Many agree that in the Global South, liberation theology lost and prosperity theology won by the end of the 20th century. That’s tragic for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the Vatican was in large part responsible for this reality by censuring and silencing liberation theologians.
It’s too early to say if this is an about-face, but it’s at least a major development that Pope Francis is meeting this week with Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology.
Here’s RNS’s report:
VATICAN CITY (RNS) A progressive theological current that emphasizes the Catholic Church’s closeness to the poor and the marginalized but was subject to decades of hostility and censure is now finding increasing favor in the Vatican under Pope Francis.
Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.
The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.
It’s a 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.
Liberation theology arose as a Catholic response to the Marxist movements that fought Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1960s and ’70s. It criticized the church’s close relations, including often overt support, with the regimes.
It affirmed that, rather then just focusing on seeking salvation in the afterlife, Catholics should act in the here and now against unjust societies that breed poverty and need.
In his seminal 1971 book, Gutierrez argued that the church should have a “preferential option for the poor,” following the example of Jesus, who chose to live mostly with poor and marginalized people.