Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Dream Fulfilled: Santa Cruz Woman Becomes a Catholic Priest

Last Saturday, February 8, 2014, licensed clinical psychologist Christine Fahrenbach achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a Roman Catholic woman priest. In a ceremony at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Aptos, California, Bishop Olivia Doko ordained Dr. Fahrenbach. The church was chosen for the ceremony because it is one of the places where the Sophia community which Fahrenbach led as a deacon would meet for liturgies. She was ordained a deacon in 2011.

Dr. Fahrenbach has a private psychology practice working with adult individuals and couples, as well as adolescents. She also provides life coaching for adults with ADHD and other issues. From 2007 to 2010, she was an adjunct faculty member at Palo Alto University.

In addition to her doctorate, Dr. Fahrenbach has a BA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and an MDiv in Theology from Santa Clara University. During the 1980s, she taught religion at Mercy High School in San Francisco, and for a period of time, Fahrenbach, a lesbian, was co-director of the Lesbian and Gay Ministry at Holy Cross parish in Santa Cruz. As a result, she was invited and appeared on KALW radio's "City Vision" series in December 2011 addressing the topic "Far from Rome: Being Gay and Catholic in the Bay Area."

When she was interviewed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel earlier this year in connection with a showing of the pro-women's ordination film "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican", Dr. Fahrenbach told the reporter that she had wanted to be a priest since she was a child. "If we ever played church, I was always the priest," she recalled. "Just because the Catholic church isn't going to accept women priests in my lifetime didn't mean my call didn't feel true to me."

Additional women's ordination ceremonies are scheduled for May in Springfield, IL, Brecksville, OH, Cincinnati, OH, Olympia, WA, and New York City.

Photo: Rev. Christine Fahrenbach (L) with unidentified woman deacon and Bishop Olivia Doko (R). Courtesy: Roman Catholic Women Priests

Friday, February 14, 2014

Behind the scenes at Medellin: A woman's perspective

by Olga Lucia Álvarez Benjumea, ARCWP (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Evangelizadoras de los Apostoles
May 7, 2011

The mimeograph machine you see here1 has a lot of stories to tell. We worked as a team during the 2nd CELAM Conference (August 24 - September 6, 1968) which took place in Medellin, Colombia. This meeting was the beginning of a challenge for the Church in Latin America, a new period of ecclesial life, with deep spiritual renewal, generous pastoral charity, and genuine sensitivity to social concerns.

Dom Avelar Brandão Vilela, the President of CELAM, and Monseñor Eduardo Pironio, the Secretary General, expressed it well in their communique: "On the Latin American continent, God has shone a great light that reflects in the rejuvenated face of His Church. It's the time of hope. We are aware of the serious difficulties and huge problems that are affecting us. But more than ever, God is in the midst of us, building His Kingdom.

...Now the work of delving deeper, dissemination, and implementation begins. It's about studying in depth the conclusions adopted, making them known to all the People of God, and committing ourselves to their gradual application...It's not only the Bishops' commitment. It's the entire People of God who, at this providential time on the continent, are experiencing the call of the Spirit. The response requires deep prayer, maturity in the decisions, generosity in the tasks." (Bogota, November 30, 1968)

This communique, which was the presentation of the Final Document of Medellin, is filled with optimism, enthusiasm, and divine mandate!

Let's let the mimeograph tell us what it experienced and how four women were very attentive to it, providing it with ink, paper, and stencils. They cleaned and oiled it when it was tired, changed a spring if it failed. It knew that these four women cared for it as if they were caring for the Church.

"The twenty-four hours of the day weren't enough for us. We had to wait for that pile of stencils "typed" on electric machines and had to make many turns to make copies of those decisions that were so just, humane and new. I did this work in silence, but realizing the importance of the many flips." (the machine, hereinafter one of us, speaks).

Neither the mimeograph nor the four secretaries got dizzy from so much movement, but fatigue did not spare us, and only fresh water from those mountain peaks made us feel strong, renewed, and complete.

Some seminarians, very restrained every day, repaired them to remove the "junk". They were curious lads, eager to know what was behind closed doors and never supposed to get out. Not a single paper passed by them without them looking at it. They were drafts that announced the temperature of the Conference. They read everything before the hierarchs and the press itself...on the was a real fiesta!

These were the same young men who, the day we arrived, half-ironically half-joking, whispering along the clerical corridors, commented that "the women bishops have come", while we were carrying in the typewriters and mimeograph machines. Some of them are priests today and one is a bishop. They themselves told us.

With us was Mother Maria Agudelo, a philosopher and nun in the Company of Mary, who died 7 months ago. May she rest in peace. That holy and wise woman, a tiny figure, was our coordinator. The Holy Spirit could not be contained in her body; you could see it from outside. The image of God was present in her. She is the one who entered and left the conference room, always on the run, and brought us the documents that the working committees produced. The rest of us were lay missionaries from USEMI (Unión Seglar de Misioneros -- Lay Missionary Union): Beatriz Montoya, Helena Yarce and myself.

Out of the CELAM offices in Bogota, located at the corner of 78th and 11th Street, we had begun one year earlier to work intensively, contacting the bishops of the continent, special guests, and expert consultants and advisers on the different issues.

The Secretary of the Conference was Monseñor Plinio Monni (now deceased), an Argentinian, and his right hand man in everything was Father Cecilio De Lora, a Marianist priest. Monseñor loved to travel to Girardot2. He was a great collaborator in the parish run by Fr. Edgar Beltrán.

Beatriz and I worked full time with Father Cecilio in his office. Beatriz was his secretary and I, the secretary of Msgr. Plinio Monni. Helena supported us from the Secretariat of the Department of Missions, whose president was our bishop, Monseñor Gerardo Valencia Cano, Bishop of Buenaventura, apostle among the indigenous and Afro-descendent people and founder of USEMI, the movement to which we belonged. 3

Many times we had to take work home, subtracting time to rest. Beatriz and Helena were never lazy. They were women of great merits that did not go unnoticed.

Although certain topics were not discussed at the Conference, such as the situation of women in general and much less in the Church for example, other women were present, very worthy indeed. There was, as a special guest, Mother Margarita Ochoa, Superior General of the Missionaries of Mother -- now Saint -- Laura Montoya. Sister Ana, a Brazilian nun, then secretary of the Missionaries of today, Holy Mother Laura Montoya. There was Sister Ana (Brazilian religious and secretary of the Conferencia Latinoamericana de Religiosos - CLAR. Its president was Manuel P. Edwards and its general secretary, Fr. Luis Patiño. There was Mother Elvia Salazar. The men and women religious of CLAR were well represented.

It's worth noting that the women, laypeople, and Protestant brothers and sisters present only attended as mere observers.

The participation of laypeople was quite sparse and much discussed. From the nascent base communities that were budding, like the San Miguelito experiment in Panama, a pair of simple and unobtrusive spouses came as guests.

There was a team of women who performed logistical support in the rooms of the illustrious participants and others who took care of the kitchen and bathroom chores in general. There they were like invisible women, giving the best of their lives for the future of the Church.

Commenting on this, I cannot avoid "recalling" the presence of women at the Last Supper. Because if this happened here, something similar must have happened there, although it isn't even mentioned in the gospels.

Our mimeograph machine continues to share some details, indiscreet but friendly, in my opinion. It recalls a bishop from Nicaragua who, during certain rest periods, we would see reciting the poems of his compatriot Ruben Dario. There was another one, from Peru, now elderly, who had the idea of having a clothesline in his room on which to put his stuff. We had to buy him soap, an iron, etc...

With joy, we discussed among ourselves the achievement of the presence of the Cuban bishops. We wanted to know their story and their opinions about the "new" Cuba, but with so much work, we could not listen to them.

