The liberation of a Theology

Gradually a theology of God’s liberating preference for the poor has itself been liberated. First, Pope Francis removed the roadblocks to sainthood for Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot dead while saying Mass in 1980 and he has also lifted the ban on a priest who served Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the same era.

Paul Valleley writes in The New York Times:

…there is more to the pope’s action than kindness to [the Rev. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann] an 81-year-old man. In a remarkable turnaround, liberation theology is being brought in from the cold. During the Cold War, the idea that the Catholic Church should give “a preferential option for the poor” was seen by many in Rome as thinly disguised Marxism. Pope John Paul II, who had been brought up under Soviet bloc totalitarianism, was determined to crack down on it. On a visit to Nicaragua, he famously wagged a finger at Father d’Escoto’s fellow priest and cabinet minister, Ernesto Cardinal. The Vatican also silenced key exponents of liberation theology, and its founding father, the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, was placed under investigation by the Vatican’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or C.D.F….

…The pope has gone through his own revolution on liberation theology. He was named leader of the Jesuits in Argentina in 1973, in part to crack down on the movement. But 15 years later, after undergoing what he has called a “great interior crisis,” he became “Bishop of the Slums” in Buenos Aires and revised his views. Over the following decades he rehabilitated key figures in liberation theology in Argentina and supported the kind of bottom-up initiatives that the Vatican, with its top-down authoritarian model of governance, had so feared.

When Argentina underwent the biggest debt default in banking history in 2001 — which plunged half the population below the poverty line — Father Bergoglio began to condemn what he called “corrupt” economic structures. He attacked “unbridled capitalism” for fragmenting economic and social life and said the “unjust distribution of goods” creates “a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven….”

…Last year the pope invited Father Gutiérrez, whose 1971 book “A Theology of Liberation” had been for years under investigation by the C.D.F., to meet him in the Vatican. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, marked the event by proclaiming that liberation theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe.” Moreover, Father Gutiérrez has recently co-authored a new book with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the current head of the C.D.F., who was appointed to the post by Benedict XVI. Archbishop Müller now describes liberation theology as one of the “most significant currents of Catholic theology of the 20th century.”

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