A Story You Should Be Following, Even If You’re Not Catholic

Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of Liberation Theology, is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis this week.

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.

via Liberation theology finds new welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican | Religion News Service.

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  • Yeah it’s a real waste that taking care of the poor people in a self-sacrificial way has been replaced by being saved from an angry God who gave us a sinful nature.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • “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.”

    It’s an “about-face” that is more apparent than real.

    Gutierrez has never been disciplined about his views. He has been questioned, which any theologian should expect and welcome, and the two Declarations issued by the CDF were basically directed against those who would call the Church to support a violent class struggle. They can be easily accessed at http://www.vatican.va if anyone is that interested.

    The “preferential option for the poor,” articulated by the South American bishops at the Medellin Conference, was confirmed as good Catholic doctrine in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulated by John Paul II under the editorship of then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

    Archbishop Mueller, whom Benedict placed at the head of the CDF, is the editor of Benedict’s collected works, and also a long-time student of Gutierrez. I understand that for many years has made regular retreats with him.

    I think many outside of the Catholic Church tend to overlook the dialogue between theologians and bishops, between creativity and authority. It is typically understood, by outsiders, as a struggle between freedom and tyranny. For those of us who appreciate it, it stands more for the old saw that, the better your brakes, the faster you can drive your car.

    • seba

      Not between freedom and tyranny, because you can never tell which is which, but different ideas and ways which church will pick in future, definitely. I don’t know where you live, but in Poland the conflict is extremely polarized and visible.

  • Craig

    I like the idea of “a poor church for the poor,” but I hope it doesn’t in practice become a directive to aim the Church’s proselytization and indoctrination efforts at the poor and the less educated.

    • seba

      Why, it was the main line of evangelisation of early church, check out Chryzostome and his ideas of throwing away ‘worldly’ knowledge or desert fathers legends.

  • Steve

    I think you might do well to read what Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict) wrote about Liberation Theology:


    Pope Francis had his own tangles with Liberation Theology. It would be a mistake to assume this meeting will result in an “about face”.

    The main problem with Liberation Theology is that it take the words of Christ who said things like, “Make disciples of all nations” and “My kingdom is not of this world” and turns it into, “Forget about making disciples. My kingdom is of this world.”

    • seba

      I don’t understand that “main problem”. What Jesus said about feeding the hungry, giving water to thirsty, helping fellow men? He was feeding, many miracles are about feeding people, does it mean he was betraying himself and making his kingdom of this world? Btw. catholic theology about kingdom of God is about transformation of THIS world after 2nd comming, while hell/heaven being only states of mind/soul, plus charity and love is big part of being catholic, even bigger than faith itself according to some theologians of V2

      • Steve

        It is a perennial temptation to place an “OR” where there should be an “AND”. That is why you should take note when the article describes Liberation Theology thusly:

        “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.”

        The actual Catholic faith calls upon the faithful to BOTH serve the poor AND make disciples. Liberation Theology says, “Choose one”.

        That’s why Cardinal Ratzinger praised Liberation Theology for its emphasis on serving the poor, but criticized it for setting that against the work of evangelization. Spreading the Gospel is the primary work of the Church. The actual text of Vatican II states:

        “The Church has received this solemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truth from the apostles and must carry it out to the very ends of the earth. Wherefore she makes the words of the Apostle her own: ‘Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel’, and continues unceasingly to send heralds of the Gospel until such time as the infant churches are fully established and can themselves continue the work of evangelizing. For the Church is compelled by the Holy Spirit to do her part that God’s plan may be fully realized, whereby He has constituted Christ as the source of salvation for the whole world.” – Lumen Gentium 17

        I realize the actual text of Vatican II isn’t as fun as random theologians saying things “in the spirit of Vatican II”, but that’s how the Church operates. Not on the whim of random theologians, but on the Spirit guiding councils.