Indigenous and Afro-descendent people weren't invited, but there were those who spoke for them. They were those missionary bishops who raised their voices for those who had no voice: Gerardo Valencia Cano (Colombia), Leonidas Proaño (Ecuador), Víctor Garaygordobi (a Spaniard working in Ecuador), Samuel Ruiz (Mexico), Hélder Cámara (Brazil), José Dammert (Peru), Pedro Casaldáliga (a Spaniard working in Brazil), Don Sergio Méndez Arceo (Mexico), Ramón Bogarín (Paraguay), Dom Cándido Padín (Brazil).

Of the characters mentioned so far -- some may have escaped me, you'll understand -- I would note that the majority were missionaries. In April 1968, organized and convened by Archbishop Gerardo Valencia Cano, President of the CELAM Mission Department, and by its Secretary General, the well remembered Fr. Román, a meeting was held in Melgar, Colombia, which I daresay was definitely the one that paved the way for what happened next at the Medellin Conference. It's a shame that even among many missionaries, the Melgar documents are not known, valued, or appreciated. The Melgar meeting was preceded by the good meeting of the missionaries in Iquitos, Peru.

I remember how they commented in the hallways about the speech by Monseñor José Dammert Bellido, who shared his pastoral experience in Peru. He told how he was invited by his indigenous-peasant faithful to go to their farms to bless their cow, pig, or hens. Doesn't this attitude remind us of what we know about Francis of Assisi?

In the halls, I saw a diminutive figure dressed in black, a wise man, a holy man, very discrete, whose presence did not remain undetected. He had lived through Hiroshima in Japan. He was the Black Pope. That's what they called him. He was Father Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. His memory remains etched in my mind.

Everything that happened in that meeting was a human and divine event worthy of comment and reflection. How it made us vibrate with excitement and hope!

Did Medellin leave the door open to a different ecumenism? Even though this was a theme that was left aside at that meeting, the Holy Spirit there whispered what we have begun to glimpse recently in our days in some spaces of interfaith communion.

I have had many ecumenical experiences -- meetings, documents, some joint liturgies of the Word -- but the one that most marked me in my life was the one I experienced at that meeting. The last day (September 6, 1968), at the closing Mass presided on that occasion by the Archbishop of Medellin, Monseñor Tulio Botero Salazar (a Vincentian), before finalizing the distribution of Communion, two people who were very loved and appreciated in our Christian world were invited to come to the Eucharistic table -- Bishop David Reed, an Anglican bishop who ruled over the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Colombia, and Brother Roger Schutz, from the Ecumenical community of Taizé, France. Both went up to receive the Holy Eucharist through the central nave of the Capilla del Seminario Mayor, full not only of the Conference participants (247) but of outside guests for this solemn and spectacular moment. As the guests advanced, the People of God broke into applause that remains etched not only on the walls of the chapel, but on those rugged mountains of Antioquia.4

Little has been said about this beautiful and telling event, which was later on eclipsed by a wand, trying to erase and cast into oblivion the first ecumenical event where the Bread of Life was shared. Those of us who learned this spontaneous and daring lesson that the Holy Spirit, the Ruah-Sofia, performed through the person of Bishop Tulio Botero Sañazar, today are preaching and applying it little by little, without protagonism, in those meetings where the true inter-religious life that brings us close to the Divine Unity is taking shape.

Were there tensions at the Conference? Of course, and they even reached us. It was that document that Monseñor Luis Eduardo Henríquez (Venezuela) delivered to me personally to get it out immediately because, according to him, the Assembly was just going to approve it. I showed my colleagues what had come, we looked at it ..., it had to be discussed and it was left in the consultation. "Don't mess with that document. This is the one you have to get out," another one told us. The counter document was left out. The mimeograph machine was scared about what would happen now. It worked faster than ever, yelling, "Girls 5, be careful. You're burning me up!" And what about the bishop who brought that one? He's coming to take account! "Quiet, girls, I'm exhausted. One of my springs has burned, a nut has pulled away." Thus the "Colombian counter document" didn't happen. Anyway, the bishop who handed it to me wasn't Colombian and I remember his reaction. His face turned red as a tomato with annoyance. I was the one who had to face him.

In the breaks, like a lunch time, we were able to see new faces of people who went up to greet and share with the prelates. I remember then Governor of Antioquia, Dr. Octavio Arismendi Posada (recently deceased), a member of Opus Dei.

There were also amusing things that haven't been told in the serious writings. Among the guests was an Italian priest, Fr. Egidio Vigano. At the tail end of the meeting, we suddenly heard over the loudspeaker, the voice of a man yelling at the top of his lungs, "Father Bígamo ["Bigamist"], to the telephone!", "Father Bígamo to the telephone!" We almost didn't get to the receptionist's cabin to silence the loudspeaker.

It's worth recalling that you could still smell the gunpowder that ended the life of Father Camilo Torres, an odor that reached the 2nd CELAM Bishops' Conference in Medellin in 1968 like a stigma. Hence, every priest, nun or layperson with words of openness to the poor, was "involved" with the guerrillas.

Theologians, sociologists, canonists, biblical scholars, bishops, priests, men and women religious, laypeople, participants and observers by their presence were echoing: "I have seen the affliction of my people." (Exodus 3:7)

The final documents reflected it: "He is the same God who, in the fullness of time, sent His Son so that, made flesh, he would come to free all men from all slavery to which they are subjected by sin, ignorance, hunger, poverty and oppression." 6 And they go on, saying:

"As the Christian believes in the productiveness of peace in order to achieve justice, he also believes that justice is a prerequisite for peace. He recognizes that in many instances Latin America finds itself faced with a situation of injustice that can be called institutionalized violence, when, because of a structural deficiency of industry and agriculture, of national and international economy, of cultural and political life, "whole towns lack necessities, live in such dependence as hinders all initiative and responsibility as well as every possibility for cultural promotion and participation in social and political life," (Populorum progressio, No. 30) thus violating fundamental rights. This situation demands all-embracing, courageous, urgent and profoundly renovating transformations. We should not be surprised therefore, that the "temptation to violence" is surfacing in Latin America. One should not abuse the patience of a people that for years has borne a situation that would not be acceptable to anyone with any degree of awareness of human rights." 7

They have tried to throw a curtain of smoke over Father Camilo Torres. This was felt in Medellin (1968) and more for future generations, but the smell of gunpowder is very strong and is still sensed. Thus today we have to say that this man, in what he said and left in his writings, always stressed and lived love in his Christian commitment. The story of his death still hasn't been clarified. He turned up dead on February 16, 1966 in Patio Cemento (Santander). Some say it was in combat; others that they made him pass as a guerrillero, or, as we would say today, the Camilo case seems to be part of the "false positives."

For those who didn't know him or have barely heard of him, he left consigned in his memory the following words addressed to the Christian Movement in February 1966, four months before his death: "I do not intend to proselytize among the Communists and to try to get them to accept the dogma and teaching of the Catholic Church. I do want all men to act in accordance with their conscience, to look in earnest for the truth, and to love their neighbor effectively. The Communists must be fully aware of the fact that I will not join their ranks, that I am not nor will I ever be a Communist, either as a Colombian, as a sociologist, as a Christian, or as a priest." 8

 The guidelines the Holy Spirit promoted at that historical moment filled many of us with joy and missionary dynamism to experience an authentic gospel and the footprint has remained, the afterglow has remained (there have been many echoes), although they want to put it out and erase it from history, we won't let them. It is and remains the continuity of Vatican II for our people, learning, remembering, taking up Gaudium et Spes ...It was an attempt to present the Gospel and Vatican II in our tongues, among our peoples. It was inculturating the Gospel in our culture, hence its motto: "The Church in the Present-Day Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council."

It was the first time that Latin America had spoken and showed its theology from daily life in the events of our lives, our reality, our oppression and feelings of liberation: "When this begins to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your liberation is at hand." (Luke 21:28)

What is left of Medellin 1968 today? Those who know say, and tell us as much: Women are still invisible and have the Letter of Paul on their backs.(1st Corinthians 14:34).

