Pope Francis Rehabilitates Liberation Theology

Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on December 17, 2014. Pope Francis celebrates his 78th birthday. Photo by Eric Vandeville/Sipa USA
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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s rehabilitation of liberation theology is continuing under Pope Francis with the movement’s founder appearing at an official Vatican event next week talking about “a poor church for the poor.”

Peruvian theologian the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez will be one of the main speakers at a gathering of the Vatican’s charity arm, Caritas Internationalis, and will appear at an official Vatican press conference launching the assembly Tuesday.

Liberation theology is the Latin American-inspired Catholic theology advocating for the poor. It gained followers in the 1960s and 1970s among Latin Americans who were raised Catholic, taught by Marxist-influenced teachers and outraged by the inequality and bloody repression around them.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — later Pope Benedict XVI — spent much of his quarter-century tenure at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith battling liberation theology and disciplining some of its most famous defenders, arguing that they had misinterpreted Jesus’ preference for the poor into a Marxist call for armed rebellion.

Gutierrez himself was never sanctioned by the Vatican.

Ever since Francis succeeded Benedict as pope, liberation theology has come out of the shadows given Francis’ own wish for “a poor church that is for the poor.” Last year, Gutierrez was a surprise guest at a book launch for his friend, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, currently the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Gutierrez and his backers insist true liberation theology was always perfectly in line with the church’s social teaching about the poor.

The Caritas assembly will also touch on another issue dear to Francis’ heart: climate change and its impact on the most vulnerable. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who wrote an early draft of Francis’ eagerly awaited environment encyclical, is to give a presentation.


Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  1. Avatar for paulw paulw says:

    This could be fairly big. In the past 30 years or so (ever since bishops started getting assassinated), the church has gone pretty much all out for recruiting rich right-wing types. Not sure what will happen, might be schism, but likely will be something.

  2. Hmm, so anytime the Pope talks about the poors its gotta be because liberation theology is reascending? I think this article conflates the issue of talking about inequality with liberation theology. The Catholic world is not divided up like an American style black and white class struggle, where if you talk about redistribution for example, you must be a libtard. Talking about the poors or inequality doesn’t make you a dead ringer as a liberation theologian. As many would argue, Catholicism has a long history of concern and preference for the poors, predating, unbelievably, the existence of liberation theology. You could perhaps more accurately say that Pope Francis is rehabilitating franciscanism, but I know it doesn’t fit the narrative need for right/left eliminationist conflicts and death struggles. Please do more research before you apply kneejerk beltway critiques to those things that exist outside of the beltway.

  3. I am no Catholic, but: I have a hard time believing that a Peruvian theologian, never sanctioned by the Vatican, does not come out of a Liberation Theology (LT) background.

    As does, quietly, Francis, who came of age in an Argentina and larger Latin America wracked by bloody turmoil and class-based repression, with substantial intellectual involvement by the LT movement, and including in-church murders of LT affiliated senior clerics, specifically Archbishop Romero, radicalized by the murder by the thugs of his Jesuit friend (“LT” is pretty much synonymous with “1970s Latin American Jesuit”, which is pretty different from “Franciscan”), murdered by Jesse Helms’ clients and catspaws in 1980, on his way to thoroughly deserved sainthood, already known as San Romero in El Salvador.

    A discussion of the differential impact of climate change on the poorest amongst us sounds more like a Jesuit interest (they have tended to serve the rich in order to get them to behave a little more like Christians) than a Franciscan, who are more likely to succor those many unfortunates who get run over.

  4. Nice reasoning; important reminders. But @Brainpicnic seems not to have actually read the story, which clearly identifies Rev. Gutierrez as the founder of liberation theology. Which indeed he is:

    So many people bought the right’s Cold-War propaganda that it’s a violent ideology that they hear the term and reflexively recoil. Francis’ apparent effort to correct that misapprehension is most welcome, and even brave. May he be with us for a long time to come, and his impact be lasting.

  5. “misinterpreted Jesus’ preference for the poor” Yep, sounds like Ratzi the Natzi fer sure

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