portrays its violence against mind (soul) and thought. If anything must be free in order to be true, it must be religious ideas.

    Everyone, church member or not, has the right to live within their own evolving theology. Anything less than that is dishonest, especially if it is submission to the thought and daring dictation of another. Suggest, advise, preach, study, learn, yes, but nothing is a greater sin against honest belief than dictated theology.

    “There are these four: faith, hope, charity, and honesty. But the greatest of these is honesty.” I think Jesus might actually have pronounced that expanded aphorism beyond what was allowed in the man-selected canon.

    • “Nothing in the gospels.. portray [Jesus] as a theological dictator.” Your term, “theological dictator;” is a contradiction in terms. Theological consists of propositions proposed to others for their free acceptance or rejection. It does declare that these propositions are, or are derived from, what Jesus taught, and that a person is not a Catholic or some other Christian, unless the person believes these doctrines. It’s like saying you are not really an American unless you accept the U.S. Constitution. Many people, it appears, do not accept every freedom spelled out in that foundational document — but they still live here. So, many people attend Catholic or other Christian services without believing everything their church teaches.
      “Religion and its churches have an awful history that portrays its violence against mind (soul) and thought.”
      “If anything must be free in order to be true, it must be religious ideas.” Ideas cannot be free. Only persons are free. Most religious ideas are presented as truths, that is, as referring to objective reality. And most are presented as a part of a logical system of such ideas. which means that if you deny one, you deny the entire system. You are physically free to reject one or many such ideas. But if you reject one that is solidly incorporated in the system, you reject the entire system, you claim the entire system is imperfect. Surely, you should be able to prove your claim. For example, everyone is physically free to claim that the Catholic doctrine concerning the Eucharist is false. But no one who sincerely believes this truly accepts the Catholic Faith even if he/she attends Mass and receives the Eucharist.
      “Everyone, church member or not, has the right to live within their own evolving theology.” Yes, I hope everyone believes this. But my theology, or yours, may not be the theology of, for example, the Catholic Church. The Church can and must declare what it believes Christ taught — even if it includes doctrines which I do not accept.
      “Anything less than that is dishonest, especially if it is submission to the thought and daring dictation of another.” The Catholic Church which teaches the Catholic religion makes no dictation to anyone. It does declare that certain truths are essential to that religion. Which is what I think you may not appreciate.
      “Suggest, advise, preach, study, learn, yes, but nothing is a greater sin against honest belief than dictated theology.” Since theology cannot be dictated and still be theology, your statement lacks meaning, if I may say so without implying anything offensive. God bless you.

      “There are these four: faith, hope, charity, and honesty. But the greatest of these is honesty.” I think Jesus might actually have pronounced that expanded aphorism beyond what was allowed in the man-selected canon.

  3. Pope Francis is no friend of Liberation theology. Perhaps the good parts of Liberation theology will be rescued from its Marxist parts, which would be a good thing. But in that case it will cease to be Liberation theology.

    • Very few ideas are absolutely unique. It is unarguable that many ideas and practices of Marist communism were inhumane, but when we take a serious look at the history of Christianity, including the Catholic Church, it is easy to find a great amount of evil in both thinking and practice.

      What about monarchical notions about the Catholic priesthood that developed long after the time of Jesus? One could even challenge, as did Martin Luther, the evolution of the sacraments as a way of gaining control over the laity by clerics from cradle to grave. What about early concepts about women held by many ecclesiastics for centuries, even today, as no more than incubators of the babies of men and their kitchen help later?

      All isms have faults because all isms are human creations. Those faults are often more in practice than in original theory. Evil evolves just as good evolves. Consider the current destruction of thousands by Bashar al-Assad for his own ism. We could even consider the notion practiced by the U.S. since World War II that it had the right to force “democracy” on many areas of the world–like Iraq!

      • The heirarchical (“monarchical”) priesthood dates to subapostolic times and is certainly one of the most ancient aspects of the Christian Church. I refer you to Bishop Kallisto Ware’s “Communion and Intercommunion”.

      • Your comments are filled with cynicism, typical of Communistic worldviews of human history. Authority suppressing women, the lower classes, ‘minorities,’ Could you be any less ridiculous . . . lol.

    • PF is doing the exact same thing that B16 and JP2 did before him. Remember B16′s dinner with Hans Kung? JP2 hardly stamped out the Church’s concern for the poor, he just put a stop to the corrupting Marxism that had permeated many Latin American theologians. One should point out that the more left-wing the Catholic Church became in Latin and South America, the more lay Catholics abandoned the Faith and embraced pentecostal/evangelical Protestantism. To their credit, Pente/Evans offer a Gospel insight that is much more practical re. meeting our temporal needs than the esoteric and “structure”-oriented theology of progressive Catholicism.

  4. “stamped out”? You can read the actual issues that the Church had with Sobrino here:

    Father Sobrino’s attention to the poor is explicitly commended by the Church. The Church was concerned about whether his methodology was adequately in submission to the apostolic tradition, esp. in the area of Christology.

  5. Having a meeting with Rev Guitierrez is one thing, but it’s a leap to think that the extreme Marxist version of liberation theology is being rehabilitated. Orthodox Catholic seminaries and heirarchs have always promoted service to the poor and marginalized. Even the most ardent Traditionalist is not ambivalent to meeting the needs of the poor. Like almost all of Pope Francis’ other gestures, he gently touches on a controversial subject, enough for seculars and the media to believe that he’s thrown the whole of Catholic teaching into the trash, but then allows his coterie of Vatican officials to clarify the Pontiff’s true intent (which we know is true because he never rebuffs the “clarifications”). I, for one, wish that His Holiness would opt for more clarity and directness in his speech than the nuanced (and confusing/misleading) ambiguity that we usually get.

  6. An aside, but the icon of Oscar Romero is theologically wrong. Only canonized saints can be depicted in an Eastern icon with the circular halo. Western Christian co-opting of the visual imagery of Eastern Christianity is an affront to Eastern Christians who treasure and safeguard the particulars of the icon tradition to prevent heretical and just plain wrong imagery from sullying the whole of the Tradition. That is not to say that Bishop Romero is not a holy man even unto martyrdom; however, he has not yet been canonized and until then ought not to be rendered in an icon as such.

    • “The times, they are a-changin’…, ” right?

      And for the good. Also, it was the people at large who used to “canonize” those they believed lived holy, worthy lives, not the hierarchy, certainly not limited to the Vatican which eventually took over the management of everything. Also, there’s no reason why the West has to limit its practices that might have been previously been done in the East.

  7. A truth is always tested in a long time. The Holy Spirit illuminates this policy is not too late. This is the right moment. God does not allow His people to suffer in an alienation. He must be patient, he let the weeds grow along with the wheat.

  8. the church has a responsibity, a duty to teach, it is neccesary that what is taught in the church is in line with the catholic faith hence the role of the cdf in ensuring the faithful are taught catholic doctrine and not the private ideas of some priest.

    The cdf is charged with ensuring i’m taught truly catholic doctrine and portraying the congregation as intellectual nazis doesn’t mean they have done wrong, it simply means you can’t appreciate it because of your preconcieved ideas.

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