Other Discussions on Latin America

Liberation Theology

The Roman Catholic Church is not one and indivisible. French Monsignor Lefebvre rejected the modernization of the liturgy and was excommunicated. In Spain, the Jesuits fought the Opus Dei, which had been close to Dictator Francisco Franco and was becoming a force in universities. In Mexico, the various orders cater to different sectors of the public, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Vatican by the official PRI party, traditionally anti-clerical, stole the thunder of the more clerical PAN.

All this pales in comparison with the turmoil caused by Liberation Theology, which its enemies accuse of allying themselves with Marxists. This is especially true in Latin America. Robert G. Breene, 22Jr., editor of the Latin American Political Yearbook discussed in an earlier memo, has kindly sent me offprints of articles by the critics of Liberation Theology. I will attempt to summarize their arguments, which are startling. The language is sometimes extreme. Some of the best known figures in the Catholic Church and in Protestantism come under attack. The Jesuits are singled out for criticism. We are here simply reporting, not approving.

Actually, the argument is an old one, between those who stress this world as against those who give priority to the life eternal. As Peter Ackroyd is forced to admit in his new and much praised biography of him, Thomas More was really as intolerant as Santo Domingo or Dante. The other-world people tend to be oblivious to the misery of the poor. I remember that once, in an elegant Catholic home in Guadalajara, Mexico, I mentioned the poor people in the countryside. When my hosts denied that there were any, I drove them around to areas where people were living in hovels. My friends' reply startled me :"Well, they will have their reward in heaven." This response was incredible to me, but not to other Mexicans with whom I spoke. Now, back to the critics of liberation theology.

The criticism of left-wing Christianity by conservative Catholics is summarized in El Marxismo en la teologia by Miguel Poradowski, the second edition of which was published in Santiago de Chile in 1983. It claims that Karl Barth was one of the first to promote the thesis that Christianity and Marxism have the same end. Others criticized are Teilhard de Chardin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harvey Cox, Hans Kung, and above all "the apostate American Dominican," Jordan Bishop McClave. They and their like have infected almost all Catholic universities. In France, the Communist Roger Garaudy promoted an alliance with Catholics. The decisive event was the 1968 Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin, Colombia.

Spain has long supplied Spanish America with priests, but they are now suspect as Marxists. Christians for Socialism held a congress in Madrid and in the Escorial in 1972. Of the 500 participants, 400 came from Latin America; many were professors of theology at Catholic universities. The critics of liberation theology do not seem to realize that Christian Socialism has a long and respected history in France, from whence it came to Spain. See my "Dona Emilia Pardo Bazan, Neo-Catholicism and Christian Socialism", The Americas, July, 1954.

The Brazilian Paulo Freire created "the method," i.e. the strategy. It was discussed at length at a meeting in Cuernavaca, Mexico, but it was really about Marxism-Leninism. The bishop pf Cuernavaca, Sergio Mendez Arceo, is branded as "a well-known Marxist." A "mass-mitin" (!), i.e. a political meeting disguised as a mass, was held in a Jesuit church in Mexico City. However, the focal point was Havana; Fidel Castro has a counselor for religious affairs, a Father Beto or Betto. Latin American Communist parties held meetings in Havana to plan the infiltration of the Church and the military; El Salvador was chosen to become a communist state. This was followed by a meeting of Christians for Socialism in Santiago de Chile, which was attended by both Catholics and Protestants. However, plans for a Marxist-Leninist Church (!) in Chile did not materialize.

In El Salvador a group called Pastoral Reflection met under the leadership of the Jesuits. French Embassy personnel were involved. A French priest, Father Barnard Boulang, had the job of organizing a National School of Christians for Socialism. Archbishop Luis Chavez y Gonzalez found out about the group, and told his auxiliary bishop Arturo Rivera Damas to attend its meetings. At first he tolerated repeated take-overs of the cathedral., the facade of which was covered with huge revolutionary posters. Several embassies were taken over also; the Swiss charge d'affaires and the South African Ambassador were assassinated. Father Boulang was expelled.

The situation was similar in neighboring Nicaragua, where revolutionary Christians allied themselves with the Sandinistas. The worst offender was the priest Ernesto Cardenal, who declared that "The New Testament made me a Marxist." A pamphlet published by the Central American Historical Association ("a pro-Marxist Jesuit organization") was illustrated with a gun-wielding Sandinista forming a shadow of Christ on the cross. The Somoza government accused Archbishop Miguel Obando of being a Communist, but Catholics backed him.

The Jesuits are the main target of attacks, but that has always been the case. See especially Malachi Martin, The Jesuits. The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Franciscans are viewed as almost as bad. Especially fingered is the Worldn Father John Vaughn, whose reelection as Minister General Pope John Paul tried in vain to block. [ He is no longer Minister General]. The Maryknoll Order promoted armed struggle; Sandinista Foregn Minister Miguel D'Escoto, who had belonged to it, was praised by the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, Bishop James Malone. The case of the Berrigan brothers was well-publicized in the United States. The enemies of Liberation Theology seem to have a mixed attitude toward Pope John Paul II. One frequent charge is that leftist priests, like the Communist leaders with whom they ally themselves, while posing as defenders of the poor, enjoy uncommon perquisites. [Note: the articles here analyzed give a historical perspective, but the situation is constantly changing].

