”If Jesus were alive today, He would be a guerrillero.” –Camilo Torres Restrepo
With Lent almost upon us and the day of the Lord's resurrection only slightly further ahead, I think it's a fitting time to discuss liberation theology. And I think the most appropriate place to begin the discussion is with Gustavo Gutierrez, who will be quoted extensively below.
Gutierrez is a member of the Dominican Order and professor at Notre Dame, the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Theology, actually. But over forty years ago, in another lifetime practically, he wrote the seminal work "A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation." That was back when he still lived in his native Peru and, with Latin America in a state of upheaval, he was the first to iterate what became to be known as liberation theology, a growing movement in South America and Central America that challenged the powers that be and the state of affairs in the global south.
The theology of liberation offers us not so much a new theme for reflection as a new way to do theology. Theology as a critical reflection on historical praxis is a liberating theology, a theology of the liberating transformation of the history of mankind and also therefore that part of mankind – gathered into ecclesia – which openly confesses Christ. This is a theology which does not stop with reflecting on the world, but rather tries to be part of the process through which the world is transformed. It is a theology which is open – in protest against a trampled human dignity, in the struggle against the plunder of the vast majority of people, in liberating love, and in the building of a new, just, and fraternal society – to the gift of the Kingdom of God.
The goal therefore was to reject the exclusiveness which "doctrine" enjoyed in Christian life and the emphasis on “an orthodoxy which is often nothing more than fidelity to an obsolete tradition or a debatable interpretation.” Liberation theologians were, of course, not shy about turning a critical eye on the Church. Edward Schillebeeckx, also of the Dominican Order (and an influential voice in the 2nd Vatican Council) said the following:
”It is evident that thought is also necessary for action. But the Church has for centuries devoted her attention to formulating truths and meanwhile did almost nothing to better the world. In other words, the Church focused on orthodoxy and left orthopraxis in the hands of nonmembers and nonbelievers."
This is a harsh criticism, but it is warranted. Historically, the Church's interaction with the world previously operated according to a theory known as Christendom. Under this theory, temporal realities did not have authentic existence. The plan for the Kingdom of God had no room for a profane, historical plan. Outside the Church, there was no salvation, and, therefore, the Church was justified in presenting itself as a powerful force in relation to the world. And this understanding inevitably expressed itself in the political arena. Participation in temporal tasks meant, for the Christian, to work for the direct and immediate benefit of the Church. Evidence of this is the ban on Italian Catholics which prohibited them from participating in the political life of their country into the 20th century.
On the path to liberation theology, Christendom first was supplanted by New Christendom. If Augustinian theology predominated the former approach, Thomism does the latter. Thomas Aquinas taught that grace does not suppress or replace nature, but perfects it. If one is devoted to this theory, it is apparent we must build a society inspired by Christian principles; the city of man is a city of brotherhood and justice. But also under this line of thinking, the autonomy of the temporal sphere asserts itself, and is seen as outside the Church's competency. According to the New Christendom line of thinking, the Church still was not to interfere in the temporal sphere except through moral teaching.
However, the New Christendom theory was still ultimately timid. The distinction of planes (temporal and spiritual) approach burned itself out as religious groups began to recognize the oppressive and alienating conditions that are offensive to man, and therefore to God. In "The legitimizing function of religion to the Brazilian dictatorship," Hugo Assman asks whether the Church is fulfilling a purely religious role, when by its silence or friendly relationships it lends legitimacy to a dictatorial and oppressive government. We begin to realize a unity between the Church and the world is necessary. And according to Rudolf Buttman:
The thought of the action of God as an unworldy and transcendent action can be protected from misunderstanding only if it is not thought of as an action which happens between the worldy actions or events, but as happening within them. The close connection between natural and historical events remains intact as it presents itself to the observer. The action of God is hidden from every eye except the eye of faith... It is within them that God's hidden action is taking place.
This rejection of New Christendom leads us to the milieu in which liberation theology is able to present itself. Gutierrez:
Biblical faith does indeed affirm the existence of creation as distinct form the Creator; it is the proper sphere of man, whom God himself has proclaimed lord of this creation. Worldliness, therefore, is a must, a necessary condition for an authentic relationship between man and nature, of men among themselves, and finally, between man and God.
