Friday, January 4, 2013

A Blow to Liberation Theology

Regular readers of this blog already know some of what is going down with respect to the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru -- the order from the Vatican that the university cease to use the words "Pontifical" and "Catholic" in its name, and the suspension of Fr. Gastón Garatea. Now Wilfredo Ardito Vega, a law professor at PUCP, updates us on the repression by Peruvian Archbishop Cipriani against progressive Catholics in general, and PUCP and its theology faculty in particular. This article was originally published in Spanish on Adital on 1/3/2013.

Those who didn't attend theology classes at the Catholic University are usually surprised at the good memories many people, believers and non-believers, still have of them.

In my case, back in 1982, my theology professor was Father Felipe Zegarra, whom everyone called "Pipo." In his class, he didn't talk about sacraments or purgatory, but the relationship between Christianity and different philosophical currents. I especially remember the classes about Sartre, Marx and Freud, the masters of suspicion. Many students were surprised to find a Catholic Church open to dialogue, respectful of those who thought differently and concerned about social commitment.

Zegarra, like most professors in the Theology Department, is linked to liberation theology, which seeks to promote the building of a more just and humane society. From this perspective, Christians cannot resign themselves to injustice or poverty, since those are alien to the will of God.

I know many priests and nuns who think this way and so courses in theological reflection were organized from the PUCP Department of Theology that were open to all sectors of society, to which many people also came from across Latin America.

In addition to the lectures, in those courses people debated through group work how to apply reflections concretely, especially so that the poor themselves might be the ones who changed their living conditions. In fact, I am convinced that liberation theology was one of the factors that stopped Shining Path in Puno, Cajamarca and Cusco, because the peasants had hope to promote social change without violence.

Unfortunately, those of other tendencies in the Peruvian Catholic Church spoke of "red priests" and charged that students were being given Marxist indoctrination at PUCP. Their accusations have been heard in the Vatican and numerous bishops opposed to liberation theology have been nominated in Peru who often argue that, before them, there wasn't evangelization but politics.

Of all these nominations, the most controversial has been that of Juan Luis Cipriani. His intolerance and his link to the repressive policies of Fujimori and Garcia (coming to support the death penalty) has caused a bad image in the opinion of the public, including Catholics themselves. A series of internal measures have caused much disgust -- he withdrew several orders from the parishes where they had worked; he silenced Father Eduardo Arens of the parish of Santa Maria Reina for a year; he ordered Mexican missionary Jorge Garcia, editor of Misión sin Fronteras which openly defended human rights, to withdraw from Lima.

In other countries, the spread of cases of pedophilia by priests has discredited the Catholic Church. In Peru, these cases have had far less impact on said discreditation, a much stronger cause being the actions and words of Cipriani. Only those Catholics who have an authoritarian perspective or whose Christianity is focused on external rituals and not specific values, respect him.

In 2012, Cipriani showed his intolerance and contempt especially for those who think differently. In May, he forbade Father Gastón Garatea to celebrate Mass in the Archdiocese of Lima. At the same time, he pursued the painful battle in the Peruvian courts to gain control of the assets and management of the University. In July, Cipriani managed to get the Vatican to withdraw the titles "Pontifical" and "Catholic" from PUCP, despite which the university's work goes on normally, even with an increase in the number of applicants.

Finally, on December 21st, Cipriani forbade priests like Felipe Zegarra, Luis Fernando Crespo, Carlos Castillo and Andrés Gallego to teach theology courses at  PUCP or perform any administrative function at the University. The ban extends even to lay theologians like Adelaida Sueyro. In addition to harming PUCP, Cipriani clearly wants to deliver a strong blow to liberation theology, right after its founder -- and PUCP professor as well -- Gustavo Gutierrez has been awarded the Premio Nacional de la Cultura.

Cipriani's decision has caused many protests. The Instituto de Defensa Legal has even indicated that this decision violates university autonomy and constitutional order, specifying that private entities such as the Archdiocese of Lima must also respect fundamental rights. The statement has sufficient arguments for the University or the priests to be able to lodge an appeal for legal protection.

This year, President Humala broke the tradition of going to the Christmas Mass Cipriani celebrated at the Cathedral. In fact, after all that Cipriani has done in recent months, more Christmas spirit would have been found in a shopping mall.

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