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A 3D Research Report by Betsy Kraus
Over the years “New Theologies” have been introduced into the Catholic Church. Not only have these theologies, in some or many instances, become predominant in Church thinking, they have affected teaching in the Catholic classroom as well. We begin with The People’s Church.
LIBERATION THEOLOGY started as a Social Justice movement in the Latin American Catholic Church in the 1950s. Its leaders were primarily Jesuits and Maryknolls. This movement has since grown to international and inter-denominational proportions. Having donned the cloak of Catholicism, it was spawned by the People’s Socialistic Church and spread throughout Latin America. Liberation Theology turned various Catholic countries in Latin America into bastions of Marxism. Base “Communities” were established to fashion the people’s liturgy. This concept of the “Theology of Liberation” was based on the “new theologies” of European theologians. It had its impetus at Vatican II.
Liberation Theology espoused that the economically poor and the politically oppressed should became the preferential objects of Catholicism, and the aim was to replace U. S. capitalism with a democratic socialism. It incorporated the very aims of Marxist-Leninism.
This new theology afforded a plan to restructure the Church justifying it through the criticism of European theologians who thought that Rome imposed stagnant and “alien” views on the people. A new church was born… “The Peoples Socialist Church”. A church from below with a focus on oppression and injustice.
At the Conferences of Latin American Theologians in Mexico City in August 1975, Jon Sobrino, S.J. explained that ‘the new faith’ would give rise to ‘new practices’ creating a new faith. At the Second International Convention of Christians for Socialism (Quebec, April 1975) it was stated that “the people of God were reclaiming the Scriptures and reading them for the viewpoint of the poor and oppressed classes, making their own the liturgical and sacramental symbols and striking out on new paths of contemplation, celebration, and Eucharist…” (1) Fr. Sobrino contended that the poor are a privileged channel of God’s grace. By 2007, the Vatican had branded Fr. Sobrino’s books as erroneous and dangerous.
Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, Peruvian Dominican Theologian, is considered to be the founder of Liberation Theology. He studied with the European “new theology” theologians and authored the profoundly influential work, A Theology of Liberation. By 1971 he had coined the term “Preferential Treatment of the Poor”. Gutierrez perceived the human being as assuming conscious responsibility for human destiny while Christ the Savior liberates the human race from sin, which he considered the root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression. This led Gutierrez to favor “praxis” [human action- such as taking care of the poor and oppressed] over doctrine or at least equal to doctrine. This, in turn, led then Cardinal Ratzinger to criticize Liberation Theology for equating praxis to orthodoxy.
Cardinal Ratzinger put “Preferential Treatment of the Poor” into proper context of Catholic truth. In an article in Catholic Culture we read: “By contrast, the liberationists are exclusionary, a point that their critics make frequently. Ratzinger wrote in 1986: ‘The special option for the poor, far from being a sign of particularism or sectarianism, manifests the universality of the Church's being and mission. This option excludes no one. All human beings are poor. All people need spiritual sustenance; some need material sustenance also’.” (2)
The article continues: “The adversaries of liberation theology promote greater Christian unity by insisting on an inclusive understanding of the oft-repeated phrase ‘preferential option for the poor.’...For Catholics, everyone, both rich and poor, are pilgrims and sinners before the Eucharist…” (3) Cardinal Ratzinger said Liberation Theology was dangerous as it fused the Bible’s view of history with Marxist dialectics, and he referred to it as a singular heresy.
Liberation Theology also considered Dogma and Doctrine as an “ideology” of capitalism and Romanism. Gutierrez said the Church of the people should wrest the Gospel from the hands of the powerful and take it away from those who look upon it as their private possession. He claimed that when the Gospel is read from the viewpoint of the poor, etc. it cries out for a Church of the People. He also stated that ever since Vatican II we understand better that we are called to build the Church from below.
In 1984 and 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asserted that Liberation Theology focused on institutionalized sin or systemic sin with apparent exclusion of individual offenders and offenses. Wouldn’t such exclusion seem to relegate the importance of various Sacraments, Dogma and Doctrine, and the need for personal salvation to a much lesser status? One of these Vatican Congregation pronouncements noted that “Theologians who do not share the theses of the ‘theology of liberation’, the hierarchy and especially the Roman Magisterium, are thus discredited in advance as belonging to the class of oppressors.” (4)
Opinions regarding revival of Liberation Theology at the Vatican are varied, speculative. and conflicting. One would have to do their own research regarding that issue. The following information does cover some recent developments regarding Liberation Theology and the Church.