Having established the Church's need to intervene in worldly affairs on behalf of the oppressed, we can enter a phase of analysis which lands upon conclusions I think most here are familiar with. For example, Gutierrez rejects "developmentalism":
...Development – approached from an economic and modernizing point of view – has therefore been frequently promoted by international organizations closely linked to groups and governments which control the world economy. The changes encouraged were to be achieved within the formal structure of the existing institutions without challenging them. Great care was exercised, therefore, not to attack the interests of large international economic powers nor those of their natural allies, the ruling domestic interest groups. Furthermore, the so-called changes were often nothing more than new and underhanded ways of increasing the power of strong economic groups. Developmentalism thus came to be synonymous with reformism and modernization, that is to say, synonymous with timid measures, really ineffective in the long run and counterproductive to achieving a real transformation.
Liberation theology has no such timidity. Gutierrez goes on to say:
Attempts to bring about changes within the existing order have proven futile. This analysis of the situation is at the level of scientific rationality. Only a radical break from the status quo, that is, a profound transformation of the private property system, access to power of the exploited class, and a social revolution that would break this dependence would allow for the change to a new society, a socialist society -- or at least allow that such a society might be possible ... In this light, to seek about the process of liberation begins to appear more appropriate and richer in human content.
He says also:
In the underdeveloped countries one starts with a rejection of the existing situation, considered as fundamentally unjust and dehumanizing. Although this is a negative vision, it is nevertheless the only one which allows us to go to the root of the problems and to create without compromises a new social order, based on justice and brotherhood. This rejection does not produce an escapist attitude, but rather a will to revolution.
Liberation theologians recognize that radical change requires struggle. The Conference of Latin American Bishops at Medellín said the exploitation of man by man is "a sitaution of injustice that can be called institutional violence." This view allows for a study of complex problems of counterviolence without falling into the pitfall of a double standard which assumes that violence is acceptable when the oppressor uses it to maintain "order" and is bad when the oppressed invoke it to change this "order." An important part of Latin American clergy requested, moreover, that "in considering the problem of violence in Latin America, let us by all means avoid equating the unjust violence of the oppressors (who maintain this despicable system) with the just violence of the oppressed (who feel obliged to use it to achieve their liberation)."
The Gospel announces the love of God for all people and calls us to love as he loves. But liberation theology boldly says that to love all men does not mean avoiding confrontations; it does not mean preserving a fictitious harmony. Universal love is that which in solidarity with the oppressed seeks also to liberate the oppressors from their own power, from their ambition, and from their selfishness:
"Love for those who live in a condition of objective sin demands that we struggle to liberate them from it. The liberation of the poor and the liberation of the rich are achieved simultaneously." –Fr. Giulio Girardi
So, Gutierrez says, one loves the oppressors by liberating them from their inhuman condition as oppressors, by liberating them from themselves. But this cannot be achieved except by resolutely opting for the oppressed, that is, by combating the oppressive class. It must be a real and effective combat, not hate. This is the challenge, as new as the Gospel: to love our enemies. Love does not mean that oppressors are no longer enemies, nor does it eliminate the radicalness of the combat against them.
"Kill the oppressors, but kill them with love in your heart." –Dead Ken
"Love of enemies" does not ease tensions; rather it challenges the whole system and becomes a subversive formula. "Universal love comes down from the level of abstractions and becomes concrete and effective by becoming incarnate in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed... On the contrary, our love is not authentic if it does not take the path of class solidarity and social struggle. To participate in class struggle not only is not opposed to universal love; this commitment is today the necessary and inescapable means of making this love concrete."
A Scripture of Liberation
"I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their outcry against their slave-masters. I have taken heed of their sufferings, and have come down to rescue them from the power of Egypt." –God
The concept of liberation is prominent throughout both the Old Testament and the New. Exodus, the backbone of the Old Testament and its greatest story, is a tale of liberation. In the New Testament, Christ's sacrifice was a liberating sacrifice.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." –Galatians 5:1
Revealing Christ's sacrifice as an act of liberation begins with an analysis of sin, from which Christ saved us. Just as hell exists only as a self-selected separation from God, so too sin exists as a refusal to love God, and therefore, a refusal to love one's neighbors. It is through this action, this rejection of our neighbors and refusal to love, that one is participating in the cause of all poverty, injustice, and oppression, which is sin. Behind every unjust structure and institution, there is a personal or collective will responsible. Sin thus appears as the fundamental alienation, the root of a situation of injustice and exploitation. Only by participating in the historical process of liberation can one see this fundamental alienation within every partial alienation. This radical liberation is the gift Christ offers us. By his death and resurrection he redeems man from sin and all its consequences.
