by Mayra Rodríguez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
GUATEMALA CITY: No question. Every theologian is a provocateur as was Jesus in His time, a claim that originates in the confluence between the greatest figure of Christianity and His most deeply rooted followers, those who are most committed to the poor, when it comes to explaining the Bible from the reality of the denizens of that world.
Having before me the Chilean Pablo Richard, a PhD in Theology and Biblical Studies, was a celebration of the word. A man who has a degree in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, a Biblical archaeologist who specialized scientifically in Jerusalem itself, always leads to a discovery when, from behind that jolly face, emerges inviolable ethics, an intelligence rarely seen, but above all, a Christian committed to his reality, that is, the reality of poverty in Latin America and the need for a theological analysis that contributes to the full liberation of the human being as a creature of God.
Mayra Rodríguez: What trace did the Movement of Christians for Socialism of the 1970s, a creature born of so-called liberation theology, leave on Pablo Richard?
Pablo Richard: Liberation theology was a very important movement that made possible the convergence between faith and politics, because normally Christians, when there was a progressive or socialist government, always opposed it, and liberation theology allowed faith to be more liberating, and it was incumbent on the political parties to discover that Christianity had a liberating orientation.
It was the option that allowed Christians to participate in the political movements without losing their faith, which was new, because in the old days Christians who had a political preference were normally right-wing, and the left-wing parties excluded Christians -- parallel worlds that didn't touch each other.
The full conviction that remains with me from that Christian movement is that there is no incompatibility between Christianity and socialism, but through specific processes, helping Christians to participate in politics without losing their faith, a faith that becomes more radical by delving deeper into reality.
MR: What do you think of the claim that liberation theology was aborted by the Church's abrupt turn to the right in Latin America?
PR: It depends, because there's a Church of "Christianity" that has destroyed all that was built up during the decades from the 60s to the 80s and is more and more right-wing every day. But, there is also the Church of liberation, of the basic ecclesial communities, the Church of the poor, that continues to follow along the liberating line and that is more and more alive every day in Latin America. To the extent that the neoliberal system and the Church of Christianity keep being in crisis, people look for an alternative and that is what liberation theology offers. In Latin America, in the last 10 years alone, 50 million people have left the Catholic Church, and not because they've gone to other religious groups, but because the Church doesn't speak to them, and this is part of the crisis of the "Christianity" that doesn't have any answers for modern problems.
MR: When you glance at the current situation in Latin America, where natural disasters and climate changes that accentuate poverty levels are more and more common, as well as other evils such as corruption, violence and drugs, how do you maintain that Word of God as the source of life and hope, as you announced at the gateway to the new millennium?
PR: First, there should be an analysis of the real situation, of this neoliberal-inspired market economy that maintains itself thanks to low wages and the destruction of nature. It's true that there are many sectors of the Church that are involved in this neoliberal system, but there are also people who read the word of God and Bible study groups that are concerned with this crisis due to the destruction of nature. Leonardo Boff wrote a paradigmatic book in this sense, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, that one has to listen to both. So there are many liberation theology movements in the ecological vein. Right now a whole theology about water as a good that is about to be in crisis, is being built up. Liberation theology is what most talks about the destruction of the natural environment and the destruction of people by this system, and often neither the Church nor the political groups talk about it. The ecological issue is very much alive, especially in indigenous theology, where "Pachamama" is very much talked about in Latin America for example, in the defense of land and water, in which many of the progressive religious groups participate.
For example, the recent meeting in Cancun on the measures to be taken against climate change and global warming; if it goes up two or three degrees there will be catastrophes derived from those changes and the industrialized countries don't agree with or want to take measures, because protecting nature is the worst deal for them, since it would be necessary to slow the market down, but they want more and more profits and if nature is destroyed, they don't care much.
If everything stays the same, if there aren't changes, the earth won't reach 2025. We're already overdrawn, we have abused the earth by taking out of it more than it can give, but many haven't realized that the earth is round, and if you exploit it over there, further on it will come back at you. So the Church has developed a very wise theology, when it touches on ecology, and this is part of liberation theology.
MR: In one of your latest analyses, Paedophilia and Sacred Power, you make very daring statements. You speak of confronting the attitude of the Catholic Church, on the one hand towards the paedophilia phenomenon, and on the other towards liberation theology. You state that homosexuality could be a legitimate choice, if it is guided by ethics of love and fidelity, and that the exclusion of women from the Catholic hierarchical structure is the other side of the absolute masculinization of clerical ministry, coming around to asking how these problems might be analyzed if a woman, ordained a cardinal, would have access to the high positions in the hierarchical structure of the Church.
Was there any reaction from the Catholic curia to your positions or did they just obviate them to keep them quiet?
PR: The Church is terrified of speaking about these issues. It's scared. I didn't receive any criticism from the hierarchy about this article, and this is due to the fear there is about the issues.
Today in the ethos of liberation theology we accept, for example, that homosexuality is a way of life, it's an option. But the Church and its hierarchy don't get into these issues because of fear that a discussion will be unleashed in which they don't have much to say, since they are issues that are not discussed.
