Pope Francis: Liberation Theologian?

Liberation theologians are claiming that the election of Pope Francis, who has a history of personally ministering to the poor, will herald an era in which their tenets are championed around the world instead of suppressed, as they supposedly were under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who had been John Paul II’s chief theologian as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Prominent liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said Pope Francis will fix a church "in ruins":

With this pope, a Jesuit and a pope from the Third World, we can breathe happiness. Pope Francis has both the vigor and tenderness that we need to create a new spiritual world. Pope Francis comes with the perspective that many of us in Latin America share. In our churches we do not just discuss theological theories, like in European churches. Our churches work together to support universal causes, causes like human rights, from the perspective of the poor, the destiny of humanity that is suffering, services for people living on the margins.

Boff had been told to remain silent by the two previous popes, who feared a connection between socially active priests and leftist politics. Francis had joined them; in 2010 he averred that reading the Gospel with a Marxist interpretation would cause trouble.

Liberation theology emerged in Latin America in the late 1960s, asserting that the problems in the region were from dependence on capitalism, and that Latin America needed a socialist revolution. Hundreds of Argentine priests agreed that Christian teaching "inescapably obliges us to join in the revolutionary process for urgent radical change of existing structures and to reject formally the capitalistic system we see around us....We shall go forward in search of a Latin American brand of socialism that will hasten the coming of the new man." 

Repressive regimes in Nicaragua and El Salvador were overthrown, replaced by Marxist governments.  But Pope John Paul II criticized liberation theology's borrowings from Marxism and the way it called for violence. In recent years liberation theologians have begun eschewing violence, though they have not distanced themselves from Marxist underpinnings.

Brazilian Archbishop Odilo Scherer, who had been a likely candidate to be pope, sais last year that liberation theology "lost its reason of being because of its Marxist ideological underpinnings which are incompatible with Christian theology. It had its merits by helping bring back into focus matters like social justice, international justice and the liberation of oppressed peoples. But these were always constant themes in the teachings of the Church.”

The connection between liberation theology and Marxism can be explained by their common belief that salvation comes from redistributing wealth in order to achieve economic and political parity, as opposed to the basic Christian idea of salvation through grace.


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