The 1963 conference of Bishops in Medellín says:
It is the same God who, in the future fullness of time, sends his son in the flesh, so that He might come to liberate all men from all slavery to which sin has subjected them: hunger, misery, oppression, and ignorance, in a word, that injustice and hatred which have their origin in human selfishness.
"It is precisely because Christ introduces us into this communion with God and all men that he conquers sin -- which is the negation of love -- and all its consequences," writes Gutierrez.
From Lumen Gentium, a principal document of the Second Vatican Council:
Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, "though He was by nature God . . . emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave", and "being rich, became poor" for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart", "to seek and to save what was lost". Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes." By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.
The interpretation of Christ as liberator is quite clear, but the story of liberation in the Old Testament is a more literal one. "The liberation of Israel is a political action. It is the breaking away from a situation of despoliation and misery and the beginning of the construction of a just and fraternal society. It is the supression of disorder and the creation of a new order," writes Gutierrez. The initial chapters of Exodus describe the oppression in which the Jewish people lived in Egypt, in that "land of slavery" (13:3; 20:2; Deut. 5:6): repression (1:10-11), alienated work (5:6-14), humiliations (1:13-14). "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their outcry against their slave-masters. I have taken heed of their sufferings, and have come down to rescue them from the power of Egypt... I have seen the brutality of the Egyptians towards them. Come now; I will send you to Pharaoh and you shall bring my people Israel out of Egypt" (3:7-10). Sent by God, Moses began a long, hard struggle for the liberation of his people. The alienation of the children of Israel was such that at first "they did not listen to him; they had become impatient because of their cruel slavery" (6:9). What we see here might be interpreted as false consciousness. Even after they had left Egypt, when they were threatened by Pharaoh's armies, they complained to Moses: "Were there no graves in Egypt, that you should have brought us here to die in the wilderness? See what you have done to us by brigning us out of Egypt! Is not this just what we meant when we said in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us be slaves to the Egyptians'? We would rather be slaves to the Egyptians than die here in the wilderness" (14:11-12). And in the midst of the desert, faced with the first difficulties, they told him that they preferred the security of slavery – whose cruelty they were beginning to forget – to the uncertainties of a liberation in process: "If only we had died at the Lord's hand in Egypt, where we sat round the fleshpots and had plenty of bread to eat!" (16:3). "A gradual pedagogy of successes and failures would be necessary for the Jewish people to become aware of the roots of their oppression, to struggle against it, and to perceive the profound sense of the liberation to which they were called," says Gutierrez.
Thus we see that both books in the Bible are stories of liberation. What's more, we see many pronouncements in the Old Testament, the book of fire and brimstone, floods and pillars of salt, that indeed, surprisingly perhaps, seem socialist in nature. Isaiah 65:21-23, for example, commands that the workers shall own the means of production. Some additional notable passages:
"You shall not keep back the wages of a man who is poor and needy, whether a fellow-countryman or an alien living in your country in one of your settlements. Pay him his wages on the same day before sunset, for he is poor and his heart is set on them: he may appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin," Deut. 24:14-15.
"Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker," Prov. 17:5.
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need," Eph. 4:25-28.
The prophets condemn every form of keeping the poor impoverished. Gutierrez rattles off a long series of citations where the oppressors are given their due blame: Fraudulent commerce and exploitation (Hos. 12:8; Amos 8:5; Mic. 6:10-11, Isa. 3:14; Jer. 5:27, 6:12), hoarding of lands (Mic. 2:1-3; Ezek. 22:29; Hab. 2:5-6), dishonest courts (Amos 5:7, Jer. 22:13-17; Mic. 3:9-11; Isa. 5:23, 10:1-2), violence of ruling classes (2 Kings 23:30, 35; Amos 4:1; Mic. 3:1-2; 6:12; Jer. 22:13-17), and more... In the New Testament, oppression by the rich is condemned in Luke 6:24-25; 12:13-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-26, and in the Letter of James (2:5-9; 4:13-17; 5:16).
