Pope Francis’ affinity for liberation theology — wait, what?

For this post, we’re not going to critique past the first sentence of this New York Times story on Pope Francis headlined “Francis’ Humility and Emphasis on the Poor Strike a New Tone at the Vatican.” To be fair, that headline might have caused half of our Roman Catholic readers to spasm in response. But we’re not touching it. We’re going to look at just the first line. Here:

VATICAN CITY — He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology.

Wait, what? Pope Francis’ “affinity” for liberation theology”? He sure has a curious way of showing that affinity, no?

Let’s go to John Allen over at National Catholic Reporter:

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.

The Guardian:

A champion of those who rejected liberation theology, he was considered a candidate that everyone in the higher echelons of the church respects.

Catholic News Agency:

‘Chasm’ Exists Between Pope Francis and Liberation Theology
Even though the Holy Father has been praised by liberation theologians, he has always disagreed with that interpretation of the Gospel, even at the cost of finding himself isolated.

Catholic.org:

Bergoglio is an accomplished theologian who distanced himself from liberation theology early in his career.

From NPR and Michael Sean Winters:

Even as the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was blasting “the tyranny of the markets” and lamenting wealth inequality, he was standing firm against the spread of liberation theology — the leftist economic movement that swept the church in the 1970s and 1980s.

“He’s not afraid to duke it out with either the right or the left, inasmuch as neither system really delivers any authentic notion of liberation,” says Michael Sean Winters, who writes a blog for the .

Exactly. While neither this pope — nor many previous popes, to be honest — is a fan of capitalism, particularly capitalism uninformed by Christianity, that doesn’t necessarily make any of them liberation theologians.

It’s very difficult to take a story seriously when the very first line is confused about something that’s actually been fairly well covered.

For a much more detailed response to the New York Times piece, you can check this out at National Review.

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  • Jerry

    I’m not sure why you are not touching the headline. Compare the media coverage of Pope Francis to Pope Benedict. The word “tone” is precise and accurate. As the rest of your post illustrates, it’s not that Pope Francis is all that different theologically from his predecessors, but the tone he sets by his style is very much different. And that headline was supported by the content of the story:

    …already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and
    bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to
    the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.

    “It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”

    So I’m not sure who would “spasm” about that headline based on the quotes inside the story itself.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

      Well, I’d spasm about “striking” a “tone” but that’s more my vocabulary side than my Catholic side (though that side is a tiny bit annoyed, too).

  • Daniel F. Crawford

    There is capitalism “formed” by Christianity? If you’ve found it, let us know, Mollie. The difficulty with all the media reports on liberation theology is that their acquaintanceship with the phrase has the depth of a puddle. There are different forms of liberation theology – some are actually quite orthodox (you might want to read Gutierrez’s book), and the Popes have consistently criticized the kind of liberation theology that justifies violence and the kind of socialist dictatorships that has so often resulted from the violent overthrow of corrupt, oligarchical governments. But if you’re looking for theological (or even intellectual) nuance from the media, you really shouldn’t. They are incapable of nuance.

    • Nick Corrado

      Afaik the Acton Institute has made an effort at a Christian capitalism, but it’s up to you whether they’re doing a good job reconciling the two.

      • Daniel F. Crawford

        I would hope there would be a more objective determination than my judgment.

        • Daniel F. Crawford

          The Institute is a think tank whose primary purpose appears to be providing justification for contemporary corporate capitalism. Concern for economic inequities, market manipulations, and the plight of the poor and attempts to deal with these realities don’t seem to be issues that arouse their interest.

          • tamsin

            I completely disagree. I have read Fr. Sirico’s book, Defending the Free Market.

            He discusses inequality. He abhors market manipulation (note the Acton Institute’s emphasis on FREE markets for labor and for goods and services). He is fundamentally concerned with helping the poor. To help the poor is his preferential option.

            He wants to help them in body and in spirit.

          • Dan C

            That book is nothing but an apologetic for wealth that turns on its head the Lucan beautitudes: Blessed are the poor/ Woe to the rich.

  • Jerry

    I’m typically no fan of the National Review but I thought this piece on the Pope and liberation theology was good: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/349432/pope-francis-and-liberation-theology

  • FW Ken

    That headline could have read: “Francis, attended by birds and Bambi, sets a new tone in reaction to God’s Rottweiler. “. Or, less sarcastically, “Hispanic pastor sets tone different than that of German theologian.” As it happens, I think the headline as appropriate and accurate, because these two men and their styles are different.

    In talking about Liberation Theology, it’s worth remembering that the original rap on Francis was that he sold out his fellow Jesuits to the regime because they were into LT. One of them came forward to tell the truth, so that meme died away, taking us back to the birds and Bambi. It won’t last too long, because Francis also fought the current regime on secularization and same-sex marriage.


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