Peace Made between Muller and Gutierrez. but Bergoglio Isn't Falling for It
By Sandro Magister
September 5, 2013
ROME, September 5, 2013 – Next Sunday, in the basilica of Saint Barbara in Mantua, the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Gerhard Ludwig Muller, and the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez will present together the Italian edition of a book they have co-written dedicated to liberation theology, available starting Monday, September 9 in all bookstores:
G. Gutierrez, G.L. Muller, "Dalla parte dei poveri. Teologia della liberazione, teologia della Chiesa", Edizioni Messaggero-EMI, Padova, 2013, pp. 192, euro 15,00.
The book was released in Germany in 2004 without raising any particular stir, but this Italian reprinting has been hailed by some as an historic turning point: almost as if it were the signing of a peace treaty between liberation theology and the magisterium of the Church.
Gutierrez is considered one of the fathers of liberation theology, and Muller was his pupil and admirer. So much so that when in 2012 Benedict XVI called him to head the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, many demonstrated surprise.
It was precisely Joseph Ratzinger, in fact, when he was prefect of the congregation, who was responsible for the two connected “instructions” of 1984 and 1986 with which the Church of John Paul II subjected liberation theology to very severe criticism, motivated “by the certitude that the serious ideological deviations which it points out tends inevitably to betray the cause of the poor."
But evidently Ratzinger saw as acceptable the interpretation that Muller gave of the positions of Gutierrez, if he not only made him prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith but also entrusted to him the supervision of the complete edition of his theological works, which in German was already almost halfway completed.
Muller's positive judgment on liberation theology - read through the lens of Gutierrez - can be grasped from the very first lines of the page of the book reproduced further below:
"The ecclesial and theological movement of Latin America, known as liberation theology and which after Vatican II found a worldwide echo, is to be numbered, in my judgment, among the most significant currents of Catholic theology of the 20th century."
Further on he maintains:
"It is only by means of liberation theology that Catholic theology has been able to emancipate itself from the dualistic dilemma of the here and now and the afterlife, of earthly happiness and ultra-earthly salvation.”
The expression of Pope Francis: “I dream of a Church that is poor and for the poor” has been taken by many as the crowning of this absolution of liberation theology.
But it would be naive to consider the controversy closed.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio has never concealed his disagreement with essential aspects of this theology.
His theologians of reference have never been Gutierrez, nor Leonardo Boff, nor Jon Sobrino, but the Argentine Juan Carlos Scannone, who had elaborated a theology not of liberation but “of the people,” focused on the culture and religious sensibility of the common people, of the poor in the first place, with their traditional spirituality and their sensitivity to justice.
In 2005 - when the book by Muller and Gutierrez had already been released in Germany - the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires wrote:
"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.”
In the judgment of the brother of Leonardo Boff, Clodovis, the event that marked the farewell of the Latin American Catholic Church to what remained of liberation theology was the continental conference of Aparecida of 2007, inaugurated by Benedict XVI in person and with its protagonist Cardinal Bergoglio.
Clodovis Boff developed precisely in that period his "conversion." From being a leading exponent of liberation theology he became one of its most biting critics.
In 2008 the dispute erupted between the two brothers. In the judgment of Clodovis, the “fatal” error into which liberation theology falls is that of making the poor the "first operating principle of theology," substituting him for God and Jesus Christ.
With this consequence:
"The 'pastoral approach of liberation' becomes one arm among many of the political struggle. The Church makes itself like an NGO and thus even hollows itself out physically: it loses its combative and faithful operatives. Those 'outside' feel little attraction for a 'Church of liberation,' because for activism they already have NGO's, while for the religious experience they need much more than mere social liberation."
The danger that the Church could reduce itself to an NGO is an alarm bell that Pope Francis has rung repeatedly.
It would be deceptive to overlook this, in rereading the book by Muller and Gutierrez today.
The following is a preview of one of the pages, signed by the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.