Also in the New Testament, we have one of the most famous passages here, Matthew 19:16-30:
As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Yea, my children, the Bible not only denounces poverty and its causes, it also lays out a set of rules designed to prevent the accumulation of wealth and the accumulation of debt. It is said that what remains in the fields after the harvest and gathering of olives and grapes should not be collected; it is for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. This legislation is outlined in Deut. 24:19-21 and Lev. 19:9-10. And the edge of the fields should be left unharvested as well, for these people (Lev. 23:22). More citations from Gutierrez follow: the triennial tithe is not to be carried to the temple; rather it is for the alien, the orphan, and the widow (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12). Interest on loans is forbidden (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:20). Every seven years the fields were to be left to lie fallow "to provide food for the poor of your people" (Exod. 23:11; Lev. 25:2-7). After seven years the slaves were to regain their freedom (Exod. 21:2-6) and debts were to be pardoned (Deut. 15:1-18). This brings us to the Jubilee, which David Graeber makes the case for in his book "Debt: The First 5000 Years." The Jubilee is described in Leviticus 25:8-24 and takes place every 50 years. In this way we see not only a theology of liberation, based on the philosophy of the ecclesiastical class as described in part one of this post, but also a basis for liberation theology found in the scripture.
As liberation theology takes its inspiration from scripture, so it in turn had influence on the Second Vatican Council and perhaps Pope John Paul VI. In Populorum progressio, the Pope wrote: about "building a world where every man, no matter what his race, religion, or nationality, can live a fully human life, freed from servitude imposed on him by other men or by natural forces over which eh has not sufficient control." Populorum progressio energetically denounces the "international imperialism of money," "situations whose injustice cries to heaven," and the growing gap between rich and poor. From Populorum: "Less human conditions first affect those who are so poor as to lack the minimum essentials for life;... then they affect those who are oppressed by social structures which have been created by abuses of ownership or by abuses of power, by the exploitation of workers or by unfair business deals." This subhuman condition is characterized by sin and injustice. It is necessary to rise gradually from this position toward a more human state of things: "More human conditions of life clearly imply passage from want to the possession of necessities, overcoming social evils, increase of knowledge and acquisition of culture. Other more human conditions are increased esteem for the dignity of others, a turning toward the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, and the will for peace. Then comes the acknowledgement by man of supreme values and of God, their source and finality."
In Gaudium et Spes, one of the constitutions resulting from Vatican 2, recognizes the problem facing poor nations:
Nations on the road to progress ... continually fall behind while very often their dependence on wealtheier nations deepens more rapidly, even in the economic sphere ... Although nearly all people have gained their independence, it is still far from true that they are free from excessive inequalities and from every form of undue dependence. (These assertions should lead to a discernment of the need to be free from dependence, to be liberated from it.) Thus we are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by his responsibility toward his brothers and toward history ... lies a deeper and more widespread longing. Persons and socieities thirst for a full and free life worthy of man -- one in which they can subject to their own welfare all that the modern world can offer them so abundantly.
The theme of liberation appears more completely discussed in the Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin, Colombia, mentioned previously. In this conference the bishops agreed that the church should take "a preferential option for the poor." The bishops decided to form Christian "base communities" in which they would teach the poor how to read by using the Bible. The goal of the bishops was to liberate the people from the "institutionalized violence" of poverty. They informed the people that poverty and hunger were preventable. The movement allowed for the poor to object to the hegemony and hierarchy they had been subjected to for the past centuries. Instead of accepting only what they were given, the people could now demand more. The bishops and nuns that took part in this effort were hoping that the "religious fervor" of the region would help make the result extremely powerful. They felt that the poor were the blessed people and that the church has a duty to help them. The situation is not judged from the point of view of the countries at the center, but rarther of those on the periphery, providing insiders' experience of their anguish and aspirations.