In the conferences that followed -- Puebla, Santo Domingo -- the presence of "non-Catholic" brothers and sisters decreased considerably. The Good News didn't count for them. Or for women, either. Texts like the one about the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman (John 4:6-15), and Paul's "There is neither Jew nor Greek..." (Galatians 3:28), must have been kept in the wastebasket where the "indigent", avid for the Good News, would find and recycle them.

Jesus' dream of Divine Unity (John 17:21) without barriers, without denominations, buildings, or hierarchies -- one Law alone, that of the Love of God! The dream of the Good Pope, John XXIII, the dream od Paul VI, of John Paul I (the Smiling Pope), the dream of our martyred leaders -- Oscar Arnulfo Romero (Saint Romero of America), Teresita Ramírez, Yolanda Cerón (nuns), Father Rutilio Grande, those simple women and the Jesuits (murdered in El Salvador), Monseñor Gerardi (murdered 13 years ago in Guatemala), the catechists of Cocorná-Antioquia, the dream of so many women and men, young people and children, the impoverished will not remain in the caverns of "eternal" darkness this time.

The 2nd Latin American Bishops' Conference, that meeting, was, is and will be a dream made true, living out in practice the plan of God's Kingdom, according to the Good News, according to the guidelines of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council (1962), always seeking the Truth that sets us free (John 8:32). The search for Truth is not trapped, not enclosed, not denied. It is sought and found! And we will go on blowing on the embers that the Spirit of God made rise up like a great flame and light that will never go out to make itself present in the history of salvation that continues in our 21st century.

So like the mimeograph machine in our story, many others throughout Latin America served to give voice to many base Christian communities in the countryside and in the barrios. Thousands of mimeograph machines continued to preach the good news to the poor. Where there wasn't electricity, gelatin duplicators and many other ways were used to bring hope to birth. Just as we invisible women at the Conference gave it movement to proclaim Jesus the Liberator, many other women and men (from the countryside and the barrios, from the unions and the Church as People of God) did it to advertise their assemblies, their marches, to reproduce pieces of the Gospels, to publicize the minutes of community meetings, to do popular education, that is, mimeographs that put into action all across the Continent the agreements of Vatican II and the Medellin Conference. 9


1) Personal archive, photo taken by Br. José Arnaiz, a Marianist now deceased, official photographer of the Conference. From left to right, Olga Lucia Álvarez and Helena Yarce. (It was an era when computers didn't yet exist and so it was very strenuous to type and then print out everything...)

2) Girardot is a tourist city with a lovely climate and good swimming pools.

3) USEMI, formerly UFEMI (Unión Femenina Misionera), was founded by Monseñor Gerardo Valencia in the wake of Vatican II. It is a completely lay institution serving the disadvantaged and impoverished in various regions of the country, indigenous and black communities (Departamento del Cesar, Sierra Nevada, Pretoria-Choco, Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, Rio San Juan).

4) In the corridors, it was learned later that they had requested to be allowed to take communion and claimed to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. An argument that was remedied by the ban on communicatio in sacris. Canon 844 and 861.

5) "Girls" is an affectionate term used for young women among Antioqueños.

6) Cf. Synthesis of that situation in the working document of the 2nd Latin American Bishops' Conference, Nos. 1-9. (1968)

7) Final Document of the 2nd CELAM Conference (1968), No. 16

8) United Front (Bogota, September 2, 1965 -- available in English here)

9) All of the above from personal experience without editing.

Photos: Olga Lucia Álvarez as a clerical worker during the CELAM Conference in Medellin, 1968, and last year as a Roman Catholic woman priest going over the Mass readings with lectors at the Centro Cultural Melendez.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No to war among ourselves

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de José Antonio Pagola
February 16, 2014

Matthew 5:17-37

The Jews spoke proudly of the Law of Moses. According to tradition, God Himself had given it to His people. It was the best thing they had received from Him. In this law, the will of the One True God was encapsulated. There they could find everything they needed to be faithful to God.

For Jesus, the Law is important too but it no longer occupies the main place. He lives and communicates a different experience: The Kingdom of God is coming. The Father is seeking to open a way among us to make a more humane world. It's not enough for us to stick with keeping the Law of Moses. We need to open ourselves to the Father and work with Him to make a more just and fraternal life.

Therefore, according to Jesus, it's not enough to fulfill the law that commands "Thou shalt not kill." It's necessary also to uproot from our lives aggressiveness, disregard for others, insults and vengeance. The one who doesn't kill, fulfills the law, but if he doesn't free himself from violence, that God who seeks to build a more humane world with us still doesn't reign in his heart.

According to some observers, language is spreading in today's society that reflects the growth of aggressiveness. Increasingly frequent are the offensive insults uttered only to humiliate, despise, and wound. Words born of rejection, resentment, hatred, and revenge.

Moreover, conversations are often woven with unjust words that condemn and sow suspicion. Words spoken without love or respect, that poison coexistence and cause harm. Words almost always born of irritation, pettiness and meanness.

This is not an event that occurs only in social life. It is also a serious problem in the Church today. Pope Francis suffers when he sees divisions, conflicts and confrontations of  "Christians at war against other Christians." It's a state of affairs so contrary to the Gospel that he has felt the need to address an urgent call to us: "No war among ourselves."

So the Pope says: "It hurts to see how in some Christian communities, and even among consecrated persons, we consent to various forms of hatred, slander, defamation, revenge, jealousy, desire to impose our own ideas at any cost, and even persecution that seems like a relentless witch hunt. Who are we going to evangelize with that behavior?" The Pope wants to work for a Church in which "everyone can admire how you take care each other, how you give each other mutual encouragement, and how you accompany one another."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Santo Domingo Archbishop calls Jesuit human rights activist a "scoundrel"

Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Santo Domingo Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez is known for his conservative views and he is not known for mincing words...or being particularly diplomatic or sensitive. Last year, many in the Dominican Republic government winced when the cardinal called the appointed ambassador from the United States, an openly gay man, a "maricon" during a press conference on the subject. The term is an anti-gay slur, the equivalent of "faggot". Auxilliary Bishop Pablo Cedano added the threat that James “Wally” Brewster would not be welcome in his country and that if he came, he would suffer and have to leave. The Washington Blade reported at the time that López Rodríguez had a history of anti-gay remarks, including calling gay tourists "social trash" and "degenerates" in a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, for example.

This time, López Rodríguez has launched his vitriol against Fr. Mario Serrano, a young Jesuit priest who has been active in defending the rights of Dominican born children of undocumented Haitian immigrants.

During a Mass he celebrated January 26 at the close of a meeting of the Dominican Conference of Men and Women Religious, the cardinal lambasted the Jesuits in general and Serrano in particular, calling the priest a "sinvergüenza" -- a "scoundrel" -- and accusing him of devoting himself to leftist groups, talking nonsense, and doing whatever he pleased (see video below).

As his fellow clergy looked away, embarrassed by the outburst, the cardinal turned his guns on the Jesuit superiors. After explaining that he had been educated by the order, López Rodríguez screamed, "You have to respect me in this country, although this gentleman [Serrano] thinks he's the supreme pontiff. I'm very bothered. Morally, I don't agree with a priest going around publicly talking nonsense. Here's the Jesuit superior. Tell him, 'Shut up. That's all. Who are you to go around talking nonsense? Defending the Haitians...(inaudible).'"

The cardinal asserted that no country had done as much for Haitians as the Dominican Republic. He said that he was "deeply upset" because the Jesuits had not "put this gentleman Mario Serrano in his place." He ordered Serrano to be put in his place, adding that he was not the priest's colleague, and said that the priest should submit himself to obedience or find another line of work.

Fr. Serrano has been the director of Centro Bonó, whose work the cardinal has frequently questioned. He has also been at the forefront of the campaign to get documents and legal recognition for children born in the Dominican Republic of undocumented Haitian immigrant parents. The introduction to the campaign website expresses the issue in a nutshell: "Imagine that the country where you were born one day tells you that you no longer belong to it. It takes away your identity papers because of the color of your skin, your last name, or your parents' nationality. This is happening to Dominicans of Haitian descent." The center supports Haitian immigrants through a variety of programs including community organizing and training workshops.

