The archbishop of Lima, Peru said he fears that the Vatican prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has naively suggested that Pope Francis is supportive of liberation theology.
According to a story in the Vatican Insider Thursday, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima has called into question comments by CDF prefect Archbishop Gerhard Müller, a friend of Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founders of the school of liberation theology and his co-author of a book on the subject.
Liberation theology is a school of thought that developed in Latin America in the 1950s. The philosophy is based on a Marxist interpretation of the gospel and centers on freedom from material poverty and injustice rather than the dominance of spiritual freedom and freedom from sin.
When Gutiérrez, also from Peru, visited Rome in September, Müller drew attention to Pope Francis’ meeting with him which, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), took place at the insistence of Müller.
CNA reported that Vatican analyst Sandro Magister said the meeting between Francis and Gutiérrez was “behind closed doors.” Magister also reportedly described the pope as having distanced himself from Müller because of his friendship with Gutiérrez. During a question-and-answer session with priests afterward, Magister said Francis’ comment on liberation theology was “serious and sharp,” though it went largely unnoticed by the media, including the Vatican press office.
“In the formulation of one of the five questions posed to Pope Francis, a priest asking about the centrality of the poor in pastoral ministry made a direct reference to liberation theology and Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s stance in support of this theology,” Magister stated.
However, “upon hearing the name of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis didn’t let the priest finish his question and said, ‘That is what Müller thinks, that is what he thinks,'” Magister reported.
Müller himself reportedly responded to a question in which he stressed the importance of “reconciliation” among the “parties” within the Church.
Cipriani, however, irked by Müller’s calling attention to the meeting between the pope and Gutiérrez, said the event was exaggerated.
“I still say [Müller] is naïve,” Cipriani stated. “Gustavo Gutiérrez concelebrated Mass with the Pope and 25 other priests. At the end of the Mass, the Pope greeted everyone and he did the same with Gutiérrez. Let’s not make up stories about an audience and some reconciliation now.”
The Peruvian cardinal, the first prelate to head a diocese belonging to the Opus Dei, the Catholic institution devoted to the message that the circumstances of everyday life are occasions for growing closer to God, made clear that he was not questioning Müller’s qualifications as prefect of the CDF.
“I don’t agree with his statement about parties within the Church,” Cipriani said. “I think he has got it wrong. Mgr. Müller’s job is to defend the sound doctrine of the Catholic faith so he should stop being naïve and be more prudent. I say this with all humility.”
Regarding Pope Francis’ decision to confirm Müller’s position as head of the CDF, Cipriani commented, “He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to theology and is editing Ratzinger’s Opera Omnia, or complete works. He is an academic with a university background. No one questions his intellectual abilities.”
Müller was appointed by his good friend, Pope Benedict XVI, a strong critic of liberation theology, to oversee and secure the doctrine of the Catholic faith. Benedict himself, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, had been appointed prefect of the CDF by Pope John Paul II.
However, every year since 1998, according to Vatican analyst John Allen, Müller has traveled to Peru to “take a course” from Gutiérrez. In 2008, he also accepted an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, widely viewed as a stronghold of the progressive wing of the Peruvian church.
“The theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, independently of how you look at it, is orthodox because it is orthopractic,” Müller said. “It teaches us the correct way of acting in a Christian fashion since it comes from true faith.”
One controversial statement by Gutiérrez was his claim:
Only a radical break with the present state of things, a profound transformation of the property system, the access to power by the exploited class, a social revolution that breaks up that dependence, will allow a different society, a Socialist society to come to pass.
Müller’s association with Gutiérrez led to a push by traditionalists to attempt to block his appointment by Benedict to head the CDF. The concern, as evidenced by emails that circulated, was that Müller was not a man of “secure doctrine.”
Conservative church leaders have pointed to Müller’s views on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Müller said it should not be understood in a “physiological” sense), the Eucharist (Müller advised against use of the terms “body and blood of Christ” to describe the consecrated elements of bread and wine during Mass), and ecumenism (Müller declared that Protestants are “already part of the church” founded by Christ).
Müller’s defenders, however, have argued that their friend’s words were taken out of context or are already consistent with Church teachings.
Indeed Müller, 65, is known in his native Germany as a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy, yet not an ideologue. He has been the key Vatican player in the overhaul of the feminist-leaning Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that was demanded by the CDF in April of 2012, and, in April of this year, informed the LCWR that Pope Francis had reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform that were determined necessary by Pope Benedict.
Cardinal Cipriani commented during his weekly radio show upon the occasion of Pope Francis’ meeting with Gutiérrez.
“The Church does not accept Marxist class warfare,” he said. “During the last conversation I had with Gutiérrez, before he left Lima… I told him that in his youth he took stances that he should correct now that he is older.”
Cipriani made clear that when Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the CDF, issued the 1984 document, Liberatis Nuntius (Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation), he fully intended to demonstrate that Gutiérrez’s philosophy was not in keeping with the doctrine of the Church.
“If we look carefully at Ratzinger’s instruction,” Cipriani said, “we can see very clearly that the writings of Gutiérrez still need to be corrected.”