Church of the Dispossessed – Part III

In Political, Religion, Social on March 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm

 …in need of a Theology of Liberation


Joseph Ratzinger was a trusted lieutenant of John Paul II.  He was the able administrator  of Catholic orthodoxy.  When he was elected pope in 2005, it was widely believed, that he would extend the conservative reign of the previous two popes.

A challenge of geographic representation:

About 7% of the world’s Catholics are in North America,  24% in Europe, 15% in Africa, 11% in Asia and a whopping 42% in Latin America.  In 1970, 40% of Catholics were in Europe.  Today that has declined to 24%.  The center of numeric gravity has already shifted from Europe to LatAm, over the years.  But the papal make-up has never reflected that tectonic shift.  The flock has continued to be lead by a shepherd not their own.

A challenge of theology:

The First Vatican Council of 1870 was a conservative response to the modern world that was  bustling with scientific revolution and emerging from the French revolution and beginning to steep into European nationalism.  This First Council adopted the doctrine of papal infallibility and condemns the following:  liberalism, science and the separation of church and state.  It rejected the world view.  It emphasized a monologue with itself and took a position of exclusion.

The Second Vatican Council of 1962, sought to open the windows to let in some fresh air.  It emphasized a dialog with the world and attempted to take a position of inclusion.  It adopted the following:  There exists a salvation outside of Catholicism, built bridges of understanding with Judaism and Protestantism.  It changed the language of the Mass from Latin to regional vernacular dialects.  The most visibly arresting of them all, was the priest turned 180 degrees, to now face the congregation instead of facing the altar.  Some of the important First World issues were sunk by the two popes that held a conservative sway:  Homosexuality, contraception and women priests.  These, by the way, were not Third World issues!  The third world tended to be much more conservative on issues related to sexuality and gender.

The challenges ahead:

The new pope has to initiate inter-faith dialogues between the Judeo-Christian-Muslim worlds to bring harmony and peace to a world at war with each other.  He has to take a firm stand against pedophilia and sexual abuses by the clergy.  The church’s first response is towards the victims of abuse.  He has to set the financial house in order.  He needs to be cognizant of the new emerging balance of power in the world.  He needs to invite a disillusioned youth back into the church.  Sending one way tweets and working the social media is a narrow strategy, if the reality on the ground is that your clergy is not in talking terms with the youth of today.

When Pope Benedict XVI was elected pope in 2005, it was a divisive moment for Latin America.  There were some who liked it and there were some that opposed the selection.  Here are some voices that opposed the selection.  I quote just the dissents to figure out what they were upset over:

This is a sad day for Latin American Catholics who were in need of a leader who had some understanding of the needs of those marginalized by the capitalist system, and not somebody who always persecuted the progressive wing of the Church. Long live Liberation Theology!   –   Vox pop in Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo

In Latin America, where half the world’s Catholics live in a situation of chronic social injustice, a majority laments the election of a conservative Pope, who could help to open the door wider for the departure of the faithful.   –   Comment in Excelsior – Mexico

His continuity and his emphasis on centralization will provoke a lack of credibility which will become visible over the next few years. The Church is out of step with the world.   –   Comment in Mexico’s El Universal

The voices of dissent were all trying to tell us the following:

  1. LatAm has a burgeoning Catholic population
  2. They live in acute poverty mostly in substandard housing in slums
  3. They think it’s time for Liberation Theology to take roots at the Vatican
  4. They think that the European popes persecuted the progressive wing of the church including Liberation Theology
  5. Liberation Theology is LatAm’s home-spun catholic religion with Marxist leanings

Before getting into the technical details of Liberation Theology, let us take a look at some real-life execution of the same, in the slums of Argentina:

It appears to be working, does it not?  Maybe where it poses a threat to the church is it’s Marxist leanings?  Vatican will never be caught sleeping with a communist enemy!  But one of the best proponents of this form of theology probably never read Marx in his lifetime and most certainly did not pick a gun to offend anybody or defend himself.  That person is considered the Martin Luther King of Latin America.  Some want the Vatican to recognize him as a saint.