Fr. Serrano responded that he would not be deterred from his human rights work by the 77 year-old cardinal's remarks, telling the media, "The Cardinal sent me his message and I'm sending him a message that we should join forces for a Dominican Republic where there's justice, and especially where the rights of the weak are defended, and our marginal neighborhoods and areas need us to keep fighting for that."

Liberation theology at 40: Balance and perspectives

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Volume 11, No. 32, October/December 2013, pp. 1357-1377


Writing about Liberation Theology (LT), its evolution and future horizons, is not that easy. First, because we still don't have enough historical perspective to observe its process serenely and with distance. Second, because there is already a vast literature on this subject. Rather than summarizing liberation theology's 40 years of existence, this article describes its development from three main theological events: the first meeting organized in El Escorial, Spain (1972), a second meeting held in the same place, in 1992, and the meeting held in Brazil, in 2012, at the University of Unisinos in Sao Leopoldo. The first meeting was marked by the paradigm of Exodus and the second by the paradigm of Exile. The meeting held at Sao Leopoldo, in turn, opened new perspectives for the future, new themes and new subjects. The election of Pope Francis and his option for a poor Church for the poor means a sign of hope for the Church and also for a liberating theology.


It isn't easy to write about liberation theology (LT), its evolution and future prospects, in part because we still lack sufficient historical perspective to be able to serenely observe its process from a distance, and in part because there is already abundant literature on this subject.

Without wanting to make any bibliographical boast, I would like to cite Mysterium liberationis as a comprehensive presentation of LT since its beginnings1 and the book edited by L.C. [Luiz Carlos] Susin, El mar se abrió ["The sea opened"] (Sal Terrae, 2001), where a balance of the last 30 years of Latin American theology is made. Also some magazines have devoted extraordinary editions to marking the 40th anniversary of LT.2

Therefore, to avoid repeating what is already known and to give this text a more experiential and narrative character, I will confine myself to my experience of having participated in three meetings or conferences on LT: El Escorial (Madrid) 1972, El Escorial (Madrid) 1992, and Unisinos (Sao Leopoldo) 2012.

There have undoubtedly been other important conferences and meetings on LT, for example those of the Association of Third World theologians in Mexico (1975), Detroit (1975), Dar es Salaam (1976), meetings on LT on the occasion of meetings of the World Social Forum, meetings of feminist theologians, indigenous theologians, etc. But I'm going to limit myself and focus on the three meetings indicated earlier, not just because I participated actively in them but because they sufficiently and significantly cover the distance travelled by LT over the 40 years.

1. The El Escorial-Madrid Meeting, 1972

Although it may seem strange, a large part of the liberation theologians who lived dispersed by Latin American geography met for the first time in Spain at the 1972 meeting in El Escorial (Madrid). And also, paradoxically, this encounter, sponsored by the Instituto Fe y Secularidad in Madrid which was directed by Alfonso Alvarez Bolado, took place next to the Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built by King Phillip II, where lie buried the sovereigns of the House of Austria who consolidated the conquest and colonization of Spanish America. We would add that it was held right in the middle of the Franco dictatorship with interventions by the Spanish police to investigate who was meeting and what that meeting was about. They might have thought it was about something "subversive"...3

The date of this meeting is symptomatic both from the socio-political and the ecclesial standpoint. After the Cuban Revolution (1959), profound social changes had happened in Latin America -- in Peru and Chile, for example -- while the military dictatorship began in Brazil. The figure of Che Guevara, killed by soldiers in Bolivia in 1967, became a myth for the younger generations and many believed that the socialism that had begun in Chile with Allende would spread quickly throughout Latin America.

In the ecclesial context, the Church was experiencing the post-conciliar stage of Paul VI who in 1967 had published the encyclical Populorum Progressio and in 1968 had convened the meeting in Medellin. Medellin was a truly pentecostal event for Latin America since at this conference, Vatican II was received and creatively taken up by the Latin American continent. The bishops in Medellin heard the cry of the poor and oppressed people, discerned in this cry a sign of the times and decided to respond to this clamor and accompany the people in their desire for justice and liberation from the structures of sin, to go from inhumane conditions of life to more humane and just living conditions.

The paradigm of the Exodus, absent from the ecclesiological reflection of Vatican II on the People of God (LG II), clearly flourished at Medellin. It seems that John XXIII's dream of a Church of the poor began to come true in Latin America...

The 1972 El Escorial meeting was not a meeting of Christians for socialism but a theological conference where the speakers and seminar leaders represented a broad spectrum of a family of different options, all of them beyond developmentalism, and that would become the basic nucleus of what would later be called LT. In 1971, Gustavo Gutierrez published his book A Theology of Liberation in Peru, but in 1968 Rubem Alves, a Protestant, had already published his doctoral thesis, called "Towards a Theology of Liberation" [Translator's Note: The thesis was later published by Corpus Books under the title A Theology of Human Hope]. So LT was born ecumenical.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the El Escorial Meeting (1972) was in fact, if not a founding point for LT, a fundamental moment for its constitution as a theological line.

Consistent with the Latin American theological position of starting from reality and discerning the signs of the times, the El Escorial meeting began by pointing out the economic factors and political forces present in the liberation process (R. Ames), the history of Christian faith and social change in Latin America (E. Dussel), and the social movements and ideologies in Latin America (J. Comblin).

This social-ecclesial framework allows us to point out that Latin America does not just live under the paradigm of underdevelopment but of dependence and that it must fight for liberation, one alternative of which might be the socialist option.

In this context and in light of the history of the evangelization of Latin America, LT is a prophetic moment of reflection that seeks to react against the idolatrous ideology of Western power that, in the conquest, contaminated the Christian faith. The social movements of Latin America are anti-imperialist and populist and they don't use Marxism as inspiration but as a tool of social analysis to overcome the dependency-oppression situation.

This liberating task is ecumenical and transconfessional (J. Miguez Bonino) and goes beyond a purely individualistic vision of the Christian faith. It also seeks to analyze the phenomena of the superstructure facing the real struggle for liberation. Theological concepts such as God, sin, salvation, etc. must be reformulated from this viewpoint.

But it was undoubtedly Gustavo Gutierrez's presentation on the Gospel and liberating praxis that caused the greatest impact and commotion at El Escorial as it didn't just show the spiritual dimension of the encounter with Christ in the poor as the requirement of a theological task that does not reduce salvation to the socio-economic or socio-political, even saying that salvation is given through liberating historical mediation. Hence the deep relationship between faith, theology and liberating praxis. Theology is a second act.

Personally my attention was drawn to the importance given at this meeting to folk religion -- a synthesis between Catholicism and ancestral traditions -- which by its great depth and extensiveness can play a decisive, positive or negative role in the liberation process. The addresses by A. Buntig, S. Galilea and J. C. Scannone's affection for this subject were new and shocking to the European secular world, very critical of popular religiosity which it considered preconciliar and alienating.

I personally participated in a seminar on the new forms of religious life and religious communities in Latin America, led by CLAR (M. Edwards and Maria Agudelo) where the importance of the option for the poor and the presence of small religious communities in working class environments and neighborhoods -- what was later called inserted religious life -- was stressed.

It's difficult to synthesize what this first meeting in El Escorial represented but I can highlight some of the contributions that I found most significant:

  • We were facing an epistemological breakthrough, a new way of doing theology, a theology that was not merely a reflection of European theology as before, but part of the historical reality of the poor and oppressed Latin American people, fighting for social change and their liberation from unjust and dependent structures. 4

  • This new theology wasn't partial or genitive. It wasn't reduced to political morality or the Church's social doctrine but was a global vision of Christian faith from a different theological place, from the poor and oriented towards liberating praxis.

  • Unlike the secular developed European and North Atlantic world, this theology began from a people both deeply religious and Christian and poor.

