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