“Rehabilitation” of Liberation Theology?

“Rehabilitation” of Liberation Theology
“Not only is participating in class struggle not opposed to universal love, but today, this commitment is the necessary and inescapable means of making this love concrete, as this participation is what leads to a classless society, a society without owners and dispossessed, without oppressors and oppressed.”This statement is not found in the writings of “Che” Guevara or any manifesto of the Colombian FARC guerrillas or other group of revolutionary subversives.

It is found in the book A Theology of Liberation, by Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest, who has been called the “father” of liberation theology.[1]

Liberation Theology, Church Theology?
But why is “liberation theology” back in the news?

Because in its September 4, 2013 edition, Vatican Insider, the religious blog of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, from Turin, deals with two articles on the publication of the book Dalla parte dei poveri. Teologia della liberazione, teologia della chiesa (which the blog translates as “Taking the Side of the Poor — Liberation Theology”), available in bookstores starting September 9.

The first, written under the responsibility of the blog’s writer, is titled, “The Osservatore Romano Rehabilitates Liberation Theology;” the second, by Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli, is headlined: “The Church Legitimizes Liberation Theology.”[2]

The book’s special hook is its authors. It was the joint effort of the said Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez and his disciple, Archbishop Ludwig Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Liberation Theology: The Most Significant Theology?
Archbishop Muller writes: “The Latin American ecclesial and theological movement known as liberation theology, which had worldwide repercussion after Vatican II, should be listed, in my opinion, among the most significant currents of twentieth century Catholic theology.”

Further on he states: “It is only by means of liberation theology that Catholic theology has been able to emancipate itself from the dualistic dilemma of the here and now and the afterlife, of earthly happiness and ultra-earthly salvation.”[3]

Marxist Inspiration
Have we forgotten that liberation theology, which spread widely throughout Latin America from the seventies on, develops from the premises of Marxist class struggle and the concept that the poor are “the oppressed?” This school of thought holds that the role of Theology — and therefore of the Catholic Church — is to “liberate” the poor from the “oppressive structures” of private property and free enterprise. It sees socialism as the only system capable of ending injustice, by establishing complete equality in the political and socio-economic spheres.

This is not merely another utopian theory talked about in cafés (or, horribilis, our sacristies), for “Liberation Theologians” actually believe that theology is made starting from “revolutionary praxis.”

The end result is that this “theology” has led countless Catholic youngsters, priests even, to take up weapons and join the Communist guerrilla outfits, both rural and urban, that have plagued the region since the seventies. In parallel, through the so-called Basic Christian Communities, this subversive current played a decisive role in creating socialist parties in Latin America, including the “Partido dos Trabalhadores” (Workers Party), which has been in power in Brazil since 2003.

Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P.
Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P. who fosters class struggle as a “necessary and inescapable means” to a classless society.

Praxis, the Sole Deciding Factor
After his book was condemned, Gutiérrez purged it from Marxist expressions and published its “lite” version.

However, it is not enough to change wording or labels without altering content. Sarah Kleeb, who studied Gutiérrez’s thought and the revised (1988) edition of his book makes this comment: “While Gutierrez goes to explicit lengths to distance himself from Marx…this seems to be done only in a token fashion, and that his understanding of injustice remains forceful even in light of his modifications of methodology.”[4]

Yet, even if it did not employ Marxist categories liberation theology would still be unacceptable as a theological methodology because it does not start with data from Revelation as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church (the close norm of the Faith) but from praxis, that is, from the events.

“Truth is realized in history and its praxis,” as then Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in his 1984 Rapporto sulla Fede, summarizing the methodology of liberation theology. And, he added, “Action is truth. Hence even the ideas which are employed in such action are ultimately interchangeable. Praxis is the sole deciding factor. The only true orthodoxy is therefore orthopraxy.[5]

Thus, liberation theology sustains, men are not enlightened, guided and led to eternal life by Revelation and the truths of the Faith under the teaching authority of the Magisterium. Rather, what gives sense to their faith are historical developments, the political struggle (and even guerrilla warfare). According to this system, to engage in class warfare is to have faith.

Saint Vincent de Paul with the Ladies of Charity
Saint Vincent de Paul with the Ladies of Charity. Through their assistance, he helped annually more than 20,000 sick poor who entered the Hotel-Dieu alone.

A False Concept of “the Poor”
A central element of liberation theology and Teologia del Pueblo and other variations is to consider the poor, or the “people,” as “the oppressed.”