"If God is the Absolute Other, then that God is revealed first among those persons who themselves are excluded and marginalized, ie, those who are most 'other' to our society." –Roberto Goizueta
A History of Liberation
”It would be unjust and deplorable for foreign powers to intervene and frustrate the Salvadoran people, to repress them and keep them from deciding autonomously the economic and political course that our nation should follow.” –Oscar Romero, in letter to President Carter one month before his murder
When he wrote "A Theology of Liberation," Gutierrez was living in his native Peru. He was optimistic about Chile and Allende, and wrote about the Second Vatican Council with enthusiasm, as he saw the messages of liberation theology begin to be incorporated by the Church. Since then, many of his compatriots have been defrocked, priests across South America were murdered, and the progress he was encouraged by within the Church has been halted. It's hard not to take a cynical view of humanity when confronted with the vision of even priests being slaughtered in the service of imperialist powers for the crime of speaking for the people. It's hard not to take a cynical view of the Church when we consider the triumph of its most conservative elements.
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci criticized St. Francis as an example of how, in the abuse of the poor by the rich in the Middle Ages, religious devotion led to passivity, “the mattress against the bullet.” Perhaps Gutierrez has a little St. Francis in him. He is now an expatriate, teaching in South Bend, and he even sought to adapt his seminal work to fit within Rome's guidelines, by removing its many references to Marxism. This has allowed him to avoid the censure, much like how the humility of Francis allowed his sect to be recognized by the Church. Critics continue to grumble, however, that Gutierrez has not rejected the concept of class struggle or orthopraxis.
The Church has always been leery of Marxism. When Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop, he was considered a safe, conservative choice. Things turned out otherwise after he saw his friend, a fellow priest, murdered for his political activity. Romero, while not openly embracing liberation theology or some of his more radical colleagues, nevertheless had the bravery to speak out against the violence of the regime in El Salvador and its paramilitaries. He was killed while saying mass, shot as he raised the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic rite. Three of the assassins - including Major Roberto D'Aubuisson - studied at the notorious US Army School of the Americas, a US military college in Fort Benning, Georgia, which for decades taught counter-insurgency to more than 60,000 cadets from Latin American regimes. Tens of thousands of mourners who had gathered for Romero's funeral Mass in front of the cathedral in San Salvador were filmed fleeing in terror as army gunners on the rooftops around the square opened fire, and forty people were killed. And Oscar Romero was only a centrist whose primary cause was defending human rights. And yet this outrage against God and humanity passed, not with revolution, but with more murdered priests:
SAN SALVADOR — Symbols are rarely subtle in El Salvador, as in the execution-style slayings of six Jesuit educators last week. The killers not only left the bodies for all to see but, in case anyone should miss the point, they shattered the priests' skulls, too.
Grande (friend of Romero) was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in March, 1977. Two months later, another priest, Father Alfonso Navarro, was killed in his parish in the capital. More than a dozen others were expelled or denied re-entry into El Salvador. The Jesuit-run radio YSAX was bombed, and pamphlets circulated that said, "Be a Patriot! Kill a Priest."
LA Times, November 19, 1989.
Reactionary violence has not been limited to El Salvador. Henrique Pereira was a Brazilian priest killed by a terrorist anti-communist group. In Haiti, of course, there was Aristide, whose first reign as President is summarized in the NYT article below:
After two centuries of foreign occupiers, dictators, generals, a self-appointed president for life and the overthrow of more than 30 governments, Haitians finally had the chance in 1990 to elect the leader they wanted. The people chose Mr. Aristide, a priest who had been expelled from his Roman Catholic order for his fiery orations of liberation theology.
"He was espousing change in Haiti, fundamental populist change," said Robert Maguire, a Haiti scholar who has criticized American policy as insufficiently concerned with Haiti's poor. "Right away, he was viewed as a threat by very powerful forces in Haiti."
President Aristide promised not only to give voice to the poor in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but also to raise the minimum wage and force businesses to pay taxes. He rallied supporters with heated attacks on the United States, a tacit supporter of past dictatorships and a major influence in Haitian affairs since the Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.
