the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America

Of some relevance to the continuing conversation about theology and justice are the following: James K. Smith reacts to a NY Times article

I should probably offer my two cents…(hopefully it’s worth that)…

1. I’m by and large ignorant of the history of the relationship between Benedict (Ratzinger) and the liberation theologians of S. America – I know the basic outline, and not much more. So I’m hesitant to say much.

2. I’ll defend the prerogative of the church to discipline theologians whose teachings contradict the church’s gospel. Theologians are the servants of the church, not its masters.

3. I’ll adamantly insist that by and large, the global church has made invisible its one-ness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity insofar as it has been unconcerned (at least in practice) with the plight of the poorest and most marginalized of our brothers and sisters. As Bonhoeffer says, “this invisibility is killing us!”

4. Thus, I doubt that silencing liberation theologians is a decision that will stand as a jewel in the crown of contemporary Catholicism in the final judgment (but that is emphatically not my call).

5. I tend to agree with Jamie Smith’s question as to whether or not statecraft (revolutionary or no) is the best vehicle for the attainment of real justice on the planet. It is certainly one piece of the picture, and where governments are abusing the populace that they are commanded to serve, there can be no justice. Of course, it is a matter of degree, and a state which achieves a greater degree of justice is always preferable.

6. Theologians should be concerned with concrete justice as a matter of degree (and therefore with questions of statecraft), but God’s ultimate justice always determines, shapes, and orients any contemporary concept of justice. So theologians also have an eye out for the bigger picture – responsibility before God and all creation.

7. The just society needs a strong church and a strong government. Properly, both institutions serve one another (even as they stand in tension with one another), as both fulfill their (dare I say) divinely given tasks. The Church’s proclamation includes the responsibility to speak the word of God to the government – and in most places that entails raising a voice for the voiceless.

That is my all too balanced (not to say muddled) opinion. Back to studying…

2 Replies to “the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America”

  1. Casey passed this along – it provides a bit more background for those who are interested. Casey wasn’t certain just how reputable the source is, and since Casey is a fairly reputable fellow, I’ll trust him in leaving the reliablility of the source as an open question. It doesn’t sound too odd though… If you are willing to stake your reputation on a refutation, then please convince us that the article is refutable rather than reputable.

    Pope John Paul II, the Reagan years
    & Liberation Theology

    JPII became pope in 1978 and in June 1979 his visited Poland. When his plane landed in Warsaw, the bells in all the country’s churches began to ring out. (In 1966, Pope Paul VI was refused permission to visit Poland.). Ronald Reagan, then campaigning for President, was watching the Polish welcome on TV at Santa Barbara, California with his friend Richard Allen, a Catholic, who later became the first national security adviser.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Polish-born national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, had represented JPII’s inauguration at St Peter in 1978. In June 1980, Carter met with JPII in June 1980 at the Vatican.
    In late 1980, Brz had begun a dialogue with Cardinal J Tomko, head of the Vatican’s propaganda ministry in which Poland and the infant Solidarity movement figured prominently and JPII got to know that the US was prepared to back Solidarity. In Dec 1980, Brz phoned the pope and warned him of the threat of Soviet invasion of Poland. He asked for his backing for an ultimatum threatening sanctions if USSR invaded. The Pope agreed to instruct his bishops. The Soviets retreated.

    Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador had pleaded fruitlessly with Carter to stop the US backing of repression – 6 weeks later, he was murdered in March 1980. Vatican commissions on JPII’s orders had visited Romero two times demanding that he explain his outspoken criticism of El Salvador s military rulers. After his murder, the pope appointed Fernando Saenz Lacalle as archbishop, a member of Opus Dei and a starch opponent of liberation theology. The appointment came as a slap in the face to hundreds of peasant church members and religious workers in Latin America. Progressive advancements were reversed and old inequalities were restored.

    Reagan took office in Jan 1981. He retained Brz as a consultant on Poland. Brz said: “We involved the Pope directly and he did whatever was to be done to sustain an underground effort. So Solidarity wasn’t crushed.” Reagan, son of a working-class Irish Catholic father and protestant mother, had won the lion’s share of the Catholic vote. He was drawn to other Catholic working class types, like Bill Casey who became CIA Director. Like Reagan, they believed the Marxist-Leninist vision to be spiritually evil and had to be destroyed. Reagan openly forged ties with the Pope and Vatican. By spring 1981, Casey and others were dropping in at the residence of the pope’s nuncio Archbishop Pio Laghi for breakfast and consultation. And Laghi visited the White House by the ‘back door’ for secret meetings with Casey and later the President.

    Around 1982, Casey met with the pope at the Vatican and showed him a photo (taken a spy satellite) of the Pope’s welcome when he visited Poland in 1979. The photo helped seal an informal secret alliance between the Holy See and the Reagan admin. Western agencies, notably the CIA, provided regular secret briefings on developments in the USSR, Poland, Chile, Argentina, China, on liberation theology, Middle East etc.

    JPII & Liberation Theology
    JPII’s intolerance of left leaning movements arose from the conservative traditions of the Polish church and his experience with the communist regime. Even as Archbishop of Krakow, he was one of 251 bishops who voted agasint the final draft of Gaudium et Spes, the document that sought to reform and modernise the church. (It was passed with 2331 votes in favour.) Any collective initiative for social justice was associated with Marxism and he became a natural ally with the US capitalist government.
    His first visit outside Italy was to Mexico in 1979 to attend the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). He told the assembled bishops: “The idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary or subversive does not tally with the Church’s beliefs.” As Swiss theologian Hans Kung said: “He saw too much Marxism in Liberation Theology.”

