Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The sweet return of Liberation Theology

by Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristo en Construcción Blog
July 23, 2012

It has been said that liberation theology has died, that it has been eliminated, that it has nothing more to offer today, that it is a heresy that the Church has condemned. It has also been said that it would return someday because its foundation was pure Christianity.

What no one ever imagined was that a "liberation theologian" would reach the highest office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the institution that oversees orthodoxy in the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI has appointed Gerhard Ludwig Müller to the office -- a seat he held before becoming Pope. A problem of decadence in the Church, will some say? The Anti-Christ...?

One cannot say that G.L. Müller is a "liberation theologian" like the Latin Americans. He is European and his concerns are also other. His pastoral and theological experience in Latin America, however, has made him friends with Gustavo Gutierrez, the "father of liberation theology," with whom he is co-author of the work Del lado de los pobres. Teología de la Liberación (Lima, 2005), and with several other theologians from our region.

According to Msgr. Müller, liberation theology is Catholic theology. He states: "In my opinion, the ecclesial and theological movement that, under the name 'liberation theology', emerged in Latin America after Vatican II with worldwide impact, must be among the most important strands of Catholic theology in the twentieth century." Later in the same book: "Liberation theology isn't a sociology adorned in religiosity or a type of socio-theology. Liberation theology is theology in the strict sense."

The new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith speaks in general terms, which is like saying that a theology that tries to formulate faith is "Catholic" and that, in the intent, some attempts are better than others. So it's understandable that Cardinal Ratzinger in 1984 published a document that was highly critical of it and, two years later, in 1986, published another document in which he substantially welcomed its input. Thus it could be understood that after its development had been drastically limited, it is now begining to be seen in a good light.

What is really at stake? Since liberation theology is recognized as a theology that contributes to the Christian understanding of God, the Church must draw the conclusions about its own faith in the God of the poor.

Namely, theologically speaking, that this God demands that Christians "opt for the poor." Recently in Aparecida, Brazil (2007), Benedict XVI hammered home this same point. He asserted that the "option for the poor" is inherent in faith in Christ. To put it otherwise, one cannot be "Christian" if one doesn't take the side of the poor against poverty.

Furthermore, liberation theology, as the Catholic theology it is, urges the Church to become the "Church of the poor." It is not only legitimate to say this. Moreover, [St. Alberto] Hurtado already said it. His friend Manuel Larraín, the Bishop of Talca, too. Liberation theology rightfully asks Catholics for a conversion to austerity for the poor. Charity, the fight against injustice, a whiff of solidarity ... And, above all, this theology demands that the Church look at the world through the eyes of the poor, that it think about their way of suffering and their capacity for struggle and hope. This is the Church that sprung up from the working class neighborhoods — Esteban Gumucio, Enrique Alvear, Elena Chain and the anonymous nuns of the people…—, a happy, free, participatory, and compassionate Church, open to the whole of human life and demanding, socio-politically speaking. Christians with common sense to interpret the doctrinal requirements of Christianity in conscience. In short, creative communities and people that, in troubled times, are opening other ways of love and justice.

Might not the appointment of Msgr. Müller be some sort of Vatican "somersault" to confront the loss of prestige that is hounding it? I doubt it. I don't see why one would have to think the worst. Or did the strict controls fail as with the Lefebvrist William Richardson, the Holocaust denier, whose excommunication was lifted in an acknowledged error? I can't believe the Pope ignored the enormous sympathy towards liberation theology Müller has shown in his works (eg. Dogmatics. Theory and practice of theology, 1998) to appoint him to such an important position.

I'm not sure what to think. Perhaps there are other aspects that I don't know, which, added and subtracted, make this a suitable nomination. The fact is that at the moment, liberation theology is sailing with wind.

Fr. Costadoat is professor of theology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and director of the Centro Teológico Manuel Larraín. He is a priest in the Enrique Alvear community in Peñalolén. He is the author of Trazos de Cristo en América Latina. Ensayos teológicos (Centro Teológico Manuel Larraín, 2010), Cristo para el Cuarto Milenio. Siete cuentos contra veintiún artículos (San Pablo, 2001) and Si tuviera que educar a un hijo ... : ideas para transmitir la humanidad (Eds. Ignacianas, 2004). His 1993 doctoral thesis, "El Dios de la vida: el "discurso sobre Dios" en América Latina. Investigación sobre algunas obras principales de Gustavo Gutiérrez, Rolando Muñoz, Jon Sobrino y Juan Luis Segundo", is available for download online (MS Word).

More articles by Jorge Costadoat on the Internet:

Photo: Gerhard Ludwig Müller and Gustavo Gutierrez present their book, "An der Seite der Armen" ("On the side of the poor")

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