  • This theology, like all authentic theological reflection, was born of a deep spiritual experience -- the mystery of Christ present in the poor, something really evangelical, Nazarene, and paschal.

  • Socio-analytical recourse to social science is not the driving force of this theology, but an instrument of mediation that should be used with critical discernment in light of the gospel, without idolizing or demonizing it, as the Fathers of the Church did with Platonism and Saint Thomas with Aristotelianism in their time.

  • Within this family of different options, there were already at El Escorial more ideologized positions (H. Assmann) and more gospel positions (G. Gutierrez), more elitist tendencies (J. L. Segundo) and more populist ones (S. Galilea, R. Poblete, J.C. Scannone), more sociological, historical and political approaches (R, Ames, J. L. Segundo, G. Arroyo, E. Dussel) and more ecclesial and pastoral ones (Mons. Candido Padin, N. Zevallos, C. de Lora, M. Agudelo).

The general tone of the meeting was positive, hopeful, utopic, almost too optimistic. There was a speech by J. I. Gonzalez Faus in which he exhorted us not to forget about the cross. What happened in the following years (military dictatorships, persecution, martyrdom, conflicts with Rome...) proved J. I. Gonzalez Faus's prophetic warning right.

We could summarize this meeting by saying that it took place under the paradigm of Exodus -- an enslaved and oppressed people who are seeking their liberation from dependency and slavery.

Finally, let's say that the speakers and presenters at El Escorial (1972) were the first generation of initiators of LT. Other theological figures who would play a very significant role later in LT such as I. Ellacuria, J. Sobrino, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, J. B. Libanio, Frei Betto, C. Mesters, R. Muñoz, P. Richard, C. Bravo, P. Trigo, D. Irarrazaval...were not among the presenters.

Nor were women present among the speakers. On this point too there would be notable change later since more and more women would participate in the liberation theology stream -- Ivonne Gebara, Maria Clara L. de Bingemer, Elsa Tamez, Ana Maria Tepidinho, Teresa Porcile, Carmelita Freitas, Georgina Zubiria, Alcira Agreda, Maricarmen Bracamonte, Luzia Weiler, Sofia Chipana, Isabel Barroso, Antonieta Potente, Gisella Gomez, Adriana Curaqueo, Marcela Bonafede, Maria Jose Caram, Barbara Brucker, Margot Bremen, Vilma Moreira, Vera Bonbonatto, Viginia Azcuy, Consuelo Velez...

This first meeting at El Escorial contrasted a lot with the second El Escorial meeting, twenty years later in 1992.

2. The 1992 El Escorial Meeting

The social and ecclesial context had changed profoundly. Latin America has experienced hard years of military dictatorships especially in Central America and the Southern Cone. The ideology of the National Security Doctrine had led to persecution, exile, torture and murder which, in reaction, had caused guerrilla insurgency movements. Besides the well-known martyrdom of Romero and Angelelli, of theologians such as Ellacuria and his UCA colleagues, men and women religious, there were real massacres of peasants, labor leaders, indigenous people, catechists, women, pastoral agents, etc. It was the Good Friday of the Passion of the people.

The triumph of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (1979) and the slow recovery of weak democracies in several nations generated some hopeful relief. But poverty in those years had increased, the gap between rich and poor had grown, and foreign debt, drug trafficking, and violence (Shining Path, Colombian guerrillas ...) has increased as well.

At the world level, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) had changed the geopolitical scene. Neoliberal capitalism proclaimed itself the only universal salvation and the end of history (F. Fukuyama).

As for the Catholic Church, the pontificate of John Paul II inaugurated a new stage in which the Pope projected onto the whole Church his Polish experience, a pre-modern experience in church matters and post-Marxist in social ones (Gonzalez Faus, 2005). The image of John Paul II at the airport in Managua reprimanding priest-poet and Sandinista minister of culture Ernesto Cardenal, who knelt at his feet, became famous. Obando would be the new Wyszynski. It seemed like a Doctrine of Ecclesial Security was initiated for the whole Church with John Paul II.

LT was harshly criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Libertatis nuntius, 1984).5 J. L Segundo responded to Ratzinger and accused him of attacking not just LT but Vatican II itself. (Segundo, 1985). A second much more nuanced Instruction (Libertatis conscientia, 1986)6 lowered the tone of the first one and acknowledged that the concept of liberation has a Christian basis. 7 Later, in 1986, John Paul II wrote to the Brazilian bishops meeting at Itaici that LT, well understood and rooted in biblical and church tradition, is not only timely but useful and necessary for Latin America.

The conference at Puebla (1979) upheld the see-judge-act method of Medellin and supported the preferential option for the poor, but it didn't have the prophetic dynamism of Medellin.

The conference in Santo Domingo (1992) which was held three months after the El Escorial meeting (1992) to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization, changed Latin American methodology and its theme was a new evangelization, human promotion, and Christian culture. This change in methodology meant a change of course, a return to a more conservative position, a change of direction in pastoral ministry, although at Santo Domingo in fact there was significant openness towards Afro-descendent and indigenous cultures and some attention given to modern culture, called upcoming culture ["cultura adveniente"] (Codina, 2013, pp. 200-211).

In this environment, the 1992 El Escorial meeting took place, convened again by the Instituto Fe y secularidad in Madrid (Comblin et al, 1993).

Gustavo Gutierrez didn't attend because of an "insurmountable conflict of dates and other difficulties," but he has great memories of the El Escorial (1972) meeting, stating that it meant a lot for the development of theological reflection in Latin America. He recognizes that in those years poverty had been increasing in Latin America and that there were companions along the way who had given their lives to the end and he urges us to stubbornly maintain hope and Easter joy, remembering with Bartolome de Las Casas that God has a recent vivid memory of the poor.8

Leonardo Boff, who during those years had suffered harsh warnings, confrontations and criticism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which imposed a year of silence on him -- fulfilled faithfully and penitentially -- also wrote a letter to the participants of the meeting telling them he had left the Franciscan order and the ministry, but that he would go on fighting for the liberation of the poor and following Jesus and his cause.

Methodology starting from Latin American reality, both social (M. A. Garreton, X. Gorostiaga) and ecclesial (J. Comblin), was upheld at the meeting. Exodus (C. Bravo), the base communities (R.Muñoz) 9 and the popular dimension of theology (D. Irarrazaval) were reflected upon, but there were important novelties: LT was then converted into a theology of martyrdom (J.Sobrino), there was a presence of feminist theology in Latin America (Ivonne Gebara), criticisms and self-criticisms of LT were presented (J.L.Segundo)10, room was made for dialogue with other theologies in the liberation line from Europe (J.B.Metz), Africa (J.Lois) and Asia (G.Gispert Sauch), and it focused on the subject of the future of LT in Latin America (P.Trigo) and the Church in Latin America (Mons. A. Celso Queiroz).

The presentation they had asked from me concerning Latin American faith versus Western disenchantment, compared the Western logic of instrumental reason (both the First and the Second Illustration) with the more symbolic reason proper to Latin America, which earned me the accusation by some Spaniards of being overly critical of Western enlightened modernity and wanting to return to a medieval and baroque Christianity, something I never thought about... On the other hand, I think the Latin American participants at the meeting understood it perfectly.

Perhaps J.B. Libanio's presentation was the one that best summarized the key theses of the road travelled over those 20 years (Libanio, 1993, pp. 57-78):

  • From a Christology of the historical Jesus in the context of following and identification with the poor, through a liberating Trinity, to an incipient pneumatology;

  • from salvation as liberation passing through mediation in history to the creation of utopia in reference to the kingdom, above all in the struggle for life;

  • from an ecclesiology of community experiences to a real ecclesiogenesis in a radical reinterpretation of power and ministry in the Church, in relation to the kingdom and the world;

  • from a transformative conception of the actions of man, to the creation of the new earth and new heaven with openness to ecology and the problem of the earth;

  • from a theology concerned with social structures to a theology open to the cultures (ethnicities) in view of a real inculturation and insertion in the double dimension of practice and fiesta of the Latin American people.

