Liberation Theology and Argentina’s Slum Priests

Has Pope Francis given the nod to Liberation Theology? The LA Times reports here on the slum priests in Argentina. These men are living in the slums with people who have overwhelming social, health, financial, societal and relationship problems. They are doing a wonderful work ministering Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor.

I think their work is fantastic, but the reporting of their work of the LA Times is very interesting. The headline reads, “Priest spends more time helping than converting,” The number of misconceptions and false assumptions locked into that headline are amazing. First we have the liberal secularist agenda which wants to turn Christianity into a do-gooder religion. The sub-text of the headline is “It’s a really good thing that these priests are getting on with the sensible work of running food kitchens, rehab centers and clinics rather than all that religious stuff.”

The second false assumption underlying the whole article is that this is the old liberation theology come back again, but now its okay. I don’t know enough about the priests in question, but what they are doing doesn’t sound like liberation theology to me. It sounds more like good, hard working priests serving their  people and sacrificing their lives for them. Sure, they may get involved in political questions from time to time–I believe priests have to speak out against injustice. But what they are not  doing–and this was the problem with liberation theology–is they are not supporting violent revolution and taking up arms against the enemy. The Catholic Church has always argued for a  preferential option for the poor. The problem with liberation theology is that it was Marxist in inspiration and sought to justice through revolution.

The third problem with the article is that it once again–hijacks Pope Francis for the liberal agenda. The subtle message of the article is, “Liberation theology is back, and furthermore, Pope Francis is in favor!” Except that he’s not. His efforts to support the slum priests in Argentina and elsewhere is the church’s proper answer to liberation theology: not to foment revolution and get involved politically and take up arms against the enemy, but to be with the poor, serve the poor and show Christ’s love in the midst of their suffering. Pope Francis’ work in Argentina was always an attempt to show the right way of helping the poor and bringing about social change.

I believe he will do this for the developing world the way John Paul II helped to bring liberation to the communist world. Read more.

  • Andy

    On a serious note _ i know little about Liberation Theology. Can you recommend a book or books that would give me some insights. I have a bit of time now that summer school is finished and it is two weeks to the start of the fall term so please do not recommend books like Russian novels. Thanks

  • AnneG

    If you feel well catechised and secure, you could read Gustavo Gutierrez Merino’s book, Liberation Theology. He is a Catholic priest from Peru who wrote the original book that is the basis of the ideas. It isn’t difficult but you have to be well informed, so please be honest with yourself. I read it in Spanish years ago and it was pretty obviously “baptized” Marxism.

  • Chris Nunez

    You’re one of those people who divides the Catholic Church into liberal and conservative. And you’ve never considered that maybe some folks maligned liberation theology and painted it with a broad brush?

  • Lee Johnson

    Hmm … in the Gospels, Jesus tells the devil, man cannot live by bread alone. Later, he feeds the 5,000. (Or 7,000.) In any case, it seems to me that there’s a message in there about doing things in their proper order.

  • Dan C

    I will leave it to the author of this blog to show where liberation theologians like the UCA Jesuits fomented revolution.

    This would be misinformation. There is more revoluation in the over-venerated gun culture of America (and I recommend The American Catholic as a fine example) than in the El Salvadoran liberation theologians.

    Liberation theologians were criticized on matters of class war, however conservative critique today centers on “elites” often and Tea Party dynamics certainly break on such. Again, I place Catholic conservativism as more aggressively classist (see Acton- an uncriticized class war promoter in Catholic partisan battles).

    The depth of this post suggests the author has little familiarity with Liberation Theology and has read instead blogger critiques.

    Actually a good beginning is Joseph Ratzinger’s critique, and note its measured critique and tight conditions of critique. Then Sobrino or Gutierrez are helpful.

  • Cathy R.

    Just on the matter of semantics, I have never liked the term “Preferential option for the poor” It makes it sound like God & the Church prefer the physically poor (they are more important) and the rich can just go to H-E – double hockey sticks. Which, to me, continues the “class warfare” mindset. I am not sure if it was JPII or B16, but one of them said that the greatest “poverty” was to not know Christ (or something like that). Truth is, we are all poor in different ways, many of the the “rich” are in a very great poverty indeed (their “stuff” is getting in the way of knowing Jesus) & if the temporal needs of the physically “poor” are to be filled, the church needs to address both forms of poverty.

  • MarylandBill

    The most essential problem with liberation theology, that I could see, was that it was willing to sacrifice the Gospel for the sake of what seemed to be justice. It lost the central truth of Christianity which is what without the Gospel there can be no justice.

  • MDrake

    I left a comment in reply to Andy’s request yesterday and it disappeared. @Andy, a good (and short) resource on Liberation Theology is here:

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Ever since the Protestant Reformation there have been those (including today’s secularists) who have wanted to split the Church along the faith and works line. But the Church has always gotten it right: Faith without works is a dead faith while works without Faith are hollow, sterile.

  • Chesire11

    My, admittedly limited understanding of liberation theology is that its fundamental flaw is that it divides the Mystical Body between those worthy of salvation (the poor and oppressed) and those who do not deserve to be ministered to, but violently opposed instead. It was to this that Blessed John Paul II objected, insisting that ALL are children of God, worthy of salvation and that and ALL are sinners in need of redemption.

  • Claudio Burgaleta, SJ

    I think Fr Longenecker’s comments are an inaccurate reading of the complex liberation theology movement, with little appreciation of the regional differences in the movement which have emerged in its forty-plus years of existence. Even the Holy See recognized in its 1986 document on Christian freedom that not all that self-identifies as liberation theology is Marxist and heterodox. The type of non-Marxist liberation theology prevalent in Argentina is called teología del pueblo, developed by Juan Carlos Scannone, SJ and Fr Lucío Gera, both great influences on Pope Francis. Teología del pueblo is especially concerned with marshaling Catholic popular piety so strong among the poor and popular classes of Latin America to increase faith and promote social justice. A good example of it is Pope Francis’ unpacking of the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida for the Brazilian bishops during his recent visit to Rio. Here is a link to that address:

  • David Gormley

    How can the Church actualise justice for the poor without a revolution that removes the means of production from capitalists? Seriously, I don’t get it. Otherwise, it seems like the Church is not interested in justice but in mere relief of the poor. It sometimes seems like the Church venerates poverty and upholds it as something people should be glad of, even when they don’t choose it (and all poor people except for deliberately impoverished church orders do not choose it). I really cannot imagine Jesus advocating capitalism.

  • Andy

    To the folks below who responded to my request – thank you – you have provided me with a nice balance of material. And none of it larger than a Russian novel.

  • Brad Jones

    To date I have found that the best lens for understanding what our Pope says is Mother Teresa. If she was a liberation theologists then I guess so are the priests in Argentina.

  • wineinthewater

    I think that liberation theology often gets a rap it doesn’t deserve. I would say that there is not such thing as liberation theology. That assumes that the whole thing is monolithic. I prefer “theologies of liberation.” Some are orthodox, some are heterodox, some are outright heretical. At the root of them all is that sin creates societal structures that perpetuate injustice. So, to free people from sin requires freeing them from slavery to the societal structures of sin, not just slavery to personal sin. Such a concept is quite orthodox.

    Unfortunately, the most visible theologies of liberation were the heretical and heterodox ones, the ones that assumed that all societal structures of authority were structures of sin .. sometimes even lumping the Church in with them!

    But there is another very prominent liberation theologian that people often forget: Blessed John Paul II. His personal crusade against Communism was an example of a theology of liberation. He saw the Communist governments of Easter Europe as structures of sin.