On February 24, 2014 the Associated Press published the following information. “The founder of liberation theology, the Latin American-inspired Catholic theology advocating for the poor, received a hero's welcome Tuesday at the Vatican as the once-criticized movement continues its rehabilitation under Pope Francis.” (5) The article is referring to the Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, father of liberation theology, who was a surprise speaker to launch Cardinal Gerhard Mueller’s new book. Poor of the Poor: The Mission of the Church, which contains two chapters written by Gutierrez.
The following is posted at the official site of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Australia concerning this topic. “Speaking then as participant at the Aparecida meeting [ Cardinal Bergoglio cited the region’s “scandalous inequality, which damages both personal dignity and social justice.” Continuing, the future pope said ‘The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers...’ While it may be still too early to say where Pope Francis stands on a range of issues from his actions and his words he is giving the term “New Evangelisation” a distinctive meaning. It also appears that the understanding Pope Francis has of the Catholic teaching Preferential Option for the Poor is also close to the radical call to interpret the gospel from the viewpoint of the poor and dispossessed with the consequent call for the whole Church to be converted.” (6)
Just recently, Father Miguel D’Escoto, who was suspended by Pope John Paul II for his involvement in the Nicaraguan Revolution, has been reinstated by the Vatican. It was Father D’Escoto’s wish to say mass once again before dying. He is the founder of Orbis Books and is or has been an official with the World Council of Churches.
In another development, Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone has been appointed to be one of the writers for the Italian Jesuit cultural journal,” La Civita Cattolica”. He was a teacher of Pope Francis and, in addition, Fr. Scannone, is a leading spokesman of the “theology of the people”, which is an Argentine current of Liberation Theology. He was a pupil of Fr. Karl Rahner, S. J...Fr Rahner was one of the major proponents and thinkers in the Nouvelle Theology movement.
In light of the above facts and opinions, it is understandable that the Latin American Clergy who have witnessed the agonizing distress of the needy and oppressed would consider going to such lengths as Liberation Theology to rescue the poor. But as Catholics, wouldn’t we expect any methods of the clergy or laity in assisting the poor to be grounded in the real purpose of the Church. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ for the purpose of bringing all men to eternal salvation. Isn’t that radically different from the temporal concept of bringing all men to material equality or equal political justice on earth? Theologians, who embrace the Modernist concept of spiritual and even physical evolution of mankind, can apply that belief to a theory of “evolution of doctrine” which can change the meaning or purpose of the Church. If God’s truths are evolving, then wouldn’t He have to be evolving also? Wouldn’t that mean that God is no longer immutable and His truth is dependent on man’s truth?
Next: Liberation Theology, Community Organizing, and Jesuit Pedagogy.
1. Kloppenburg O.F.M., Bonaventure, The People’s Church: A Defense of My Church, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Illinois 60606, Copyright 1978, Page viii.
2. Lynch, Edward A., “The Retreat of Liberation Theology”, Catholic Culture. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=643
4.”Insrtruction of Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’”, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19840806_theology-liberation_en.html
Pope Francis, “New Evangelisation and the Preferential Option for the Poor”, National Office for Evangelisation, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, July 23, 2104. http://www.evangeliseaustralia.com/blog/pope-francis-new-evangelisation-and-the-preferential-option-for-the-poor.html
1. “Liberation Theology”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Last modified 10/20/14
3. Kincaid, Cliff, “The Biggest Scandal: Catholic Church Funding of Acorn”, Accuracy in Media. 9/22/2009. http://www.aim.org/aim-column/the-bigger-scandal-catholic-church-funding-of-acorn/
4. “Community Organizing”, Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia, last modified 11/20/14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_organizing
5. Blumberg, Antonia, “Pope Francis Reinstates Father Miguel D’Escoto, Suspended for Involvement in Nicaraguan Revolution”, The Huffington Post, 8/4/2014.
7. Kozoff, Nikolas, “The Pope’s Holy War Against Liberation Theology”, Nacla.
8. “Pope’s one-time teacher to write for Italian Jesuit publication”, CNA/EWTN News, 2/22/2014.http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/popes-one-time-teacher-to-write-for-italian-jesuit-publication/