Surely Libanio's theses showed not only what LT had changed over those twenty years, but also perspectives of the future to which it was opening itself. For his part, J. I. Gonzalez Faus summed up what had been experienced theologically at the meeting as the step from an immediate alternative to long term ferment (Comblin et al, 1993, pp. 343-346).

Synthesizing the experience of this second El Escorial meeting (1992) and comparing it to the 1972 meeting, I would say that it moved from the prophetic and liberating enthusiasm of the Exodus to the hard situation of the people of Israel in the Exile -- a time of grace, conversion and spirituality, of reaffirmation of faith and strengthening of the sense of community, of openness to foreign cultures and religions. In the context of the Exile and the post-Exile emerged the canticles of the Servant of Yahweh, the faith in God the creator of heaven and earth, the wisdom books, women's protagonism, openness to the erotic dimension of love, the first reflections on suffering, evil and death.

In this second El Escorial meeting (1992), as in the Exile from Israel, the suffering and martyrdom of the people and the theologians themselves were noted, a painful and penitential purification, a certain weakness and perhaps nostalgia for the past were experienced but also greater maturity in wisdom, greater spirituality and some openness to various other realities not intuited before or at least not spelled out: gender and sexuality, cultures and religions, earth and cosmos...and all of it in a climate of paschal hope, amid the dark night of ecclesial winter and the silence of God. (Codina, 2013, p. 191-194).

3. Continental Theology Congress, Unisinos, Sao Leopoldo, 2012.

The backdrop of this event was the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 40th anniversary of LT. Convened and sponsored by a number of theological institutions (Amerindia, Unisinos University, Javeriana University, Soter, the Asociacion Teologica de Mexico...), it took place in a different climate from the previous meeting: under the pontificate of Benedict XVI, after the Aparecida Assembly (2007), with the participation of 750 people young and old, laymen and laywomen, men and women religious, priests, 23 bishops, and sisters and brothers from other denominations, coming from various countries in Lain America and the Caribbean, from North America and Europe.

During its preparation, there was no shortage of Roman pressure on the convening universities, questioning and slowing down its happening. Other groups in the Church critcized the presence of theologians they considered suspicious like Boff, Sobrino, Frei Betto... and they believed the Congress would be a strong criticism of and attack on the hierarchical Church.

None of this happened, the conference unfolded in an atmosphere of serenity and ecclesial feeling, like an exercise in discerning the different hermeneutics of Vatican II and the signs of the times, with a both celebrative and prospective character, in a climate of prayer and ecclesial communion.11

As Agenor Brighenti, the coordinator of Amerindia, stated in the presentation on the pretext and context of the Congress 12, the Congress followed the big thematic core ideas of LT: theology as a second act (G.Gutierrez), theology of captivity (L. Boff), a theology that exercises intellectus misericordiae (J. Sobrino), a LT that is a liberator of theology (J. L. Segundo), a theology that is non cynical (H. Assmann), prophetic (J.Comblin), expressed from a Church of liberation (J. B. Libanio).

Within the commemorative dimension of the Congress, there was an emotional remembrance of now deceased theologians: J. L. Segundo, H. Assmann, J. Comblin, C. Bravo, S. Galilea, I. Ellacuria, X. Gorostiaga, R. Muñoz, Teresa Porcile, Carmelita Freitas, Antonio Parecida da Silva (Toninho), A. Antoniazzi, J. Jimenez Limon, M. de C. Azevedo...

Gustavo Gutierrez could not attend for health reasons but sent a communication from the University of Notre Dame in the US via video conference in which he exhorted the young theologians to be rigorous, deep, close to the communities inserted in the world, and to give their lives for the poor. He reminded all the participants to follow the line of the best of Latin American theology -- "close to God and close to the poor" -- a phrase that might sum up the sense of the Congress and that was taken up in its final message.

New men (C. Mendoza) and women (Geraldine Cespedes, Marilu Rojas) theological figures participated in the presentations, however the scant female presence in the presentations and the absence of indigenous and Afro-descendent theologians was criticized, even though there was a female and indigenous presence in the afternoon workshops and seminars.

It isn't easy to synthesize what was most novel about the Congress but one ought to mention the ecoliberating and ecofeminist dimension of theology (L. Boff, Marilu Rojas), the dialogue with cultures and new subjects (L. C. Susin), a new liberating paradigm that, moves forward on issues like the modern and postmodern globalized knowledge society while maintaining the option for the poor and following the historical Jesus, affects liturgy and popular religiosity, fosters new ecclesial structures, a greater legal concretion of Vatican II and Medellin, a new theological language and family ministry in diverse forms... (J. B. Libanio).

There were references to the liberation theologies of Asia (P. C. Phan) and to modern European theology, very anchored in modern secularism and in that sense a bit alienated from the popular religious world of Latin America (A. Torres Queiruga).

In my presentation on the Churches of the continent 50 years after Vatican II and some pending issues, I commented on the Latin American reception of Vatican II which occured mainly beginning with Gaudium et Spes and its theology of the signs of the times in Medellin, in addition to questioning some aspects of classical LT: Too moralistic and voluntaristic? Risk of millenarianism? Very paternalistic and patriarchal? Little sensitivity to themes such as gratuity, celebration, sexuality, health? And mainly I stressed the need to elaborate pneumatology from below, from the poor that would help to understand from within the irruption of the poor in society and in the Church, the pluralism of subjects, primordial sanctity and martyrdom, the new signs of the times, etc...

Undoubtedly the Congress had a certain not just commemorative but nostalgic (saudade!) sense of the glorious years of the 70s and 80s and the photo of the "dinausors" present at the Unisinos Congress was significant.13 Clodovis Boff, E. Dussel, Ivonne Gebara, R. Oliveros...who are part of the history of LT...did not attend the Congress.

This brief sketch and constrained synthesis of the Unisinos Congress can not express the richness of the presentations and workshops, but it shows the guiding principles that became evident during those days. As the final message states, LT "is alive and continues to inspire the searches and commitments of the new generation of theologians. But sometimes it's an ember that is hidden under the ashes. In that sense, this congress became a breath that rekindled the fire of that theology that wants to keep on being the fire that lights other fires in Church and society." 14

The large influx of young people in Unisinos is a sign of hope for the future. There is something non-negotiable: following the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the option for the poor. But there are many new subjects and themes: youth, women, indigenous and Afro-descendent people, cultures, religions, ecology, pneumatology ... The socio-analytical analysis of the 70s and 80s is undeniable, but it must be completed with an anthropological analysis of gender, age, cultures and religions, ecology. There is not one LT but many liberation theologies. There are differences within a common family atmosphere.

If LT has always started from social and ecclesial reality, a profound historic change like the one we are experiencing can not fail to impact and influence LT. There is a deep crisis in the economic and social systems hitherto in force. There is general dissatisfaction expressed in the indignation of youth and the desire for a different world. At the religious and spiritual level too we are facing an axial change of times that has been in place for centuries, perhaps since the Neolithic era and involves a profound change in the structuring of religions (Jaspers, 1953). We are being shaken, worldwide, by a kind of earthquake or tsunami of hitherto unknown proportions.

Latin America is also experiencing profound changes both at the socio-political and the ecclesial level. At the political level we will mention the whole movement and process that has been called "21st century Socialism", the emergence of new powers such as Brazil, the migration phenomena, drug trafficking, youth gangs, the increase in violence and public insecurity, the awakening of indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, the discontent and bewilderment of the young, the impact of new technologies, the fragility of the family, the problem of gender and new ways of living out sexuality, climate change and ecological problems, etc...

At the church level, even though a deep religious sense remains in the vast majority of the people, there is a great diversity of religious and spiritual options, from the return to ancestral religions and a rejection of Christianity -- branded as colonial -- to agnosticism and atheism, passing through folk Catholics who hold the beliefs but have little sense of belonging to the Church, aware and committed Catholics, evangelical and Pentecostal communities, Asian religions, etc.. The Church of Christendom is dying, although its disappearance is very slow and uneven depending on the country.