These are problems of modernity and the Catholic Church has rejected them; it doesn't want to hear about homosexuality or women's participation. On the latter, for example, there isn't a single argument -- whether biblical or theological -- to exclude women from the priesthood and the Church rejects it because it has a pre-modern view of what women are.
Finally, the Church doesn't talk a lot about these issues because it doesn't know what to say and when it has gotten into it, it got in the wrong way; it hid paedophiles, it didn't listen to the victims, it didn't analyze in depth, because if it gets into this debate, many more problems will emerge for the hierarchy because of its very conservative position.
MR: Also in your spirit of what could be called a "theological provocateur" you have said that there isn't one Church, but rather models of how to be Church; and you refer to a dominant and traditional one that is coming to an end irreversibly in the face of another that seeks, precisely, an alternative and more contextualized one. In your opinion, what are the characteristics, or on what should this model that you have qualified as emerging be focused?
PR: The Church of Christianity model has now entered a major crisis, it's irreversible and a collapse is looming because it doesn't have the theological elements or foundation or the theologians to overcome this situation. The paedophilia is a very serious sign of that deep crisis, and worse still is the concealment the Church has made of it. Obviously, although not as a direct consequence, people will resort to the alternative model; they will seek out in the Church of the poor a way of living their faith.
So this emerging Church of the poor -- the Church of the people of God, should have the following characteristics: First, a preferential option for the poor and against poverty: structures must be created in the Church to live with them (those living with HIV/AIDS, the marginalized, the street people, etc..). Right now they are many, but they are invisible to society and this situation is something that the Church should change.
Second, the basic ecclesial communities where prayer and community are united; it doesn't matter if they are few, what counts is quality. For the Church of Christianity the important thing is quantity because they have commercial -- market -- criteria. I would dare to say that it doesn't matter if liberation theology dies as long as the poor stop dying, but as long as there are poor people, there will be liberation theology, there will be the Church of the people of God.
Third, the popular reading of the Bible. The best thing we can do in this time of crisis is to give the Bible back to the people with freedom and autonomy. For 400 years the Church was without the Bible, but the Second Vatican Council broke with this tradition and gave it back to the people.
Fourth, liberation theology. We have to stop doing what has caused theology to no longer be done. We have to lose the fear, overcome the theology of fear: lay people fear the priest, the priest fears the bishop, the bishop the Vatican, and the Vatican liberation theology...We should leave fear behind and have faith.
Fifth, an autochthonous Church. It's the one that's born out of the peoples themselves as they discover the Gospel.
Sixth, religious life is inserted in the environments of the marginalized and neglected.
Seventh, the new ministries: we have to desacralize and "declericalize", bridge the gaps between lay people and clerics so that the divisions disappear. And exclaim here: NEVER AGAIN A CHURCH WITHOUT WOMEN! They should be included as teachers, sages, theologians who take on all the functions of the presbyterate.
Eighth, the Church as training centers: lay people are the future of the Church, which is why training is important.
Ninth, a Church of prophets and martyrs.
And last, in tenth place, avoiding unnecessary contradictions and growing where the strengths are. It's useless to criticize and cry out against the Church of Christianity, since the two models of Church don't live separately and in confrontation with each other. The models intersect. We find signs of the presence of God in the Church of Christianity and signs of Christianity in the Church of the poor.
MR: Let's pretend you're a medical doctor and you have to give the diagnosis on a patient who, in his clinical history, is named Liberation Theology. What would be his pulse and blood pressure?
Does he have a passing affliction, cancer, or would you have to write his obituary in the current Latin American political and church climate?
PR: I couldn't give a fatal prognosis because, in fact, there is a resurgence of liberation theology, although the Church denies it. The popular reading of the Bible, the basic ecclesial communities, are a force that they can't stop. The poor themselves need this Church; they need it to survive. It's not the Church that needs money to survive, but the poor who need the Church to survive. And this is everywhere in El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and many other parts of the world.
Pablo Richard - Wikipedia (Spanish)
Articles by Pablo Richard in English:
Word of God - Source of Life and Hope for the New Millennium (1999)
The Pluralistic Experiences of the First Christian Communities According to the Acts of the Apostles
Paedophilia and Sacred Power (2010)
Articulos de Pablo Richard en Español:
Hacia un Nuevo Modelo de Iglesia (2007)
El Jesús histórico en la Teología de la Liberación
El Movimiento de Jesús después de su Resurrección y antes de la Iglesia (libro electrónico - 2009)
El Jesús histórico y los cuatro evangelios. Memoria, credo y canon para una reforma de la Iglesia
Pedofilia y Poder Sagrado (2010)
Entrevista a Pablo Richard sobre el Impacto del Concilio Vaticano II y de la teología latinoamericana
Otra Manera de Ser Iglesia, También Es Posible (2006)
Jubileo y liberación desde los pobres de América Latina
Palabra de Dios, fuente de vida y esperanza para el nuevo milenio (1999)
Los orígenes del cristianismo en Roma
Los diversos orígenes del cristianismo. Una visión de conjunto (30 - 70 d.C.)