Rumors That Cheer Leftists and Alarm Faithful Catholics
Rumors abound about the imminent rehabilitation (and even beatification?) of Father Camilo Torres Restrepo. The Colombian priest died in 1966, carrying arms and fighting in the ranks of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist guerrilla movement.
Where There’s Smoke…
Some signs indicate that things are moving in this direction.
According to Italian journalist Americo Mascarucci, one sign is the recent Italian re-edition of Liberation or Death, a book that collects the writings of Camilo Torres. The volume had already been published in 1968 by Milan’s Feltrinelli publisher. Red Star Press of Rome, a notorious publisher of revolutionary writings, reprinted it in 2015.
The new edition puts the revolutionary priest back in the spotlight.
Mascarucci raises the hypothesis that the reprinting is a “publishing initiative that seems to fit perfectly within the framework of a highly questionable ploy of exposing the Church to a review of the work of Father Torres that has been underway for some time now.”1
This is not the only indication. Yet more alarming is Pope Francis’s constant attitude of sympathy for revolutionary bishops and priests. Mascarucci cites the cases of the canonization of Oscar Romero, forgave and rehabilitation of Nicaraguan revolutionaries Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann and Ernesto Cardenal, and the Pope’s desire to beatify the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara. While in Bolivia, Pope Francis praised Jesuit Father Luis Espinal Camps, an advocate of the alliance between Christianity and Marxism and the author of the hammer-and-sickle crucifix given to him by Ivo Morales). Thus, he concludes, “many Colombians hope for a full rehabilitation of Torres as soon as possible.”2
In the Context of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy
Archbishop Darío de Jesús Monsalve of Cali (Colombia) is among the most ardent supporters of this rehabilitation. He is known for his long history of support for the ELN and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, which have bloodied the country with their terrorist activities for decades. Fr. Camilo fought with the ELN.3
The Rebelión web site reports that the archbishop promoted “a highly symbolic act” in preparation for the fiftieth anniversary of Camilo Torres’ death on November 7, 2015.4 In the context of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, the archbishop held an event in which he proposed taking another look at Camilo and how his work might contribute to the present struggle for reconciliation and justice.
The Archbishop of Cali concluded: “Camilo’s fight is that of a Christian seeking to address social injustice. Camilo saw the enormous disproportion between the vast majority of the excluded and the privileged minority. When he found himself among those excluded from the Catholic Church and stigmatized by his ideas, he saw that he could no longer live and express himself in everyday society. He then went underground to join those who welcomed him.”5 That is how he joined the Marxist guerrilla movement.
Rebelión concludes that this rehabilitation is only possible because of the space opened by Pope Francis.
Thus, Archbishop Monsalve did not hesitate to call for the canonization of the apostate Father Camilo Torres on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.6
Marxist Guerrillas Also Call for Camilo’s Rehabilitation
Those in the Catholic left are not the only ones demanding the rehabilitation of Camilo Torres. The ELN Marxist guerrilla movement asks that the Church “at least symbolically restore him to priestly status.”7
The author of the entry on Camilo Torres in an online philosophical dictionary laments the lack of consideration for the guerrilla priest “by the very clerical organization to which he served (which did not even open his cause for beatification).”8
Who Was Camilo Torres?
Jorge Camilo Torres Restrepo was born in Bogotá on February 3, 1929, in a wealthy, liberal, and agnostic family.
Influenced by the social ideas of two French Dominican priests, Father Nielly and Father Blanchet, he abandoned his law studies and entered the Conciliar Seminary of Bogotá. His decision was not inspired by traditional religiosity but by his attraction to progressive social Catholicism.9 This current reappeared in post-war Europe and represented the continuation of the social Modernism of the Le Sillon movement, condemned by Saint Pius X.10
The Second Vatican Council gave new impetus to this current. After the 1968 Conference of CELAM (Latin American Bishops’ Council) in Medellin, Colombia, it would give rise to the liberation theology movement.
Camilo Torres was ordained a priest in 1954 and later studied sociology at the University of Louvain in Belgium. He visited several countries where he established contacts with Christian Democrats, the Christian trade union movement and Algerian revolutionary groups in Paris.11 These years before Vatican II were filled with intense debates on Christian-Marxist dialogue.