Latin America, considered up to now the spiritual preserve of the Catholic Church -- a sort of "Christian Amazonia", the continent of hope -- is now in crisis and threatened, like Amazonia itself...Aparecida acknowledged that a faith reduced to moralisms, disjointed concepts and sacramental practices will not withstand the onslaught of modern times.15 Hence the urgent invitation of Aparecida to move from being merely the baptized to disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. Isn't all this panoramic change a challenge for the LT of the future?


I think the three meetings (El Escorial 1972, El Escorial 1992, and Unisinos, Sao Leopoldo, 2012) indicate clearly enough the journey, vicissitudes, changes and challenges of LT.

But life goes on and history always brings novelties and surprises. Since the Unisinos Congress was held in October 2012 to the present, we have experienced an unexpected change in church leadership -- the exemplary resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of the new bishop of Rome, Francis.

The ecclesial consequences of these changes are difficult to know and unpredictable, but we can not forget that the figure of Josef Ratzinger, first as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as pope, has played an important role in the reception of Vatican II and very specifically in the Roman evaluation of LT. It's enough to remember the very critical statements he has expressed from the beginning towards the breakthrough interpretation that has been given Vatican II and in particular towards LT which he considered to be infected by Marxism and which, at best, he labeled as moral politics but not as being a genuine theology in the style of European theologies.16 With Ratzinger's resignation, a post-conciliar period is closed and it seems that the ecclesial winter is over.

This is because the new bishop of Rome, Francis, opens new horizons for the Church and for Latin American theology itself. We will not repeat everything that has already been written about the new symbolic gestures and new language that has been used, signs of a new ecclesial climate reminiscent of the climate inaugurated by John XXIII and the subsequent, albeit brief, post-conciliar spring.

Francis' insistence on the poor Church for the poor converges greatly with the basic intuitions of LT, although surely the liberating aspect of Bergoglio's theology owes more to Argentine theology (Lucio Gera, Juan Carlos Scannone,...) than to other more ideological and dialectical forms of liberating theology.

This explains not only his sensitivity towards the poor and towards a Church in solidarity with them, but his appreciation and respect for the faith of simple people, popular religiosity, the wisdom and culture of the poor. To this are added his openness to the religions of humankind, his missionary perspective, the desire for a church that is not self-referential and enclosed in its walls but a Church that goes out into the street, goes to the frontiers, to the existential peripheries, even at the risk of possible accidents.

This same feeling leads him to sympathize with the suffering of the people and challenge the anesthetized conscience of well-off society that lives as though enclosed in a soap bubble, unable to respond to the cries of those who suffer or cry for the victims of the lack of solidarity of the powerful.

This has been highlighted in the homily delivered by Francis on his first trip outside Rome on July 8, 2013 to the island of Lampedusa, where a large number of undocumented African immigrants come, many of whom die at sea in their fragile rafts or boats instead of reaching their European dream destiny. This homily in the context of a penitential celebration means a whole church government program, which has been compared to John XXIII's inaugural speech at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia.

Indeed, in Lampedusa, Francis doesn't present a strong Church that imposes itself on humankind (like John Paul II) or simply a small token minority in the midst of a secular diaspora (like Benedict XVI), but a Church whose strength comes from the mysterious presence of Christ in the poor, along the line of Matthew 25, a presence that challenges the Church first, but also humankind.17 The poor are a privileged theological place for the Church and the world.

Francis' much applauded message to the massive youth audience at WYD in Rio de Janeiro confirmed this theological and pastoral line: a poor church and for the poor, going out to the peripheries, fighting for a just and solidary world without exclusion, listening to young who dream of a different and alternative world, etc.

In that sense, what matters is not LT but a liberating church and the liberation of the people. LT has fulfilled a prophetic function and at the same time it is opening itself to new horizons now.
It will be the job of the new generation of theologians, especially young, lay, indigenous and Afro-descendent ones, not to repeat what has been said, but open themselves to the newness of the future, trusting in the power of the Spirit of Jesus that is always present in history, although often, like the wind, we don't know where it comes from or where it is going (Jn 3:8).


1. ELLACURIA; SOBRINO, 1990: Mysterium liberationis. Conceptos fundamentales de la teologia de la liberacion, Vol. I y II. The title, Mysterium liberationis, is a Latin American rejoinder to Mysterium salutis published by European theologians after Vatican II. When Mysterium liberationis was published in 1990, it had already been a year since I. Ellacuria had been assassinated. In this book, R. Oliveros' chapter is of particular interest for our subject. (1990, p. 17-30)

2. For example, ARAGON et al. "La teologia de la liberacion, cuarenta anos despues: retos y desafios", Alternativas, Managua, vol. 19, no. 44, July-December 2012; REFLEXIONES. 40 anos de la Teologia de la Liberacion: balances y perspectivas. Vinculum, Conferencia de religiosos de Colombia, Bogota, vol. 60, no. 250, January-March 2013, which brings together contributions from the Latin American Theological Commission of ASETT/ EATWOT.

3. The presentations of this meeting were published by the Instituto Fe y Secularidad under the significant title, Fe cristiana y cambio social en America Latina, 1973. Cf. CODINA, 2013, pp. 26-27.

4. I can't resist quoting an eloquent testimony about this novelty of theology from the south that J. Garcia Roca recounts: "I remember a personal confession the greatest Spanish theologian of the 20th century, Father Alfaro, made to me. Around 1973, he visited Latin America to lecture. On his return, he acknowledged to me that the day the Church looks to the south, neither theology nor morals nor organization would pass the test. 'I recognized that the theology I had done my whole life would be useless in the future'." GARCIA ROCA, 2013, p. 35-44, quote 42-43.

5. Libertatis nuntius: Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, 1984).

6. Libertatis conscientia: Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, 1986).

7. Ellacuria ironically observed, however, that in Ratzinger's book, Introduction to Christianity, the concept of liberation doesn't appear...

8. COMBLIN et al, 1993 p. 15-16

9. This contribution by Chilean theologian Ronaldo Muñoz (who died in December 2009) was, in my opinion, one of the deepest, most beautiful and most authentic of the meeting -- in the base communities, faced with the basic needs and solidarity of poor people, the Church is a Samaritan Church. In face of the need for affection and celebration, the Church is a home. In face of the search for God and sacrament, the Church is a sanctuary. In face of the longing for meaning and hope, the Church is a missionary. In face of rights denied and the struggle, the Church is prophetic. Such an experiential synthesis cannot be improvised. It corresponds to a theologian deeply rooted in the people, gospel-centered and consistent, who unites in an exemplary way closeness to the poor and theological seriousness.

10. J.L.Segundo ironically asked the room's permission to cite a couple of contributions from Marxism and on the other hand he was very critical towards a theology based on "a escuta do povo" ["listening to the people"].

11. CONGRESO CONTINENTAL DE TEOLOGIA, 2013, Unisinos, Brasil. 50 anos del Vaticano II. Analisis y perspectivas. Two other books were published electronically on the workshops and communiques of the Congress.


13. In it appear in this order: J. Marins, C. de Lora, P. Trigo, Elsa Tamez (the only woman!), J. Sobrino, P. Suess, L. Boff, J. B. Libanio, P. Richard, J. Garcia, V. Codina, J. C. Scannone, Frei Betto, J. Hernandez Pico, C. Mesters, J. O. Beozzo, Eleazar Lopez, F. Chico Whitaker, D. Irarrazaval. In the background appear the figures of G. Gutierrez and S. Torres who for health reasons could not attend the Unisinos Congress. No doubt it is a photo for posterity..


15. CONSELHO EPISCOPAL LATINO-AMERICANO, 2008. Documento de Aparecida no. 12. In reality, the ofical text approved by Rome says "would not withstand", but the text approved by the bishops before the Roman revision was more realistic: "will not withstand."

