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The Vatican & Liberation Theology


By John C. Cort | January-February 1985

“The Vatican Errs on Liberation Theology” was the headline across the top of the Op-Ed page in The New York Times for September 16, 1984. The column below was by Thomas Sheehan, who had demonstrated an anti-Catholic and anti-Chris­tian bias in a piece for The New York Review of Books last June, a piece that sent shock waves through various publications, including this one.

It’s too bad that the column in the Times had to be written by such a hostile critic, because it further polarized an already divisive situation, thereby obscuring the few valid points Sheehan ac­tually made.

“Liberation theology” is a phenomenon that came out of Latin America in the early 1970s. Its first and still most impressive champion is Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest and theologian who wrote a book entitled A Theology of Liberation (1973). The book is, in part, an eloquent and im­passioned, but scholarly, challenge to Christians to rediscover the true Gospel of Christ as regards pov­erty and the poor, oppression and the oppressed.

Anyone who can read and has eyes to see what appears on the TV screen must know by now that poverty in Latin America has reached mon­strous proportions, that oppression in Latin Amer­ica has become an international obscenity. A little more knowledge would reveal that the Roman Catholic Church, until quite recently, has had a poor record in terms of practical aid to the poor and practical opposition to the oppressors. Often the Church, at least the institutional Church, was of more help to the oppressors than the oppressed, or, like so many of us good Christians in America, simply indifferent to the whole subject, which is another way of saying, practically speaking, the same thing.

The liberation theologians, Catholic and Prot­estant but mostly Catholic, have been a major fac­tor in changing that situation. Their influence has spread to Asia and Africa. It has even penetrated the indifference of the good Christians of North America and made us ask ourselves, “Are we just and fair to our own poor? Are we, in fact, implicat­ed in the injustice suffered by the poor in Latin America, Asia, and Africa?”

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