Returning to Colombia in 1959, Fr. Torres was appointed auxiliary chaplain of the National University. While there, he anticipated many innovations that would later be part of the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council (congregation-oriented Mass and use of the vernacular instead of Latin) and especially ecumenism.12
In 1960, he established the sociology course where he served as a professor. He founded the Movimiento Universitario de Promoción Comunal (MUNIPROC), which served as a platform for social action in working-class neighborhoods in Bogotá. He also worked with Colombia’s land reform movement. “In his discussion on land reform, he accepts the Marxist view of a class struggle as a sociological reality.”13
A Mission That Baptized No One in Fifty-Three Years:
The Flawed Evangelization Model of the Pan-Amazonian Synod
Like many Latin-American intellectuals of the sixties, the Cuban Revolution influenced him profoundly. He developed a close relationship with the Communist youth and student movement, participating in protests with them, which earned him jail time and led to friction with the Catholic hierarchy.14 In 1962, the Archbishop of Bogotá, Cardinal Luis Concha Cordoba, removed him from the chaplaincy at the university and other academic duties and transferred him to a parish in the central zone of the Colombian capital where he served as pastor.15
Camilo did not adapt well to the parish work of curing souls. He found it impossible to limit his movements. In 1964, he resigned from the parish and returned forever to socio-political activism.
In September of that year, Camilo Torres presented an important paper at the Second International Congress of Pro Mundi Vita in Louvain. Titled Revolution: A Christian Imperative, he proposed “collaboration with Marxists to obtain a Marxist solution to cure the country’s social ills.”16
He continued his involvement in urban and rural unrest agitation, working together with Marxist organizations. Thus, the ecclesiastical authorities were forced to send him an ultimatum: he must choose between priestly duties or socio-political activism.
In response, Camilo Torres abandoned the priesthood in 1965.
Feeling free to throw himself wholeheartedly into revolutionary work, he helped put together the United People’s Front, a coalition of all leftist and opposition currents (including the Communist Party) to oppose the government. The movement was centered around the United Front Platform, a plan for changing the political structures in Colombia.
This Platform contained openly socialist principles: “The Platform called for the nationalization of Colombia’s public services and gave the farmworkers (campesinos) the land they worked and the urban tenants the houses they dwelt in, without indemnification to their legal owners. The plan also called for extraordinarily high taxation of the wealthy, a national health insurance plan and equal rights for women.”17 When presenting the Platform at the University of Bogotá, Camilo Torres called on students to organize themselves to fight “with equal arms” against the forces of order.18
The former priest turned rebel organized numerous demonstrations, public events and political agitation in the cities. As his involvement in socio-political unrest increased, Camilo Torres took ever more radical positions. In October 1965, he went underground with a group of students. The following month, he formally joined the ELN, not as a simple mentor or advisor but as a full combatant. The guerrilla organization took up arms in 1964 and was inspired by the Cuban M-26 Marxist movement.
To mark the occasion, he released an inflammatory manifesto, titled Proclamation to Colombians, announcing his decision:
“I have joined the armed struggle. From the Colombian mountains, I intend to continue the struggle with arms in hand until I conquer power for the people. […]
“For the unity of the people’s class until death!
“For the organization of the working class to the death!
“For the seizure of power by the working class to the death!
“Not one step back! Liberation or death!”19
His armed militancy was short-lived. Torres was with the guerrillas for about three months. After receiving intense military training, he was given the codename Argemiro, along with a pistol. Father Camilo Torres was killed in his first combat mission with the guerrillas: a botched ambush against government troops on February 15, 1966. He had turned 37 two weeks earlier.
“A year before he died, C. Torres wrote in the text The Revolution, a Christian imperative (1965), that Christians not only can participate as Christians in the revolution, but they ‘have the moral obligation to do so.’”20
Symbol of the “Christian”-Inspired Armed Struggle
After Camilo’s death, his legend spread. The dead guerrilla priest became the emblem of the “Christian”-inspired armed struggle. Many young Catholics, including seminarians, priests and nuns, followed his example and joined the ranks of the ELN. The guerrilla movement reached the point that it “became a kind of left-wing Christian movement,” says Walter Broderick, Camilo Torres’ biographer.21
The legend of Camilo Torres went beyond the Colombian borders and spread to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Nicaragua. When the Nicaraguan priest Ernesto Cardenal (a guerrilla priest rehabilitated by Pope Francis) joined the Sandinista guerrillas, he cited Camilo Torres as his model.22
The figure and example of the disgraced guerrilla priest served as an inspiration not only for young Latin Americans but for leftist Christians all over the world, including the United States.
A typical example is Dorothy Day. She wrote in the preface to the English edition of Torre’s work:
“Camilo Torres joined the guerrillas, their life in the mountains and jungle; he joined the pilgrimage of the people, the campesinos [peasants]. He broke bread with them and truly became a compañero, the one who breaks bread. I can imagine Camilo Torres with his fellow soldiers, sitting around a fire at night, being hunted by the Army and bringing the Gospel of hope to the poor. Camilo Torres, pray for us, that we may have your courage in offering our lives for our brothers!”23
“In the revolutionary martyrology of the twentieth-century Latin American Church,” comments Garret Keizer, “Torres is often listed as ‘one of the first.’”24
His beatification is the only thing missing.
Photo: Camilo Torres Restrepo, c. 1960. Wikimedia Commons.