    In 1983, JPII publicly rebuked Fr Ernesto Cardenal for joining the Sandinista government as Minister of Culture. HE ignored the order and was defrocked. In the same year, on his visit to El Salvador, JPII made a token visit to Romero’s tomb, which had become a major pilgrimage centre for Latin Catholics. He called for the end to the civil war but said no word on Romero’s martyrdom.

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a document in 1984 warning that liberation theologians made a “disastrous confusion between the poor of the Scripture and the proletariat of Marx… transforming the rights of the poor into a class struggle…”
    In 1984, a meeting of Peruvian bishops convened to condemn the work of Fr Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology, refused to do so. In the same year, Franciscan Fr Leonardo Boff was summoned to Rome by the CDF for his work Church – Charism & Power: Essays in Militant Ecclesiology. He was backed by Cardinals Arns and Lorscheider. Boff was silence for a year but when the CDF cracked the whip again in 1991, he quit the priesthood.
    the Vatican began pressuring the progressive Brazilian prelates such as Dom Helder Camara of Olinda & Recife and Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Sao Paulo. When Camara retired at 75 in 1985, he was promptly replaced by an arch conservative, Dom Jose Sobrinho, who re-established the power of the landowners. Radical priests were disciplined and the local Justice & Peace Commission disbanded. Arns’ sprawling diocese was split into 5 sections, with those inhabited by the working classes in charge of conservative bishops.

    On Cardinal Pio Laghi
    He was the Vatican nuncio in Argentina (1974-1980) when the military regime waged its ‘dirty war’ against political opponents. He was director of an anti-communist crusade. Thousands of trade unionists and community activists simply disappeared, others were tortured and executed by death squads. The Mothers who campaigned for the disappearance of their children accused Pio Laghi for direct involvement in the atrocities, charging that he even ordered the torture of priests connected with left groups. He was seen regularly at the government’s torture centres and could decide on the fate of detainees. The Vatican transferred him to the US with the express mandate to combat the liberal tendencies in the North American church. Later in the 1990s returned to Italy where he was appointed to head the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Education. In 1997, a human rights group filed formal charges against the cardinal in Rome, 75 in 1997 – covered by diplomatic immunity and by the Lateran accords.]

    JPII’s support for Solidarity finally bore fruit. In July 1988, Soviet President Gorbachev agreed to a role for Solidarity in the government of Poland and in December 1990, Lech Walesa became president of Poland. Reagan’s second term had ended in 1989.

    1. Sunday Times, 23 Sept 1996
    2. John Paul II and the Hidden History of our time by Carl Bernstein & Marco Politi (Doubleday 1996)
    Note: Bernstein was an investigative journalist in the Watergate scandal
    3. The Mixed Legacy of John Paul II, N Menon, Frontline, issue 09, 23 April 2005.

    My only comments: This does seem to be a bit harsh on John Paul, there is probably a touch of bias pushing the facts. Second theologically, I’m inclined to agree that identifying the “poor” in Scripture with the proletariat in Marx’s writings is a mistake, if only for the difference in eschatology – revolution and overthrow vs. inheriting the earth. That isn’t to say that the particular people who Marx spoke of as the proletariat are excluded from the category that Scripture calls “the poor.”

  2. Another interaction with Casey on the question of whether or not theologians are servants of the church (#2 above)…


    Good post, thanks for keeping up the dialogue. I’m at home with a nasty case of the stomach flu, trying to hold on to my Gatorade long enough to absorb a few drops. What better time to send a few thoughts to Casey.

    When I said that theologians are properly understood as servants of the church and not its masters, I meant servants, not lackeys. The wild man who “didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” pronounced quite a few “woes” in his day. i take this to be the model. Simply because theologians serve the Church, (and are subject to its discipline) does not mean that they are merely stenographers for the party line.

    Rios Montt probably doesn’t understand himself this way, but in some sense he is a theologian who feels no duty to serve the church. His theology, “God gives power to whomever he wants, and he gave it to me.” is a divine stamp of approval planted on his butt-cheek. But the argument implied here is exactly anti-Christ-ian.

    1. God gave me power.
    2. I have the freedom to do what ever I want with this power.
    3. Therefore, God wants me to do whatever I want with this power.

    This is precisely the option that Jesus turned down every day of his life (temptation in the desert, rebuke of Peter, arrest in the Garden, etc.).

    Christian freedom is freedom-for-service and the greatest freedom is found in the midst of the deepest obedience. Freedom-from-obligation (i.e. autonomy) is a decidedly modern version of the concept, and to my mind, a fairly bad idea from the start.

    So back to the theologian proper (rather than the pseudo-theologizing dictator). Theologians are servants of the church, not independent agents . While a theologian may be paid by the academy, and enjoy the benefits that this setting provides, her primary allegiance is to the church. if theologians are independent agents trying to make a few bucks on metaphysical novelties, or if they are primarily revolutionaries who intend to bring about their own vision of God’s kingdom then the Christian-ness of their theology comes into question.

    Theologians are the church’s teachers, they are persons whose job it is to reflect carefully (with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, according to Karl Barth) on averything that happens in the church and in the world that God has reconciled to himself through his Son’s blood.

    That’s not to say that the church won’t get things wrong. That’s not to say that the church might not try to silence the very persons that they most need to listen to. You won’t hear a doctrine of ecclesial infallibility coming from me. Jesus’ freedom of speech landed him on the cross, and we do well to remember that Judas who betrayed him was called as a disciple from the beginning just like the others.

    Can I imagine an instance of church discipline that a theologian bent on serving the church would have to disobey in good conscience? Yes… Can I imagine a theologian who needs to be disciplined by the church to stop heretical teaching? Yes… I suppose that there is a whole lot of discernment needed in between.

Leave a Reply to ericdarylmeyer Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: