Here is a speech that some may not have expected to hear– the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, speaking positively about Liberation Theology. Speaking of his experiences learning from Gustavo Gutierrez and his living encounters with the poor in Peru, this is part of what he said:
The first thing Gustavo taught us was to understand that this is about theology, not politics. In line with the great papal social encyclicals, he also clearly outlined the difference between liberation theology and Catholic social ethics. While social ethics is based on natural law and seeks to ensure the foundations of a just social state relying on the principles of self, subsidiarity and solidarity, in the case of liberation theology it’s about a practical and theoretical program that aims to understand the world, history and society and transform them in light of the God’s own supernatural revelation as savior and liberator of man.
How one can speak of God in the face of human suffering, of the poor who don’t have sustenance for their children, or the right to medical assistance, or access to education, who are excluded from social and cultural life, marginalized and considered a burden and a threat to the lifestyle of the wealthy few.
These poor are not an anonymous mass. Each one of them has a face. How can I as a Christian, priest or layman, whether through evangelization or scientific theological work, talk about God and His Son who became man and died for us on the cross and bear witness to Him, if I don’t want to build a different theological system with the existing one, except by saying to the specific poor person face to face: God loves you and your amazing dignity is rooted in God. How Biblical consideration is made real in individual and collective life if human rights originate in the creation of man in the image and likeness of God.
My stay in Peru in 1988 is not only linked to the seminar with Gustavo Gutierrez, where I saw clearly the theological point of departure of liberation theology, but also the living encounter with the poor we had talked about. For a while we lived with the inhabitants of the slums of Lima and then also with the campesinos in the parish of Diego Irrarazaval on Lake Titicaca. Since then I have been another fifteen times to Peru and other Latin American countries, sometimes for whole months during semester holidays in Germany. My participation in theological courses especially in the seminaries of Cuzco, Lima and Callao, among others, was always accompanied by long weeks of pastoral work in the Andean region, especially in Lares in the Archdiocese of Cuzco. There the faces acquired names and became personal friends, this experience of universal communion in the love of God and neighbor, what should be the essence of the Catholic Church. Finally it was a deep joy for me when in 2003, in Lares, in the Archdiocese of Cuzco, being already a bishop, I could administer the sacrament of Confirmation to young people whose parents I had already known for a long time and who I myself had baptized.
Bishop Müller also shows his awareness of the battle lines that utilize liberation theology as an ideological identity marker (where people are categorized as either “for” or “against”) by pushing back against both sides stating, “Hence I have not been speaking of liberation theology in an abstract and theoretical way, much less ideologically to flatter the progressive church group. Similarly I have no fear that this may be interpreted as a lack of orthodoxy. Gustavo Gutiérrez’s theology, regardless of which angle you look at it from, is orthodox because it’s orthopraxis and teaches us proper Christian action because it comes from true faith.”
The piece is well worth reading. I wish it (or things like it) received some attention in the mainstream media (and greater attention within the Catholic media). This could go far towards promoting dialogue and substantive engagement across battle lines. Know hope.
Picture by John Donaghy on Flickr