I'm not sure what is worse in the papal nuncio to Paraguay's remarks as reported in this article: his ignorant mischaracterization of liberation theology, his shameless exploitation of the conflict between the Boff brothers, or his self-serving misinterpretation of Sacred Scripture -- in this case Jesus' words of support for the anonymous woman who anointed him at Bethany: "Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me." (Mark 14:6-7). One would think that this one sentence puts into question Jesus' consistent focus on loving the poor. Monsignor Antonini would do well to look at Gustavo Gutiérrez' marvelous exegesis on this passage.
Yesterday, the apostolic nuncio of His Holiness, Monsignor Orlando Antonini, criticized liberation theology, an ideological tendency that emerged in Brazil with ex-bishop (sic) Leonardo Boff and supported by president Fernando Lugo, stating that the doctrine of this belief is erroneous in making the poor first and central and not Christ, as the Catholic Church preaches.
It was during his homily at the main Mass celebrating Palm Sunday in the sanctuary at Caacupé, where the papal representative was in charge of blessing the palms in the celebration that, due to bad weather, took place inside the basilica of the Virgin, a place that was small for the number of faithful who attended. A group of students from Presbitero Daniel Escurra school, dressed as Hebrews, accompanied the "triumphal entry of Jesus" into the church.
With his message against liberation theology, Antonini revealed the open wound within the Paraguayan Catholic Church caused by the departure of the ex-bishop of San Pedro from the ecclesial fold, who later became the President of the Republic and champion of the poor.
Antonini said that Jesus himself clarified that between Himself and the poor, "He was to be chosen, not the poor."
God in First Place
He added that there is an explanation for this strange reaction of Jesus and that his words are prophetic. "They seem like words written for today, precisely in reference to the phenomenon that has occurred with a certain theology in the last 40 years," he added, alluding to the school of thought founded by Boff.
He pointed out that Jesus' response aims to establish priorities -- God in first place, above all things, including above the poor.
"This is not about God egotistically trying to claim a primacy that crushes man; on the contrary, by knowing God first, the poor will be truly valued and their just demands attended to," he stressed.
He paraphrased Father Clodovis Boff, brother of the founder of liberation theology, to point out that the theory of this school of thought had in practice inverted the order of things, giving primacy to the poor and their liberation -- its center being the option for the poor -- and leaving God in second place.
"The poor are the point of departure of this theology and thus an inversion of priorities, of primacy, occurs; now there is not God, but the poor, and this is serious, if not fatal," he said.
He stressed that by putting the poor as the starting point of theology and ministry, what happens is the exploitation of faith -- on the basis of the poor, "one falls into utilitarianism or functionalism, in relationship to the Word of God and theology in general." He added that the inevitable result is the reduction of faith and "particularly its politicization."
"The lack of definition in that theology's current rhetoric comes from there, the oscillating between religious and social and political rhetoric. From there, also the mistake it falls into of subconsciously conferring on its point of departure, the poor, the dignity of being the primary or fundamental principle," the prelate said.
He said that on the church level, liberation theology becomes one more branch of the populist movements. "The Church becomes an NGO and physically empty, losing agents (priests and religious), militants and faithful." he stressed.
Bishop of the Poor
President Fernando Lugo is a known proponent of liberation theology. This fact earned him the nickname "Bishop of the Poor". In his electoral campaign for the presidency of the republic, he draped himself in this school of thought by affirming his preferential option for the poor.
The current head of state has even said that his "spiritual father" is Leonardo Boff, the founder of this ideological tendency, who was in Asunción just a few weeks ago leading the religious Mercosur with Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo, better known as "Frei Betto", another adherent of this school of thought.
The event was organized by Lugo who was trying in this way to include religion in the dialogue between members of the regional bloc.
P.S.: Regular followers of this blog are probably wondering why I'm not blogging about the paternity suit that was filed this week against President Lugo. The contents of Viviana Carrillo Cañete's deposition are pretty damaging, at least according to this article in Vanguardia, but, unlike Monsignor Antonini, I would like to wait until Lugo himself publicly responds to the charges.