For the last few months, there has been some talk of an alleged “Approval” of so-called “Liberation Theology” by the Vatican, partly because of the publication of the Italian translation of a book co-written by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, currently Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P.
In June, Archbishop Muller published an interview in _The Vatican Insider_ about Fr. Gutierrez, in which he says that the Liberation Theology “movement” is “one of the most important currents in 20th Century Catholic theology” (quoted here, in a blog post by Frank Weathers). Now, “important” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” or “true”: I don’t think anyone would doubt that liberation theology has had great influence. That said, Weathers also quotes a previous _Vatican Insider_ article in which Muller distinguishes between the “movement” and Fr. Gutierrez’s actual theology (the old “Thomas wasn’t necessarily a Thomist” principle). Nevertheless, to some, including Weathers, who associate “liberation theology” with the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” this is seen as an outright endorsement. Arguably, it might be to some extent because Muller’s leanings were well known when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
Meanwhile, Weathers and others have taken Pope Francis’s preeminent concern for the poor as a sign of endorsement of liberation theology, even though then-Cardinal Bergoglio was one of its most outspoken critics among the South American hierarchy, and in fact a member of the movement that was counter liberation theology. Indeed, while Pope Francis has spoken often of the poor, he has also condemned the treatment of Catholicism as a political ideology.
So, as the Italian translation of Muller and Gutierrez’s book comes out on Monday, _L’Osservatore Romano_ has published a glowing review of the book by Fr. Ugo Sartorio, and _The Vatican Insider_ is again reporting that “The Vatican and the Liberation Theology” have “made peace”.
However, Sandro Magister suggests that Pope Francis might have something else to say on the matter:
Right from the beginning [Sartorio's review] takes aim at those who “have even come to the point of giving up for dead and buried liberation theology, the fruit of the season believed to have concluded definitively with the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the implosion of the Soviet empire connected to Marxist ideology.”
Oddly enough, Magister points out, that’s a paraphrase of what then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said back in 2005, a year after the German translation was published:
“After the collapse of the totalitarian empire of ‘real socialism,’ these currents of thought were thrown into disarray. Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who anachronistically would like to re-propose it.”
So the story is far from over.
Meanwhile, several of the articles I’ve read about the alleged approval have suggested the false dichotomy that the only reason to oppose liberation theology is a support for unbridled capitalism; others go to the opposite extreme of the same dichotomy and saying that any opposition to unbridled capitalism constitutes support for totalitarian socialism. There are other reasons to oppose a theology which attempts to reconcile Marxism with Catholicism, and has been used to support violent revolution, just as there are other ways to support the poor besides a socialist state. It would help if everyone turned to the Compendium of Social Doctrine promulgated by Bl. John Paul II.