When you hear talk of Liberation Theology, don’t be fooled.

You, like I, have been hearing a lot these days about a Church of “the poor” and a rehabilitation of Liberation Theology.  This has caused concern for some who are doctrinally coherent and orthodox and elation for liberals.

The following article has bias we need to watch out for.  At RNS Alessandro Speciale wrote:

Liberation theology finds new welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican

VATICAN CITY (RNS) A progressive theological current that emphasizes the Catholic Church’s closeness to the poor and the marginalized but was subject to decades of hostility and censure is now finding increasing favor in the Vatican under Pope Francis.

Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.

The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.

It’s a remarkable about-face for a movement that swelled in popularity but was later stamped out by the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and his longtime doctrinal czar, Benedict XVI.


This sure sounds like another example of pitting Francis against Benedict, no?  Francis v. Benedict and John Paul.

I direct you to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation.

In the preamble to the Instruction, we find this paragraph… from the horrible old docrinal “czar”… Joseph Card. Ratzinger:

This warning should in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the “preferential option for the poor.” It should not at all serve as an excuse for those who maintain the attitude of neutrality and indifference in the face of the tragic and pressing problems of human misery and injustice. It is, on the contrary, dictated by the certitude that the serious ideological deviations which it points out tends inevitably to betray the cause of the poor. More than ever, it is important that numerous Christians, whose faith is clear and who are committed to live the Christian life in its fullness, become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom, and human dignity because of their love for their disinherited, oppressed, and persecuted brothers and sisters. More than ever, the Church intends to condemn abuses, injustices, and attacks against freedom, wherever they occur and whoever commits them. She intends to struggle, by her own means, for the defense and advancement of the rights of mankind, especially of the poor.

Pretty repressive, huh?

Theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez are not the problem.  Not every strain or aspect of Liberation Theology is unacceptable.  So say both Card. Ratzinger and B. John Paul II.  In fact, every sound theology is a “theology of liberation”.  As a shorthand way of thinking about this, Liberation Theology without Marxism can fairly be called “Catholic Social Teaching”.

Be alert when you see discussions of Liberation Theology in the future.

The sort of Liberation Theology that Pope Francis eventually became interested in is not the strain that involves Marxism.  This is a good opportunity to “Read Francis Through Benedict”.

The Left will try to use this opening, the renewal of interest in Liberation Theology, to rehabilitate notions that are not acceptable.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jarthurcrank says:

    I have a distant memory of certain American liberal feminist theologians/activists being disappointed in Fr. Gutierrez’s supposedly dismissive attitudes towards their theological agenda as representing the interests of well-to-do middle class women and had little to do with the actual church of the poor. Which makes sense, because the NCR types are much more interested in preferred gender pronouns than the lives of oppressed Columbian shanty dwellers. They have nothing to offer such people other than giant puppets and gee-tars. If my memory is accurate, shouldn’t this be constantly pointed out?

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. tpodonnell says:

    Instruction on Certain Aspects! I think even a reminder of the name is helpful. Thank you for this expanded reminder as well. I never thought I’d see a day when Fr. Z spoke uncritically of Gustavo Gutiérrez, but I see that I missed last week’s post: https://wdtprs.com/2013/09/pope-francis-and-liberation-theology/

    Gutiérrez has honestly never been on my reading list, but he’ll find himself there shortly.

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  5. Polycarpio says:

    Fr. Z,

    I would add a corollary that we could call “When you hear talk of Oscar Romero & Liberation Theology, don’t be fooled.”

    As you may know, Archbishop Romero may be on the verge of beatification after a process begun under Pope John Paul, approved by the CDF under Pope Benedict, and apparently viewed very favorably by Pope Francis.

    Over at my blog, Super Martyrio, I tackle the myth that Romero had a Liberation Theology problem with the following five points:

    1. Romero knew that a Vatican correction of Liberation Theology would be coming down.
    2. The Correction of Liberation Theology that came down was consistent with criticisms of Liberation Theology that Romero himself had made.
    3. Romero’s understanding of Liberation Theology was consistent with Card. Ratzinger’s distinctions between orthodox and heterodox strands.
    4. Romero cared deeply for the poor and in this he broke bread with Liberation Theology, but he got there through an orthodox route.
    5. Romero described his own doctrinal innovation as a “Transfiguration Theology,” which, unlike Liberation Theology, began with the *divinity* of the Lord, spoke of liberation “from sin” and emphasized that the goal was not of this world.

    God bless.

  6. Norah says:

    Joseph Ratzinger and Liberation Theology


    Liberation Theology
    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
    This is a “private” document which preceded the Vatican Instruction of 1984.
    This is an excerpt from The Ratzinger Report

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