The Truth about Liberation Theology

Manila Bulletin, July 2, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Truth about Liberation Theology


I am amused at the way some international journalists are jumping to conclusions about the "revival of Liberation Theology." On the occasion of the beatification of the murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero last May 23, there was speculation in the international press about "views of a scorned movement shifting as Pope Francis focuses on the poor." I think I know a little more than these Johnny-come-lately commentators about the history of Liberation Theology because when I came back from my studies in the US in the mid-sixties, I went right into the eye of the storm of the controversy generated by the teachings of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian priest who is known as the founder of Liberation Theology. As a professor of development economics in both De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines, I had to confront the misguided interpretations of the social doctrine of the Church being given by a few vocal professors, priests, nuns, and student activists under the name of Liberation Theology.

I can understand why the head of the Jesuits in 1973, Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, thought Liberation Theology was too political and why, when he was named archbishop of Buenos Aires, he decided to focus on those unfortunate souls left behind by Argentina's economic upheaval. I am sure he saw what I experienced in my dealings with the proponents of Liberation Theology. Some of my students who became very passionate about the poor (a good thing in itself) started to renounce their Catholic faith and got bitten by the materialist dogma of Karl Marx, who did not believe in anything spiritual. Even some priests and nuns, some of whom fled to the hills to fight with communist rebels, stopped teaching Catechism to the poor, maintaining that "doctrine cannot be eaten." Their entire focus was to liberate the poor from economic deprivation, using the defective Marxist theory about why there are poor people. In fact, I had to explain to them that even from a scientific point of view, the Marxist theories about the "immerisation" of the workers in the process of industrialization did not have any empirical backing. Because of the introduction of social security and labor legislation, especially in countries like Germany and the United States, the Marxist prediction about the eventual downfall of an economy based on private ownership did not materialize. The liberation theologists were so obsessed with applying class struggle to Christian apostolate that they ended up recommending the very unchristian attitude of "hating the rich" in order to help the poor.

That is why Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his capacity as the Prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith had to come out with two documents assessing the Theology of Liberation in the light of Catholic Doctrine. In those documents, he emphasized that there is a liberation theology that is very much in keeping with the teachings of Christ: the liberation of every human being from sin. In fact, even if is true that there are sinful structures (unbridled capitalism, monopoly capitalism, legislation allowing abortion and same-sex marriage, etc. …

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