A Pious Marxist

I think understanding Arch Bishop Oscar Romero, of Buenos Aries, brings to light Liberation Theology and it’s widespread acceptance in Argentina where Catholicism is a way of life.

Romero’s broad appeal is because of his embodiment of both Liberation Theology and the Politics of emancipation of the poor in Argentina.

He expressed preferential option for the Argentinian poor.

The below two audio snippets are from a BBC program Heart and Soul.  It gives you a great insight into the life and struggles of Romero.

BBC – Heart And Soul – Voice of the Voiceless – Oscar Romero Episode I BBC – Heart And Soul – Voice of the Voiceless – Oscar Romero Episode II

His central thesis for a theological practice revolved around – reconciliation, embodiment and conversion.  Reconciling these humanist notions with a faith-based Christian point of view is what Romero attempted.

Fredrick B. Mills, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Professor of Philosophy, Bowie State University, Maryland, in an essay titled – Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero on the Political Dimension of Faith writes, and I mostly quote:

Reconciliation –

The faithful who reconcile with the poor and moves closer to them will understand how the unfair concentration of wealth and power are directly related to the poor leading a miserable lifestyle:  hunger, malnutrition, lack of access to education, poor health care, lack of housing, unavailability of potable water and the disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of Salvadorans.

The coming closer also shows the faithful, the aspirations of the poor to script their own eventual emancipation. It exposes a direct link between this struggle for emancipation and the political dimension of popular organizations and resistance.  To then, not be politically active, is missing out on the only method available for real emancipation in this life.

The Lord’s prayer can no longer stop at …give us today our daily bread.  The faithful are encouraged to participate in the political dialog necessary to bake themselves that loaf of bread.  As you can tell, the Vatican will not be pleased with the political dimension of this popular prayer.


Romero explains in this speech how coming close to the poor overcomes alienation; the abstract universal is replaced by a concrete universal in which one finds not only the other but oneself. For Romero, the suffering of the poor is the suffering of the sons and daughters of God on earth. So a deepening of one’s relationship with the poor is also seen as a deepening of faith and a coming closer to the divine.

The coming closer, Romero urges, leads to both the incarnation of the individual among the poor and the conversion of the individual to defending the interests of the poor.

This incarnation sets up a dialectic between faith and practice in the service of the poor, with each pole of the relationship deepening the other.

For Romero, this incarnation into the socio-political reality of the poor strengthens one’s faith.


From Conversion to Persecution:

By entering the political  dimension and defending the poor, the church realizes itself.  It also suffers concretely the same persecution as the poor. As Romero points out, this is the fate of those who literally embody in their own flesh the living experience of the poor and accompany the poor in their struggle for liberation. The extreme right and their allies in the security forces and death squads targeted priests and others in the popular church and ultimately, the Archbishop himself.

But they could not silence the message of Romero, as this message continued to be heard throughout the civil war and continues to inspire a new generation to a liberating praxis.

This incarnation and conversion, the two being inseparable, expresses itself not only in giving hope to the poor, but in defending them in their efforts to unmask the dominant ideology and seek their own liberation. The coming closer, then, and the subsequent incarnation and conversion, leads to the political dimension of faith.

The question, therefore, for Romero, is not whether the church will have some political impact, but just what that impact should be according to faith. Referring to Vatican Council II, Romero urges that liberation theology requires first and foremost the “coming close” of the church to the world of the poor.

If we translate this into existential terms, it means that we ought to seek ways to replace abstract notions of the isolated ego with concrete living experience of community, and to replace liberal notions of “human rights” and “liberty”—which are only selectively applied in the service of capital – with real solidarity.

This concludes Part III of the Vatican trilogy
vatican2 pope1
Will Vatican II ever be Vatican 2.0? – Part I Pope Francis – Part II


  1. BBC – Liberation Theology
  2. Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero on the Political Dimension of Faith.
  3. My Prayer: Let Women Be Priests – Roy Bourgeois

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