Ronald Hilton - 05/27/98

Liberation Theology - Responses

The memo on liberation theology aroused considerable interest because of its importance in Latin America. Tim Brown thinks it is now on the ropes, but the Pope's visit to Cuba suggests that only the violent kind is out. Tm Brown says:

"On Hans Kung. Pope John Paul took his teaching authority away several years ago when Kung was at Louvain. He also blacklisted several of Teilhard de Chardin's works. It was the first barrage in an effort to recapture the Lib Theos and avoid labeling them schismatics for having strayed too far from basic Catholic theological teachings.

On the issue of Spanish priests, much of that is the consequence of Spain's Concordat with the Vatican. It allowed the Spanish state [read especially Franco] to jail or expel priests and nuns considered not acceptable, almost always on political grounds. Franco used it actively, resulting in a jail full of priests and nuns in Urgel [curiously the Bishop of Urgel is also legally co-head of state of Andorra along with the French president], but more importantly it generated a large number of hard-left Lib Theo Spanish-speaking exile priest and nuns, most of whom headed for Latin America. The "collateral damage" so far has cost Latin America hundreds of thousands of dead and a century of social inaction. Today Lib Theo is on the ropes.

In Nicaragua, Miguel d'Escoto was much worse. As Foreign Minister he defied the Pope, unlike Cardenal who, however unwillingly, responded to the Pope's admonishment by withdrawing from active political life. d'Escoto is a Maryknoll and was, before the Sandinista revolution, openly a syncophant of dictator Somoza. He sent a telegram to the widow of Anastasio Somoza Garcia after Somoza's assassination, calling Somoza's death an irretrievable loss. It was used by the Contras during the war, overprinted with the motto "Somocista Ayer, Sandinista Hoy, Sinverguenza Siempre".

Msgr. Tom Quigley, long time Secretary of the American Bishop's council, our counterpart of CEPAL, was a very active Lib Theo type and exceptionally pro-Sandinista and pro-Castro. He has reportedly been forced out of the priesthood because of his hard-left extremism.

As for the Jesuits, at least one and possibly two Jesuit priests were killed in combat in Guatemala. One was an AK-47 carrying guerrilla platoon commander.

Liberation Theology - Responses

There has been a sharp response to the memos on liberation theology. Stanley Payne rightly points out that there is an enormous literature on the subject, pro and con. If we have published memos critical of lib.theo., it is because that is what we have received. I will send out two more memos in this vein. If we receive memos defending lib. theo., we will of course distribute them. As always, we try to present all sides. The subject is immensely important, especially for Lartin America.

Ronald Hilton - 05/28/98

Liberation Theology - Responses

Let me stress that memos attacking liberation theology cannot discredit its concern for the poor or justify undeniable acts of vicious repression by governments. Paul Rich writes from Puebla, Mexico: "The social conditions in Latin America are such that sometimes rational discussion becomes almost impossible. For example, in Puebla state here in Mexico, one out of every ten new born infants will die of malnutrition during the first year. Probably, given the current ecological disaster caused by a lack of rain and enormous forest fires, the situation will be worse this year than ever before for many in Mexico.

So it is extremely difficult to fault someone for finding comfort in a movement like that of liberation theology. how does one rationally discuss socio-economic and theological problems with a mother who has watched her child die for lack of food?

We are nearing the year 2000 without having resolved the tremendous poverty in this part of the world, and those who think that actually things are worse than ever have a point."

My comment: They certainly do. Most Americans have little idea of the possible explosion in Latin America. The attacks by the Pope and Fidel Castro on U.S.-backed neo-liberalism were applauded by the majority of Latin Americans. However, the critics have to come up with a viable alternative. Otherwise, Mexico might relive a disaster like that of the ejido system or an economic breakdown like that of Cuba.

Liberation Theology - Responses

Edith Coliver, an Asian specialist, writes:

"I have read the many comments on liberation theology with interest. They are mainly confined to Latin America. LT was also active in the Philippines. Its adherents and practitioners became active following Vatican II and directed themselves mainly against the Marcos regime, affiliating themselves with the New People's Army (generally termed the "New People Around"). Their main activities were in the Cordilleras in the North and in parts of Mindanao in the South. Often they acted as buffers between the populace and the army, for which they were appreciated by the former. Some of the young priests, Jesuits, left the order and married. One of the best-known TL leaders was Father Balweg, in the cordilleras."

Ronald Hilton - 05/30/98

Liberation Theology - A Few Remarks

In presenting this immensely important subject, we try to present both sides. The critics of Lib.Theo. have the support of Enrique Krauze, perhaps Mexico's best-known historian. Writing in La Nacion of Buenos Aires (3/15/98), he describes "an unholy alliance between an alienated sector of the left and a Roman Catholic church espousing liberation theology." He argues that these "false prophets" are not helping the Indians but fanning the flames of racial hatred.

Ronald Hilton - 05/30/98