This conflictive notion has nothing to do with the true love for the downtrodden as preached by Our Lord Jesus Christ, a love that has informed the Church’s works of charity for centuries.

In fact, it is nothing but an adaptation of the Marxist conception of “redeeming proletariat” inasmuch as it is “oppressed,” “disenfranchised,” “marginalized.”

Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan friar and highly “acclaimed” liberation theologian, leaves no doubt as to what liberation theology means when referring to “the poor.” He wrote in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of São Paulo that God loves the poor “not because they are pious and good but simply because they are victims of the oppression that impoverishes them.[6]

It is therefore disturbing that the unofficial newspaper of the Vatican takes up the defense of liberation theology and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez.

It is likewise surprising that a Vaticanist like Tornielli can be so bold as to title his story, “The Church Legitimizes Liberation Theology.”

A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1973), 276.
In Sandro Magister, “Peace Made Between Müller and Gutiérrez. But Bergoglio Isn’t Falling For It,” http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350589?eng=y.
Sarah Kleeb, “Envisioning Emancipation: Karl Marx, Gustavo Gutierrez, and the Struggle of Liberation Theology”; Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion (CSSR), Toronto, 2006. Retrieved 22 October 2012. Link dead.
Pope Benedict XVI, Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 183, 185. (Our emphasis.)
“O cristão e a luta pela justiça,” [The Christian and the Struggle for Justice] in O São Paulo, Apr. 6, 1982, p. 10.
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17 Responses to “Rehabilitation” of Liberation Theology?

  1. Toad says:

    Fascinating article.
    Toad loves the idea of it all – has done ever since he was young – and wishes it well.
    But he has long since realised that Socialism will only work if everyone on earth wants it to – and are prepared to live socialist lives – and the rich don’t, and aren’t.
    And so it won’t.

    I also get the idea that the writer of this piece doesn’t think the poor are oppressed and ripped off by the rich.
    If so, he’s wrong.

    “Grub first – then ethics.” Brecht.


  2. golden chersonnese says:

    The Church has long been supportive of a just social order, Toad, and still is as far as I know. The question is whether that is the same thing as Liberation theology.


  3. Brother Burrito says:

    “Liberation theology” is a dangerously meaningless term with a sweet sound. Many poisons have a sweet or innocuous flavour, eg lead sulphate.

    The liberation offered by Christ is not of this world. It is achieved by exodus: voluntary poverty, chastity and obedience to the higher principles that Christ espouses. It ain’t easy, it is a narrow way, but it is the only way.

    It is impossible to achieve without Divine assistance, but that is only a call away.

    Always, one’s first prayer must be to make that call.

    “Oh Lord, make haste to help us!”


  4. golden chersonnese says:

    Most observers have noted radical changes in the movement in the last few years. The movement is demonstrating much more skepticism of Marxism and of dependency theory. Liberationists are behind most of the rest of the world, but this still represents an important change. The liberationists’ enthusiasm for socialism is also waning.

    And Toad, apparently, is even behind the liberationists.

    Dear Toad, do at least try to keep up.

    BB, I often refer to this when liberation theology crops up in my vicinity:


    I think it stole some of your ideas.


  5. Toad says:

    “Faithful Catholics must aid the poor and must try to relieve their suffering. Traditional Catholics believe that they must not sacrifice their souls, nor destroy societal unity, by undertaking sinful, divisive actions to make economic conditions less terrible.”

    …An extract from Golden’s thought-provoking link above.
    My tentative translation is; “Don’t get uppity, poor people. It’s all right for the rich to sin and “sacrifice their souls” – but not all right for you. So leave “societal unity” the way it is. Rotten. And get on with it”


  6. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad, I think they’re saying that rather than foster bloody revolution, the Church’s mission is still to teach those in power and remind them that they must improve the condition of the poor with all prudent haste.

    In my experience of socialist countries in East Asia everyone is as poor as each other or worse, except, of course, for the leaders. Friends in China, for instance, used to tell me that socialism is a very effective way of making socialist leaders rich.


  7. Toad says:

    Exactly correct, Golden. The leaders of the revolution quickly become bosses themselves and behave like the “old” rich.
    It’s all hopeless and “Liberation Theology” is a waste of time – because people are just no damn good. Greedy, selfish, liars – all of them. Including me. Every man his own capitalist.
    And yet, we are supposed to be made in the image of God. I see no “intelligence” in the “design” whatsoever.
    Anyway, I’ve picked up a new abandoned dog yesterday. That makes six. So I’m all right.
    I know I ought to, as Mencken said, “…Run up the black flag, and start slitting throats, “ but I’m too old, lazy, and cowardly.


