Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

May 7, 2007

Benedict XVI and Liberation Theology

This Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country. He comes to a Brazilian church heavily influenced by liberation theology, where bishops, priests and laity have seen the Church's mission as adopting "a preferential option for the poor". The Church is not merely to provide individual or institutional gifts of food to the poor but also to work for structural change in the systems, widespread in Latin America, that create wealth for the few while leaving the many in poverty and hunger.

All of this involved conflict with those who wished to maintain the status quo. On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was murdered while offering Mass because of his identification with the efforts of the poor to change the system. In 1989, six Jesuits were gunned down in their residence in San Salvador for the same reason. But such social activists had other opponents. John Paul II with his bitter experience of communism and the then Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF saw strains of Marxism in liberation theology and took strong action against the Church's social activists, including Romero. It has been credibly reported that the Vatican had decided to remove Romero but his murder occurred first. Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, an exponent of liberation theology and activist for social justice, was undercut in many ways by Rome, including the carving of several dioceses out of his diocese of SaoPaulo and appointing conservatives bishops to head them. Ratzinger silenced liberation theologians Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutierrez, together with Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldaliga on the same grounds.

An analysis of Benedict XVI's actions and statements, before and after his designation as Pope, shows that his view of the Church's role is to foster individual piety and to shun social justice activism. Benedict will meet with Brazil's President to discuss current economic and social problems. The Church has been at odds with the government because of its free distribution of condoms to combat AIDS. The Church's position on this issue has been widely criticized by a number of Catholic theologians.

One is reminded of the Church's experience under Pius X (1903-1914). A secret society was organized to inform the Vatican of persons who did not share the pope's vision. He investigated many and excommunicated several of the intelligentia for what he deemed unacceptable views. His campaign against "modernism", which he saw as an American problem, resulted in the silencing of many individuals and the suppression of periodicals including the highly regarded "New York Review" published by our New York archdiocesan seminary. Many left the Church.

David Gibson's excellent "The Rule of Benedict" recounts how the then Cardinal Ratzinger took steps to eliminate liberation theology as articulated in Brazil and Latin America. Gibson suggests a similarity between Pius X and Benedict XVI in their opposition to "modernists" on the one hand and the liberation theology types on the other hand. The successor of Pius X ended the inquisitorial processes and drastic bans and prohibitions of his predecessor and moderated the conflicts that had resulted. The speeches of Benedict XVI on his coming trip to Brazil will be listened to quite attentively.

A bottom line question: aside from essential matters of faith and morals, to what extent must the personal vision and preferred policies of a particular pope be accorded complete acceptance by all?


Blogger pbyrne said...

Hi Uncle Harry,

In response to your question about to what extent should people be bound by a pope's personal political preferences, I say not at all. People must be bound only by their own conscience, not ill-informed, ill-intended edicts issued from Rome. It will take at least a century for the church to remove (by good works, I hope) the stain of the sin of wiping out liberation theology. In the meantime, Ratzinger should be ignored.


Your nephew, Peter

June 14, 2007 at 3:47 PM  

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