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Pope Francis is certainly not on the wrong side in the ‘war on the poor’

Guardian columnist fundamentally misunderstand Liberation Theology

By on Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Pope kisses the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users (CNS)

The Pope kisses the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users (CNS)

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.”

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.

  • NatOns

    “Violet revolution as a way of bringing about human happiness has a poor track record.”

    Indeed so, and not least in the direct assault on Catholic culture, belief and wisdom under the Age-of-Aquarius – with its Stalinist hostility to Sacred Tradition, its Maoist brutality to heavenly piety, and its Guevaraist disregard for authority, rule, or icon .. other than its own pet opinion.

    Yet, in the Catholic Church, we do not need a Gorbechev-style aggiornamento nor a Deng-style reformulation of the economy of salvation; rather with Saint Francis, and our incomparable Pope Francis, we must follow in rebuilding the shattered fabric, tattered purpose, and abandoned life of the Church .. with all glory, honour and praise to God.

  • James H

    These Marxists keep the faith, don’t they? Despite mountains of dead (8 figures last I heard), they still insist that the Forces of Progress and History are on their side.

    The South African Bishops were generally in favour of Liberation Theology for decades (well, the white ones were at least!). I always found it very alienating, when they referred to ‘The People’ as if most of their congregants weren’t really people; and breathtakingly hypocritical in their selective condemnation of violence and coercion. Here’s the whole point: Liberation Theology approved of political violence. It’s easy for a champagne socialist to nod in smug approval, but very difficult for anyone actually living in the country concerned.

    “I’m sure the generals and their death squads were quaking in their boots.” Well, that immediately brings to mind Stalin’s infamous question – ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ I think History has answered that one pretty well.

  • Julian Lord

    There’s nothing wrong with champagne … :-)

    … but of course I agree with you completely.

  • Francis Hoar

    And yet, as Cardinal Borgoglio, he considered it appropriate to enter into nationalistic political rhetoric glorifying a war of aggression only last year. If it is wrong for the Church to appeal to politics rather than the Gospel, how much more wrong is it to describe a native population as ‘usurpers’? Let us hope, as Pope, he learns a little more consistency.

  • chiaramonti

    I’m afraid (I’m not really) that the Guardian and it’s fellow travellers are having a bad time of it. They are sick to the gills at the general reaction to Pope Francis and the time the popular media have devoted to him. None of their icons can get anywhere hear him in devotion or respect, so they have to go digging for dirt where none exists. As for Monbiot, his track record for getting it right is somewhat chequered recently. I wonder if he has finished the charity work he promised to undertake to avoid being sued by the last man he defamed?

  • $20596475

    No-one should take anything written by George Monbiot too seriously. He has some very strange ideas!

  • Frank

    I’m pleased we can agree on this.

    Since this article concerns the Guardian I noticed that, according to Private Eye, Guardian Media Group had a pre-tax loss of 75.6m GBP last year and is able to keep afloat because of its 225m investment fund. PE also says that 60m of that is invested in hedge funds which GMG itself describes as “activities that involve getting rich by fleecing someone else”.

  • Peter Vas
  • Pope Zicola

    The Guardian’s running at a LOSS??
    Why am I not surprised nor sorry?

  • Pope Zicola

    The name ‘Malvinas’ is a variation of what the French named the islands, which was after the fishermen of St Malo in northern France.
    The Falklands were occupied by the French, Spanish and British long before Argentina came into existence as a nation.
    In the 19th Century, Argentina – a young country then – wanted the islands as a penal colony.
    No prizes for guessing what they want them for now!
    I pray Pope Francis says well clear of Kirchner and her manipulations.

  • Julian Lord

    Gave me a couple of giggles, but well — Liberation Theology has been condemned as a heresy, so that your support for it is therefore heretical.

    The Revelation is NOT a “dialectic” ; and the Kingdom of God is not of this world.

  • Zzxz

    The most conservative estimate I have ever seen of the total number of people killed by anti-religious Marxist governments in the 20th century is 150000000 (150 million) people. And that’s the ones we know and are sure about, you could probably double that number quite easily.

    Unfortunately, the only real difference between now and a couple of decades ago when academics openly supported the ‘soviet worker’s paradise’ and all the ‘wonderful secularity’ it brought is that nowadays they like to pretend it never happened while still praising Marxism, Communism, and people who brought it about.

  • Jose J.

    There is a lot of misunderstandings about so called theology of liberation and many beautifull things, christian wise, that happen in the christian communities all along south america have nothing to do with marxism, only with Jesus and his holy loving ways. This pope now belongs and needs this most important segment of the catholic church. My guess is he is going soon to announce canonization of Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the bishop from San Salvador asseainated while celebrating mass. Francis mention Romero to Perez Esquivel as a martyr. He did not said anything about canonization, that is my guess at watching the pope first signs. I love Francis. Pray for him.

  • Jose J.

    Leonard Boff, one of the prominent figures in Liberation Theology has written his first thoughts after Bergoglio was elected Bishop of Rome and Pope.

  • Jose J.

    The “comunidades de base” in southamerica and what could loosely still be called “liberation theology” in southamerica, these days talks a lot more about permaculture, community building, environment, meditation and most of all about Jesus, Love and Pray. That church is now immensely happy with a pope they know and knows about them. Many times this church of the poor there has been maliciously misnamed as marxist, evil etc… it is not and has nothing to do with those concepts. Perhaps some sophisticated catholics may use marxism as a tool to understand economics and political estructures that pertain to the world and society in which they live, but have nothing to do with faith and the life of the comunidades de base. The pope is not confused about and will infuse a lot of enthusiasm to this. The pope is with the church still called liberation theology and he is on the very right side of the war on poverty, where the bishop of Recife and Olinda, Dom Helder Camara, once was. Better get used to the new pope and this coming back to the real core of the church: Jesus and his message of Love for oneself, our Fellow and God. It is all we need.

  • Rasha Taus

    The only other strain in Catholicism equally accommodating of violence for the `cause’-at least within our lifetimes- would be the IRA supporters amongst Irsh/British clergy. The only Catholics the Left elect to venerate are this aforesaid ilk, or renegade abortion-espousing nuns.At a pinch, the truly anti-Life impulse is beloved of the Marxist Left.

  • Athanasius Gardner

    I think it’s a bit disingenuous to oppose De Gasperi, or Adenauer to “violence” in some abstract way. Yes the European social model they created was admirable in many ways, and looks all the more appealing now we stand surrounded by its ruins, it having been reduced to rubble by 30 years of neo-liberal counter-revolution and out of control turbo capitalism. But they were only able to build their visions because of a massive amount of violence, the violence of the Allied Powers of the British Empire-Commonwealth, the United States, and the Soviet Union which smashed the Fascist/Nazi regimes that had hitherto existe in those countries.