  8. golden chersonnese says:

    Anyway, Toad, you must have a rather full and hectic Peaceable Kingdom with the new pooch and 8 pilgrims everywhere.


  9. kathleen says:

    Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who knew better than anyone how appalling and distressing real poverty is, was adamantly against “liberation theology”. She saw clearly its communistic, Markist ideology and knew this was not the answer to relieving the suffering of the poorest of the poor.

    Yes, another great link from Golden! It might have been written many years ago, but all its points are as valid today as they were then.
    For those who haven’t got the time to read the whole (long) article, I would highlight these two paragraphs:

    Any attempt to satisfy the material needs of persons, while ignoring their spiritual nature, such as encouraging people to despise the rich, to steal from them or to use violence against them, will only lead people deeper into the slavery of sin. Only a thoroughly materialistic culture can perceive this as progress. For traditional Catholics, “Redemption is liberation in the strongest sense of the word, since it is liberation from sin” (Ratzinger, 1986: para. 3).

    Liberation theology addresses economic and social issues by promoting divisions in society and by encouraging envy. This does nothing to ameliorate material deprivation. Chilean bishops told their people, “if their reconciliation with God is sincere, it should have fraternal consequences.” Fostering a culture of sacrifice, fellowship, austerity and sharing material goods will do much more to help people than the pronouncements of liberationists (Radio Chilena 1987)….”

    And “traditional” Catholics come in all shapes and sizes!

    And I must say: it’s a lucky old dog to have walked in through Toad’s front door. No more “poverty” for him! 😉


  10. johnhenrycn says:

    Kathleen, this death notice appeared in my local paper yesterday, on the same page as this one concerning a woman who was a cherished member of the parish in which I was confirmed at Easter Vigil eight years ago. I saw both obits because, at my stage of life, one turns first to the obituaries. “Now, johnhenry…” (I thought to myself) “…this death notice placed by Corey Jacuzzi’s master has got to be THE singlemost tacky example of anthropomorphic lunacy ever to appear in the Western Hemisphere!” Yes I did. In fact, I’m thinking of placing a notice of my own to mourn and/or celebrate the ant I accidentally squished underfoot yesterday. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world we live in, and people like Toad and Corey’s master are SO integrally a part of it that H.L. Mencken would weep if he knew them.


  11. johnhenrycn says:

    So sorry: “Corey was an integral volunteer at the Bereavement Course at St. Francis of Assisi Church where she embraced and gave comfort to those during their moments of sorrow”

    Unbeknownst to me (because I’ve just now read that part of the bitch’s obit), Corey, like the late Mrs Mary Meyer, was also a valued member of the parish where I was confirmed. I think I’m going to cry.


  12. Toad says:

    “Fostering a culture of sacrifice, fellowship, austerity and sharing material goods will do much more to help people than the pronouncements of liberationists (Radio Chilena 1987)….”

    Try telling that to the rich.


  13. golden chersonnese says:

    I think I’m going to cry.

    That’s both johnhenry AND Toad in a state today, then.

    Toad, you seem to agree with JPII and Cardinal Ratzinger that the main problem is that we are hopelessly slaves to sin and that Marxist liberation may not really be the answer.

    Any other bright ideas?


  14. kathleen says:

    But who can say they have not wept after the death of a beloved pet, JH?

    As the worst part of it all is not knowing if we will ever see them again! 😥


  15. Toad says:

    I would say we really are slaves to our own inbuilt insanity, Golden – call that ‘sin’ if you like.
    Some evolutionary flaw has made us all mad from “Adam” onwards, hundreds of thousands of years ago.
    Possibly stemming from our brains evolving more quickly than our skulls could cope with, cramming them into too small a space.
    But who knows?.
    The events in The Bible surely support that theory, starting with Cain..

    Pascal certainly does:
    “Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would merely amount to another
    form of madness.”

    Christ’s intervention does not seem to have worked, To me, We are still all as mad as ever.
    You just have to read this blog to see that.


  16. Toad says:

    …Another thought: Christ was clearly sane. (..Turn the other cheek…”)
    As were Gandhi and Socrates.

    That’s the real reason they killed them.


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