Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Theologian Leonardo Boff: "The Pope will be important in Latin American politics"

by Álvaro Murillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Nación (Costa Rica)
April 2, 2013

He was an active priest who was critical towards the Vatican. He co-founded the leftist current known as liberation theology in Brazil, was punished, and therefore left the priesthood and devoted himself to promoting his human rights ideas in his role as a lay person. He also adopted the idea of environmental sustainability and works as a teacher of theology.

He came to Costa Rica, invited by La Salle University for its course on environmental sustainability, but the subject of the new pope is obligatory when facing one of the most critical voices of the Catholic Church in Latin America, the founder of the leftist Christian movement known as liberation theology. Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian former priest, hasn't ceased to be optimistic about the election of Francis.

We know your very optimistic opinions about the new Pope Francis. Why, given that you've been so critical of the Church?

His name, Francis, is more than a name; it's a plan for the Church. It's rebuilding a Church that's in ruins because of the sexual scandals, the Vatican bank, infighting. It's providential that he's a Jesuit, well-trained and with the virtues of Saint Francis -- simplicity and the option for the poor.

He comes from the Third World, where 60% of Catholics live, while Europe is a dying region. He can bring new vigor to the Church, new hope, and he's already given very clear signs that he will be different. He's already said that pastors should smell like sheep, not like palaces, altars, and sacristies. It's a Church of all times. He will be more a pastor than a doctor.

The Church is also a system made up by authorities who are the same ones as in the previous papacy. Isn't it naive to think Francis can change what's wrong in the Church?

He has to intervene, to use that power of absolute monarchy. He has the ability to intervene in the diseased body of the Church, in its cancer. If he doesn't do it, his name wouldn't make sense.

The problem is that the Church has completely lost credibility and is universally demoralized. He was elected to restore that credibility in this internal crisis. He feels obliged to make a complete reform in the face of the errors of the Curia.

Will he have any leeway? The cardinals are the same.

Maybe that's the only advantage of being an absolute monarchy. He has absolute and immediate power. He can remove a cardinal, transfer an archbishop, and he can excommunicate people at the highest level. Perhaps that would be the only advantage of being a dictatorship.

How should the churches of Latin America view all these gestures of austerity, humility, and option for the dispossessed? Is it a binding example?

I hope so. Most of the cardinals and bishops are very devoted to the Pope; they exalt him and such. Well, now's the time for the bishops to imitate him and shed their palace titles. He's already said that "the carnival is over", when they wanted to put the garments on him. This is a scandal. With all that solemnity and habits, it looks more like the carnival in Rio. I'm one of those who's going to remind them to imitate the Pope. If they don't do it, it's a sign that they're breaking with him and his papacy.

Are you confident that they'll imitate him?

They should, because he isn't repressive like Ratzinger, who chopped the heads of 140 theologians.

You were one of them.

Yes, I was one of them, one among many, but it seems that's over. Francis doesn't seem so interested in doctrine, but in being a shepherd and bringing hope, being in the world of solidarity. He'll be important in the politics of Latin America, now, with the flowering of populist democracies. He has always preferred the poor, not out of philanthropy but out of justice.

That's what liberation theology says, isn't it?

Yes, that's the main point. We're very happy and it doesn't matter whether he uses the words "liberation theology" or not. What matters to us is his solidarity and his moral authority with human beings and the Earth.

Do you think the College of Cardinals knew what kind of pope they were choosing?

I suspect that the European cardinals were embarrassed. They knew it couldn't be one of them.

Now we're seeing more and more gestures. When will we see the first decisions and what will they be?

It will go on as it is. But perhaps another council is coming, an open council of Christianity, even including atheists, focused on life and respect for others. In 50 years (since Vatican II) humanity has changed a lot. We have to define the paths of the Church and ecumenical Christianity for the third millennium. That would be the best and it would emerge strengthened.

Is he a socialist pope?

I don't know if that label would fit him. He may be interested in the poor and in social justice, which are the classic banners of historical socialism; they're ethical banners. But using the word is a party or an ideology and they distance themselves from that. What we can say is that one should seek a socio-cosmic democracy, that also includes nature. I think that he's going along that line.

Will you help him in his projects for South America?

My concern isn't helping the pope but taking on the cause that goes beyond him, of lives that are threatened. If he takes it on, I'll be there, but if not, we'll pressure him, because we don't have a lot of time.

Do you think he could go live outside the Vatican?

Like John Paul I who, two days before dying, gathered the cardinals and announced that to them; two days later, he turned up dead.

Are you saying that Pope Francis would be taking a risk?

It's a risk, because there's a history in the Vatican of many assassinations, a long time ago. He should be careful because where there's a struggle for power, there's no love -- and power always seeks more power. He should handle this to make reforms without causing a schism. The base of the two previous popes was the fundamentalists like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and the Knights of Christ. Those groups must be very unhappy with the new pope, who is more social [justice] based.

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