- Americo Mascarucci, “Quell’inquietante tentativo di riabilitare padre Torres.” See Stilum Curiae, April 29, 2021, https://www.marcotosatti.com/2021/04/29/mascarucci-linquietante-tentativo-di-riabilitare-padre-torres/. Accessed on April 29, 2021, 3:10 PM.
- See Eugenio Trujillo Villegas. “A Terrorist-Friendly Archbishop,” August 31, 2020, https://tfp.org/a-terrorist-friendly-archbishop/. Accessed on April 30, 2021, 4:03 PM.
- Rebelión, “Camilo Torres recordado en vísperas del cincuenta aniversario de su muerte,” November 14, 2015, https://rebelion.org/camilo-torres-recordado-en-visperas-del-cincuenta-aniversario-de-su-muerte/. Accessed on May 6, 2021, 6:31 PM.
- Eugenio Trujillo Villegas, op. cit.
- Alver Metalli, “EL RETORNO DE CAMILO TORRES. El ELN de Colombia pide la restitución del cuerpo del cura guerrillero y la reincorporación simbólica al estatus sacerdotal, January 5, 2016, http://www.tierrasdeamerica.com/2016/01/05/el-retorno-de-camilo-torres-el-eln-de-colombia-pide-la-restitucion-del-cuerpo-del-cura-guerrillero-y-la-reincorporacion-simbolica-al-estatus-sacerdotal/. Accessed on May 6, 2021, 5:24 PM.
- Filosofía en español “Camilo Torres Restrepo 1929-1966,” https://www.filosofia.org/ave/001/a230.htm. Acessed on April 29, 2021, 3:35 PM.
- See Richard B. McCarthy, O.S.B., The Colombian Catholic Church, 1948-1970: reactionary Church in a revolutionary continent (The University of Arizona, 1977), pp. 158-9, http://hdl.handle.net/10150/348247 (pdf). Accessed on May 13, 2021, 7:50 PM; Lanzas y Letras, “Isabel Restrepo Gaviria: fotos y última entrevista,” https://lanzasyletras.com/isabel-restrepo-gaviria-fotos-y-ultima-entrevista/. Accessed on May 11, 2021, 4:13 PM.
- Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Liberation Theology, a KGB Invention? That Is Way Too Simple…,” May 28, 2015, https://tfp.org/liberation-theology-a-kgb-invention-that-is-way-too-simple/; Id. “The Church Cannot Change Her Hierarchical Structure Instituted by Christ,” September 18, 2018, https://tfp.org/the-church-cannot-change-her-hierarchical-structure-instituted-by-christ/.
- Edgar Camilo Rueda Navarro, “Biografía Política de Camilo Torres,” https://www.marxists.org/espanol/camilo/biografia.htm. Accessed on May 10, 2021, 5:17 PM.
- Idem.; Navarro, “Biografía de Camilo Torres,” CEME – Centro de Estudios Miguel Enríquez, Archivo Chile, http://www.archivochile.com/Homenajes/camilo/s/H_doc_sobre_CT0001.pdf.
- McCarthy, op. cit., p. 161.
- Ángel García, Camilo Torres: 55 anos após sua queda em combate, Página do MST, February 17, 2021, https://mst.org.br/2021/02/17/camilo-torres-55-anos-apos-sua-queda-em-combate/. Accessed on May 13, 2021, 10:52 AM.
- Filosofía en español, op. cit.
- McCarthy, op. cit., p. 163.
- McCarthy, op. cit., p. 164.
- Filosofía en español, op. cit.
- Camilo Torres, “Proclama a los colombianos,” https://web.archive.org/web/20090921011424/http://www.elortiba.org/camilo.html. Accessed on May 9, 2021, 6:31 PM.
- Francesco Ingravalle, “Liberazione o Morte – Il Ritorno di Padre Camilo Torres,” KULTURAEUROPA, February 1, 2021, https://www.kulturaeuropa.eu/2021/02/01/il-ritorno-di-padre-camilo-torres/. Accessed on May 7, 2021, 5:10 PM.
- Natalio Cosoy, “¿Dónde está el cuerpo de Camilo Torres, el cura guerrillero colombiano al que comparan con el Che Guevara?” BBC News, February 15, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2016/02/160212_colombia_camilo_torres_cura_guerrillero_eln_nc.
- Garret Keizer, “No Smoke for Camilo,” Lapham’s Quarterly, https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/revolutions/no-smoke-camilo. Accessed on April 29, 2021, 5:17 PM.
- Cited in Richard L. Rubenstein and John K. Roth, eds., The Politics of Latin American Liberation Theology: The Challenge to U.S. Public Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute Press, 1988), p. 58. Apud Julio Loredo, “Is Dorothy Day Another of Joe Biden’s Heroes?” February 19, 2021. https://tfp.org/is-dorothy-day-another-of-joe-bidens-heroes/.
- Keizer, op. cit.