I just finished reading a new book by Paul Vallely called Pope Francis: Untying the Knots. I am glad I read it on my Kindle so that I don’t have to have it on my shelf.
There are some helpful explorations of certain periods of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s life and the controversies he has been in and the context of Argentina during a horrible period. I learned a few things.
However, over all the book seems to be more than just a biography. Vallely is ideological. He is trying to influence the course of events within the Church, not just report them. So, he is firmly MSM. He is assistant editor of The Independent, on the board of The Tablet, is involved in CAFOD. For information on what happened in the conclave he seems to have relied on Card. Murphy O’Connor. Though Valley doesn’t quote him directly about the internal dealings of the conclave that elected Francis, the Cardinal is quoted directly several times in that chapter. Valley relies on Timothy Radcliff, OP, to interpret Francis. The final quote, sentence, of the text is from Leonardo Boff.
In fact, the book is an apologia for diminishing the role of the Roman Curia and the defusing of authority to bishop’s conferences and the Synod of Bishops, for liturgy based on the lowest common denominator, for eliminating everything Benedict XVI did, and, above all, for the rehabilitation of Liberation Theology.
For Vallely, Francis, over many years, finally converted from his rigid, authoritarian ways and his unjust suspicion of Liberation Theology to humility and, therefore, enlightened and wise acceptance of Liberation Theology.
As a matter of fact Vallely writes:
In his first weeks in office the new Pope made several public references to the environment – most notably a condemnation of the developed world’s ‘culture of waste’. But he has also privately been in touch with Boff and asked the Brazilian theologian to send him what he has written on eco-theology. Francis told Boff that wants to issue an encyclical on environmental matters.
We will have to keep an eye on what sort of Liberation Theology Pope Francis may be interested in or working with. Not all theologies of liberation are bad, of course. You could say that a liberation theology without the Marxism is pretty much just Catholic social teaching. Consider that in one of his books on liturgy, Joseph Card. Ratzinger used some points from Liberation Theology (which he knew inside and out).
Vallely wrote (my emphases):
Bergoglio’s thinking was more sophisticated on Liberation Theology than many credit. From the outset he was vehemently opposed to the Marxist analysis and the talk of class war adopted by some theologians. Yet he embraced the notion of the preferential option for the poor – though he viewed it from a distinctly Argentine perspective. Fr Humberto Miguel Yáñez, head of moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and also an Argentine Jesuit, explained: ‘Liberation Theology in Argentina is not as it is understood elsewhere in Latin America. Those who embraced aspects of Marxist thinking saw elements like culture and religion as tools of alienation rather than liberation and had difficulty accepting elements of popular culture and religion. In the more distinctly Argentinean strain, both philosophically and theologically, there was a strong appreciation of culture, in particular the culture of popular religiosity.’ The key thinker in this different approach was Fr Juan Carlos Scannone, a Jesuit who was a theologian at Colegio Máximo when Bergoglio was Provincial and Rector there. Scannone’s work emphasised all the qualities of folk religion – the rosaries, processions and novenas [!!!] – which Bergoglio so valued from his upbringing. For Scannone, local culture was an essential part of what he called the Theology of the Poor. He told me: ‘Some people think Argentine Theology of the Poor isn’t Liberation Theology at all and class it just as popular theology. But others see it as a current within Liberation Theology; the father of this theology Gustavo Gutiérrez and I wrote an article to that effect in 1982.’ The Vatican crackdown in the 1984 document entitled Instruction on certain aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’ did not object to all Liberation Theology, Scannone emphasised, but only that which used a Marxist analysis of society and history. ‘Argentine People’s Theology does not use Marxist analysis, but a historical and cultural one. It pays attention to social structures, but it does not consider class struggle as the main principle.’ Rather it concerns itself with how to change culture in line with gospel values, but also with how the gospel should be read differently in different cultures. Scannone saw the folk religion which Bergoglio so valued (see Chapter 2) as playing a key role in his theology. He too believed that it was best preserved ‘by the poor and simple people’.
Moreover, Vallely wrote in his summation section at the end:
The irony was that, 40 years on, he had arrived at a similar understanding of social justice to that of Yorio and Jalics, the two Jesuits he had cut off because of their work in the slums. The Cold War was over and with it the need to see Liberation Theology as some kind of stalking horse for secularised anti-Church Communism supplanting Catholicism along with capitalism in Latin America. Liberation Theology had been more right than wrong, he began to conclude. Bergoglio started to honour the martyrs of Liberation Theology. As Pope he has unblocked the process to make a saint of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. And, under Francis, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, declared that the war between the Liberation Theology movement and Rome was over. Liberation Theology should henceforth be recognised, he pronounced, as ‘among the most important currents in 20th century Catholic theology’.
That said, I bring to your attention yesterday’s edition of the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. HERE Herein you will be able to read, in Italian, side-by-side articles by the aforementioned Archbp. Müller, Prefect of the CDF, and Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, one the “founders” so-to-speak of Liberation Theology.
I am not sure about what this portends for the larger Church, but I know what it portends for me: time to bone up on my Liberation Theology of all stripes.
Before some of you have a spittle-flecked nutty and start dashing around screaming that the Pope is a Marxist or that he is trying to sell the Vatican Museums in order to buy plumbing for people in the favelas, I suggest you breathe deeply and think for a while about what this might mean. First, if you are on the traditional side of things, review what I wrote HERE.
[G]et involved in your parishes or in the place where you attend the older form of Mass. Get involved especially in what the parish might have going in regard to spiritual and corporal works of mercy. If that means getting involved in a less-than-perfect RCIA program as a group leader, do it. If that means volunteering to visit the sick, do it. If that means offering to wash altar linens, do it. If that means helping with a food or clothing drive, or even starting them, do it. Do these things, firstly, because they are the right things to do. Do them also because traditional, hard identity Catholics are treated like second-class citizens in the Church. You need to give the lie to the impression which the controlling liberal class has about you. Don’t just go to your Mass and then go home without thinking about the parish again for another 6 days.
I take heart in the issue of a “freeing” theology (Christ is the Great Liberator, you know) which has to do with culture and popular devotions. It seems to me that our great Catholic devotions are traditional and that they flow from a Catholic culture which is pre-Conciliar. Think about it.
As a matter of fact, the post whence I extracted this excerpt is also a good way for me to respond to the many people who have been urging me by email and messages to comment on the conservative/traditional circular firing square going on (e.g., Catholic Answers, The Remnant, Patheos, Michael Voris, Fr. Longenecker, etc.).