Guardian columnist fundamentally misunderstand Liberation Theology

The following article has appeared in the Guardian authored by George Monbiot. The headline and the tagline are both, well, rather inflammatory: “In the war on the poor, Pope Francis is on the wrong side: in Latin America a new Inquisition has betrayed Catholic priests who risk their lives to stand up to tyrants – as I’ve witnessed.”

The substance of the article is that Pope Francis is opposed to liberation theology, and in so being has somehow betrayed the poor. Mr Monbiot writes:

The assault began in 1984 with the publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the body formerly known as the Inquisition) of a document written by the man who ran it: Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict. It denounced “the deviations, and risks of deviation” of liberation theology. He did not deny what he called “the seizure of the vast majority of the wealth by an oligarchy of owners … military dictators making a mockery of elementary human rights [and] the savage practices of some foreign capital interests” in Latin America. But he insisted that “it is from God alone that one can expect salvation and healing. God, and not man, has the power to change the situations of suffering.”

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The only solution he offered was that priests should seek to convert the dictators and hired killers to love their neighbours and exercise self-control: “It is only by making an appeal to the ‘moral potential’ of the person and to the constant need for interior conversion, that social change will be brought about.” I’m sure the generals and their death squads were quaking in their boots.

The truth of the matter is, though, that the condemnation of the excesses of liberation theology by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, which was, it seems, fully supported by the then Archbishop Bergoglio, was a good thing as anyone who appreciates the nature of liberation theology will know. As the words quoted above make clear, though perhaps not in a way that Mr Monbiot appreciates, liberation theology, in using Marxist criteria at the expense of Christian ones, denied the efficacy of divine grace and the sacramental nature of the Church. For it is Christ alone who can change human hearts: Marx never did, except for the worse.

Of course, Mr Monbiot may have his own reasons for wanting the Catholic Church in Latin America to turn itself into an instrument of international Marxism, but he ought to recognise that the Church has an absolute right to define its own beliefs. And the primary belief of the Church is that we find salvation in Christ and in Christ alone. When we preach Christ, then we truly preach a social gospel. As for the generals “quaking in their boots”, I think it is unwise of Mr Monbiot to dismiss the gospel of Christ as an agent of social change.

How can social change come about without a change of heart in individuals? How can society progress without people changing? And how can such change come about without the sweetness and the power of the grace of Christ at work? In the end repentance is far more likely to bring about real and lasting change, and will be far more efficacious in doing so that what the Marxists advocate, namely violence.

Violent revolution as a way of bringing about human happiness has a poor track record. One hardly needs to illustrate this point. Ask any Russian. The change of heart wrought by the grace of Christ has a better track record. Look, for example, at the records of the governments of Alcide de Gasperi in post-War Italy, or that of Konrad Adenauer in the same period. The transformation of a society through grace is possible. Incidentally, both of these Christian Democrat governments were perhaps the most successful governments ever when it came to the question of solving the problem of poverty, which they did by entirely peaceful means.

It is unfortunate that Mr Monbiot should so dismiss the power of the Christian gospel, and advocate its replacement with Marxist dogma. One might go back a few centuries and see in the preaching of St Francis (our Pope’s patron) an example of the power of Christ to bring about changes in society suaviter, not by force but by persuasion. Was the world better off for the preaching of Francis? I believe so. Will it be better off if it listens to Pope Francis? Yes, I believe so too. When one has to choose between Christ and Marx, I think the choice is clear.

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