"He wasn't going to be beholden to the United States, and so he was going to be trouble," said Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, a Democratic critic of Bush administration policy on Latin America. "We had interests and ties with some of the very strong financial interests in the country, and Aristide was threatening them." Those interests, mostly in the textile and electronic assembly businesses, sold many of their products cheap to the United States.
When the Haitian military, with the support of the business elite, overthrew Mr. Aristide after just shy of eight months in office, the administration of George H. W. Bush criticized the loss of Haiti's first democracy, but did not intervene militarily.
Raymond A. Joseph, the current interim government's ambassador to the United States, recalls a speech that Mr. Aristide gave in September 1991. "That's the speech," Mr. Joseph said, "that triggered the coup d'état against him, where he said, 'Whenever you feel the heat under your feet, turn your eyes to the mountains where the wealthy are, they're responsible for you. Go give them what they deserve.' "
Some fought back, including martyrs such as Gaspar García Laviana in Nicaragua, and Camilo Torres Restrepo, in Colombia. If you're interested in further reading, I found the full pdf of a journal article on the history of the Chilean movement Christians for Socialism.
The liberation movement was vast at its apex, and came under fire not just from paramilitaries, but also from the Church for its Marxist allegiances. "The biblical concept of the poor provides a starting point for fusing the Bible's view of history with Marxist dialectic; it is interpreted by the idea of the proletariat in the Marxist sense and thus justifies Marxism as the legitimate hermeneutics for understanding the Bible,” wrote one cardinal, whom was also the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithful, which would state the official Church view and guidance on the budding theology, stating the Church wished “to draw the attention of pastors, theologians, and all the faithful to the deviations, and risks of deviation, damaging to the faith and to Christian living, that are brought about by certain forms of liberation theology which use, in an insufficiently critical manner, concepts borrowed from various currents of Marxist thought.” The cardinal who writing these words was Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI (once famously called a "religious terrorist" by liberation theologian Leonardo Boff).
Pope John Paul II is frequently regarded as saintly. A hit piece by Gustavo Arellano, however, takes him to the task for his treatment of the liberation theology movement. "He removed priests and bishops who bravely stood against the marauding forces. In one famous incident, he reprimanded Nicaraguan priest Ernesto Cardenal on national television for his support of the Sandinistas over the Reagan-backed contras and scolded into silence a crowd of parishioners who shouted We want peace!" This rebuke of "silence!" to the crowd is often seen as a symbolic rebuke of liberation theology. Arellano continues, "While Romero lived, John Paul II reprimanded him thrice in private, once even asking him to align himself with the Salvadoran dictatorship. Romero refused, calling the request “unjust.” Shortly after Romero’s assassination, a Washington Post columnist gasped that “the pope’s outrage was so muted that it was taken as a political statement of its own.” And while John Paul II rewarded other lesser Catholics with sainthood, Romero isn’t so much as beatified, even though his shrine in San Salvador includes crutches, photographs, testimonies – the witness of thousands."
To avoid ending this post on a note of futility and crushed hope, let's examine some of the promise that remains, found in Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), also called Basic Christian Communities or Small Christian Communities. I have no idea how large these communities are. These were noted above in the discussion of the Medellin conference of bishops. Courtesy of wikipedia:
It is contended that the movement has its origin and inspiration from liberation theology. The emergence of the movement is regarded as part of the concrete realization of the communitarian model of the Church (as Communion and as People of God) promoted by the Second Vatican Council. The communities are considered as a new way of "being the Church"— the Church at the grassroots, in the neighborhood and villages. The earliest communities emerged in Brazil and in the Philippines in the late 1960s and later spread to Africa, Asia and in recent times in Austalia and North America. The vision of a renewed Church that Vatican II spelt out in the conciliar documents Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes was to be realized in the BECs. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II affirmed that "BECs are centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach. They are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, a solid starting point for a new society based on a "civilization of love." BECs decentralize and organize the parish community to which they remain united. They take root among the less privileged. They become a leaven of Christian life, care for the poor,and commitment to the transformation of society... They are a means of evangelization and of initial proclamation of the Gospel - a source of new ministries. They are a true expression of communion and a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are a cause for great hope for the life of the Church."
Anyway, most of this was obviously quotes from things, and even when it wasn't it probably was just me paraphrasing what I read, but ah... Cheers!