16. See the dialogue on this subject in the V. Messor and J. Ratzinger interview, Informe sobre la fe, 1985. Cf CODINA, 1994, p. 145-148.

17. See the statements of the Church historian of the Bologna school, Alberto Melloni, in an interview with Vatican Insider published by La Stampa on July 18, 2013 (TORNIELLI, 2013). REFERENCES

ARAGON, R.; PAZ, J. M.; SUSIN, L. C. La teologia de la liberacion, cuarenta anos despues: retos y desafios. Alternativas, Managua, ano 19, n. 44, julio diciembre 2012.

CODINA, V. Creo en el Espiritu Santo. Pneumatologia narrativa. Santander: Sal Terrae, 1994.

CODINA, V. Diario de un teologo del posconcilio. Bogota: Ed San Pablo, Bogota, 2013.

COMBLIN, J.; GONZALEZ FAUS; J. I.; SOBRINO, J. (Ed.). Cambio social y pensamiento cristiano en America Latina. Madrid: Trotta, 1993.

CONGREGACION DE LA DOCTRINA DE LA FE. Instruccion sobre algunos aspectos de la "teologia de la liberacion¨. Libertatis nuntius. Madrid: Paulinas, 1984.

CONGREGACION DE LA DOCTRINA DE LA FE. Instruccion sobre libertad cristiana y liberacion. Libertatis conscientia. Madrid: Paulinas, 1986.

CONGRESO CONTINENTAL DE TEOLOGIA. 50 anos del Vaticano II. Analisis y perspectivas. Bogota: Ed Paulinas, 2013.

CONSELHO EPISCOPAL LATINO-AMERICANO. Documento de Aparecida: texto conclusivo da V Conferencia Gerald o Episcopado latino-americano e do Caribe. Sao Paulo: Paulinas, 2008.

ELLACURIA, I; SOBRINO (Ed.) Mysterium liberationis. Conceptos fundamentales de la Teologia de la Liberacion, Madrid: Trotta, 1990. (Tomo I y Tomo II).

GARCIA ROCA, J. Otro horizonte para las relaciones de la Iglesia con el mundo. Exodo, Madrid, n. 118, p. 42-43, abril 2013.

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Victor Codina, SJ has a PhD in Theology from the Gregorian University (Rome) and degrees in Philosophy and Letters from the University of Barcelona and in Theology from the University of Innsbruck. He is an emeritus professor at the School of Theology of the Bolivian Catholic University in Cochabamba. He is from Bolivia.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Catholic "Moral Disconnect": Univision survey finds it alive and well...and global

Another survey (raw data spreadsheet available here), this time by Spanish language media giant Univision, shows that the moral disconnect between Catholics and their Church is not confined to the United States. Last week, Univision polled over 12,000 Catholics in 12 different countries about some of the most controversial issues facing the Church today. The countries included the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and the Philippines.

While Pope Francis received an almost universal glowing endorsement from his global flock, with 87% rating his performance as good or excellent, the magisterium of the Church he heads up received substantially less unanimous support. Catholics, especially in Europe and the Americas, simply no longer believe many of the traditional teachings of the Church on many issues of sexual morality. There is more support in Africa and in the one Asian country surveyed. Eventually, the pope will receive all the results from the Vatican's own survey on these issues administered through the dioceses but meanwhile, here is what Univision discovered:

Women Priests

This survey found that only 45% of Catholics support women priests worldwide. This number is driven down by the overwhelming opposition from the African countries surveyed, 80% of whom opposed women priests. In this context, it's important to remember that Africa is also leading the opposition to women priests and bishops in the Anglican Church. In Europe and the United States, women priests are supported by a healthy margin -- 64% of Europeans and 59% of Americans in favor. Latin Americans are almost evenly split -- 49% in favor, 47% opposed -- and there are huge country differences within the region. Sixty percent of Argentine Catholics and 54% of Brazilians support women priests. The numbers are lower for Colombia and considerably lower for Mexico. Looking at this data, perhaps the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which has been developing women priest and deacon candidates in Colombia, should consider expanding their efforts to Argentina as well (or instead). An interesting side note derived from the raw data is that women were slightly (a couple of percentage points) less receptive to women priests than men in every country except in the two African countries where they were slightly less opposed than men.

Married Priests

Slightly more Catholics favor allowing priests to marry (50%) and, again, there are huge regional differences. European Catholics overwhelmingly support married priests (70%). Sixty-one percent of Americans and 53% of Latin Americans favor this. The numbers are offset by Catholics in the African countries and the Philippines who overwhelmingly (70% and 76%) oppose this. All the European countries are very strongly behind this. Within the Latin American bloc, Catholics in the three South American countries favor married priests while Mexican Catholics are opposed. Those countries most in favor are also countries with well-established married priests advocacy groups -- United States (Corpus, Celibacy Is the Issue), France (Plein Jour), Brazil (Associação Rumos, Movimento dos Padres Casados), Spain (MOCEOP), Italy (Vocatio, Sacerdoti Lavoratori Sposati), Poland (Stowarzyszenie Zonatych Ksiezy I Ich Rodzin), Argentina (Movimiento de Padres Casados y sus familias).


Of the sexual morality issues, the one on which there is the most consensus is contraception. Based on the results of this survey -- and many others over the years -- if Pope Francis wants to make one major reform in this area, it should be to eliminate the Catholic Church's prohibition on birth control. The Church's arguments against artificial contraception make no sense to Catholic men and women of today and, therefore, few Catholic couples comply with the restrictions. Seventy-eight percent of Catholics surveyed by Univision support the use of contraception (79% in the United States). Only in the African countries were a slim majority opposed, and that opposition is more likely due to a general cultural preference for fertility and opposition to limiting births, than to any specific endorsement of Catholic teachings in this area.


Again, based on this survey, it would appear that a Catholic consensus position is developing which, while acknowledging the value of protecting the life of the unborn under most circumstances, wants to give equal or greater moral weight to protecting the life of the mother in situations where these two values are brought into conflict. Catholics are not interested in saving a fetus at the expense of its mother. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics surveyed said that abortion should be "allowed in some cases, for example when the life of the mother is in danger." A further nine percent said it should be universally allowed and only 33% said it should not be allowed at all. Complete opposition to abortion was lowest in France (5%) and Spain (8%). Opposition was greatest in the Philippines (73%). Despite the US bishops' conservative stance and emphasis on life issues, only 21% of Americans said abortion should not be allowed at all.

Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics

Survey respondents were asked if they supported or opposed the Church's policy that "an individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion." Fifty-eight percent of Catholics disagreed with this policy. Again, only in the African countries did the vast majority of Catholics agree with Church teaching in this area. Most Americans (59%), Latin Americans (67%), and Europeans (75%) disagreed. The question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has been a key issue for the European church reform groups like We Are Church, as well as for the various priests' associations in those countries.

Gay marriage

This question was asked in two parts -- the first aimed at determining support for gay marriage in general, the second about support for same-sex sacramental marriages to be performed in the Catholic Church in particular. In no country was there majority support for same-sex sacramental marriage. The only country that showed any significant support for this was Spain where 43% of Catholics thought the Church should perform same-sex marriages (35% of American Catholics supported this position, a surprisingly high number given how actively the US bishops have been campaigning against any form of same-sex marriage, let alone ecclesial recognition of those unions). Civil gay marriage was supported by a majority of Catholics in the United States (54%) and Spain (64%). Other countries that showed strong, but not majority, support for same-sex marriage were Brazil (45%), Argentina (46%), and France (43%). All of these countries recognize same-sex marriage nationwide or, in the case of the United States, in an increasing number of jurisdictions. Catholics in these countries have learned that they can live with this.

While this is still not the official Church survey on these questions, it provides a statistically useful benchmark for comparison once the official results are released -- if they are released. We would not expect the official survey results to be too far from these figures.