The 1960’s brought momentous changes, both to the US and to the third world. Fledgling democratic governments were formed in the wake of European colonialism, and reform was the order of the day. Hierarchy and status quo were on the defensive.
The Catholic Church was strongly influenced by this reform movement. In 1962, hundreds of Catholic leaders convened in St. Peter’s Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It was the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the Catholic Church in numerous ways.
“It does not seem accidental that Vatican II took place both in the wake of, and during the time which the liberation movements in Africa and Asia brought about the dismantlement of the old empires, followed by the creation of new nation states, in which surged visions of freedom and development for the newly enfranchised populations which had previously experienced oppression, deprivation and dispossession under the yoke of colonialism.”
Catholic bishops, priests and nuns sought to integrate themselves into this changing world, and minister to their newly liberated congregation.
With Vatican II, the Catholic Church sent out the message that it was part of the modern world, said Thomas Ryan, director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry. “Not against, not above, not apart, but in the modern world,” he said. “The church sought to engage, not condemn.”
Out of Vatican II came numerous reforms to Catholicism.
“The men and women in religious orders started taking on causes, even risking arrest, when they spoke out in favor of civil rights and workers’ rights and against the war in Vietnam.”
One of the most momentous reforms to come out of Vatican II was liberation theology.
“Liberation theology is a political movement in Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor, and by detractors as Christianized Marxism.”
Liberation theology was instantly controversial within the Church. Since the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church had been the state religion, supporting wealth and power, but suddenly Vatican II reformers were advocating Jesus Christ’s teachings, supporting the poor and powerless instead.
“The nature of the Church had changed with Constantine’s declaration in 324 A.D. that the Catholic Church would be the official Church of the Roman Empire, thereby making it the “persecuting Church,” with the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and complicity with Nazism among the numerous crimes which flowed from this.”
Many of the conservative church hierarchy bitterly opposed liberation theology. They viewed it as little better than Marxism. One of the foremost critics was German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI.
“Liberation theology, by exposing and critiquing the concentration and control of wealth and power in the hands of the few at the top of the political, economic and social pyramid, showed how the structures and institutions of capitalist society resulted in both a dispossessed, impoverished, oppressed and powerless rural peasantry and the creation of an impoverished urban proletariat. Using Marxist tools of analysis, these studies revealed that these social conditions of poverty were the deliberate and predictable results of the structures and institutions of capitalist society, and not mere accidents. That is to say, that human destruction and suffering produced in these economies was was both intentional and unavoidable, and not merely an undesirable by- product of their functioning.”
Despite conservative Catholic leaders opposition, liberation theology was embraced by many third world Catholic priests, and made great inroads in Latin America. Unsurprisingly, the US viewed liberation theology as a grave threat to its interests, and depicted it as part of a world-wide communist conspiracy.
“Liberation theology led to an empowerment of the poor, and thus had the potential of confronting the rich and powerful to demand a change in the institutional structures. Given that South America’s economies were dominated by a capitalist United States, working in cohorts with local powerful wealthy ruling groups and manipulating political power in their favor, it is not surprising that such socio-economic critiques of Central and South America would cause more than one confrontation: with the local ruling powers, with the upper hierarchy of the Church, and not far behind, the United States government, which represented big business interests.”
Sensing their opportunity, conservative forces within the Catholic church acted to halt the spread of liberation theology.
“Two historical events occurred in the Church to bring to a halt the spread of liberation theology and its political concomitants: the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, and his appointment, in 1981, of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly referred to as the Holy Inquisition. Both men were intractably anti-Communist and identified Marxism with the communism of the Soviet Union: the Pope from his experience living in Communist Poland, and Cardinal Ratzinger as a result of the student uprising in Tübingen University in 1968, an experience which indelibly affected his approach to life, placing him firmly on the right in the conservative camp. Here the term “conservative” means the conservation of those structures of power that already exist for the sake of order.”
Pope Benedict XVI, the recently resigned Pope, played a huge part in the reversal of liberation theology. Coincidently, he also oversaw the ongoing coverup of the child molestation scandal presently engulfing the Catholic Church.
“The pope continues to appear uncomfortable and embarrassed by the pedophile scandal, unable to grasp the scandal’s full moral and legal consequences. While Benedict has, up until recently, appeared to take seriously sexual-abuse charges against the clergy, he is ultimately a faithful follower of the traditions of the Inquisition. His primary duty seems to be to protect those who adhere to Church dogma even if they break secular laws. As such, the indiscreet actions of loyal servants of the bureaucracy are hushed up, offenders shifted to another parish and abusers permitted to continue to serve the Church. Sadly, it appears the neither the pope nor his loyal minions really comprehend (or care about) the institutional failure at the heart of the scandal: where Vatican II sought to open the Church to its faithful, Benedict seeks to limit accountability to only those who accept faithful obedience.”
Pope Benedict XVI spent his professional life working tirelessly to place the Catholic Church back where it belongs: the loyal servant of empire and protector of hierarchy. This powerful hierarchy within the Catholic Church, rather than following the path of reform, instead collaborated with the US to undo attempts at democratization, and then cover up their complicity.
The outpouring of vitriol expressed by our elite media in response to the demise of Hugo Chavez demonstrates the continued hatred of liberation theology. Chavez, more than any other Latin American leader, represented the living, breathing incarnation of liberation theology, with his concern for the poor and powerless of Venezuela and his willingness to use oil revenues to affect real improvements in their lives.
As we can see, the end of the Cold War and the demise of communism did not diminish the US’s antipathy towards liberation theology. Communism was always a pretext. What the US opposes is any sort of alternative to capitalism and empire that liberation theology represents.
In fact, examining Wikileaks materials, it is obvious that the US views liberation theology exactly like terrorism, as an extreme threat to be eradicated.
“In short, the U.S. very much views Liberation Theology, and those that adhere to it, as enemies. And, it views itself as aligned with the Vatican in their mutual efforts to destroy this philosophy.”
Let’s face it. The US is waging war against true Christianity. For all its ballyhooed rhetoric about being a Christian nation, the persecution of liberation theology demonstrates that the US prefers a Christianity that remains a loyal supporter of capitalism and empire, rather than one that ministers to the poor and downtrodden.
Can I get an Amen?
Update: A new pope has been chosen. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
“Indeed, the predominant role of the Church hierarchy – from the Vatican to the bishops in the individual countries – was to give political cover to the slaughter and to offer little protection to the priests and nuns who advocated “liberation theology,” i.e. the belief that Jesus did not just favor charity to the poor but wanted a just society that shared wealth and power with the poor.”