“Not only is participating in class struggle not opposed to universal love, but today, this commitment is the necessary and inescapable means of making this love concrete, as this participation is what leads to a classless society, a society without owners and dispossessed, without oppressors and oppressed.”This statement is not found in the writings of “Che” Guevara or any manifesto of the Colombian FARC guerrillas or other group of revolutionary subversives.It is found in the book A Theology of Liberation, by Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest, who has been called the “father” of liberation theology.1
Liberation Theology, Church Theology?
But why is “liberation theology” back in the news?
Because in its September 4, 2013 edition, Vatican Insider, the religious blog of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, from Turin, deals with two articles on the publication of the book Dalla parte dei poveri. Teologia della liberazione, teologia della chiesa (which the blog translates as “Taking the Side of the Poor — Liberation Theology”), available in bookstores starting September 9.
The first, written under the responsibility of the blog’s writer, is titled, “The Osservatore Romano Rehabilitates Liberation Theology;” the second, by Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli, is headlined: “The Church Legitimizes Liberation Theology.”2
The book’s special hook is its authors. It was the joint effort of the said Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez and his disciple, Archbishop Ludwig Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Liberation Theology: The Most Significant Theology?
Archbishop Muller writes: “The Latin American ecclesial and theological movement known as liberation theology, which had worldwide repercussion after Vatican II, should be listed, in my opinion, among the most significant currents of twentieth century Catholic theology.”
Further on he states: “It is only by means of liberation theology that Catholic theology has been able to emancipate itself from the dualistic dilemma of the here and now and the afterlife, of earthly happiness and ultra-earthly salvation.”3
Have we forgotten that liberation theology, which spread widely throughout Latin America from the seventies on, develops from the premises of Marxist class struggle and the concept that the poor are “the oppressed?” This school of thought holds that the role of Theology — and therefore of the Catholic Church — is to “liberate” the poor from the “oppressive structures” of private property and free enterprise. It sees socialism as the only system capable of ending injustice, by establishing complete equality in the political and socio-economic spheres.
This is not merely another utopian theory talked about in cafés (or, horribilis, our sacristies), for “Liberation Theologians” actually believe that theology is made starting from “revolutionary praxis.”
The end result is that this “theology” has led countless Catholic youngsters, priests even, to take up weapons and join the Communist guerrilla outfits, both rural and urban, that have plagued the region since the seventies. In parallel, through the so-called Basic Christian Communities, this subversive current played a decisive role in creating socialist parties in Latin America, including the “Partido dos Trabalhadores” (Workers Party), which has been in power in Brazil since 2003.
Praxis, the Sole Deciding Factor
After his book was condemned, Gutiérrez purged it from Marxist expressions and published its “lite” version.
However, it is not enough to change wording or labels without altering content. Sarah Kleeb, who studied Gutiérrez’s thought and the revised (1988) edition of his book makes this comment: “While Gutierrez goes to explicit lengths to distance himself from Marx…this seems to be done only in a token fashion, and that his understanding of injustice remains forceful even in light of his modifications of methodology.”4
Yet, even if it did not employ Marxist categories liberation theology would still be unacceptable as a theological methodology because it does not start with data from Revelation as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church (the close norm of the Faith) but from praxis, that is, from the events.
“Truth is realized in history and its praxis,” as then Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in his 1984 Rapporto sulla Fede, summarizing the methodology of liberation theology. And, he added, “Action is truth. Hence even the ideas which are employed in such action are ultimately interchangeable. Praxis is the sole deciding factor. The only true orthodoxy is therefore orthopraxy.”5
Thus, liberation theology sustains, men are not enlightened, guided and led to eternal life by Revelation and the truths of the Faith under the teaching authority of the Magisterium. Rather, what gives sense to their faith are historical developments, the political struggle (and even guerrilla warfare). According to this system, to engage in class warfare is to have faith.
A False Concept of “the Poor”
A central element of liberation theology and Teologia del Pueblo and other variations is to consider the poor, or the “people,” as “the oppressed.”
This conflictive notion has nothing to do with the true love for the downtrodden as preached by Our Lord Jesus Christ, a love that has informed the Church’s works of charity for centuries.
In fact, it is nothing but an adaptation of the Marxist conception of “redeeming proletariat” inasmuch as it is “oppressed,” “disenfranchised,” “marginalized.”
Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan friar and highly “acclaimed” liberation theologian, leaves no doubt as to what liberation theology means when referring to “the poor.” He wrote in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of São Paulo that God loves the poor “not because they are pious and good but simply because they are victims of the oppression that impoverishes them.”6
It is therefore disturbing that the unofficial newspaper of the Vatican takes up the defense of liberation theology and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez.
It is likewise surprising that a Vaticanist like Tornielli can be so bold as to title his story, “The Church Legitimizes Liberation Theology.”
- A Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1973), 276.
- “L’Osservatore Romano riabilita la Teologia della liberazione” http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/vaticano/dettaglio-articolo/articolo/teologia-thology-teologia-27563/; “La Chiesa sdogana la teologia della liberazione” http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/vaticano/dettaglio-articolo/articolo/vaticano-vatican-teologia-della-liberazione-freedom-theology-27570/.
- In Sandro Magister, “Peace Made Between Müller and Gutiérrez. But Bergoglio Isn’t Falling For It,” http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350589?eng=y.
- Sarah Kleeb, “Envisioning Emancipation: Karl Marx, Gustavo Gutierrez, and the Struggle of Liberation Theology”; Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion (CSSR), Toronto, 2006. Retrieved October 22, 2012. Link dead.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 183, 185. (Our emphasis.)
- “O cristão e a luta pela justiça,” [The Christian and the Struggle for Justice] in O São Paulo, Apr. 6, 1982, p. 10.