Liberation Theology Lives
On Sunday, a group of Catholic bishops and others gathered in a chapel in the Roman catacombs to affirm and add to the “Pact of the Catacombs,” a Vatican II-era agreement made by forty of the Council’s bishops. This document — it wasn’t part of the official conciliar proceedings — became synonymous in Latin America with “liberation theology,” the theological school condemned by the Vatican in 1984 as Marxist. In a statement that year on liberation theology, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal authority, wrote in the Church’s name (and published with Pope JP2’s approval):
The present Instruction has a much more limited and precise purpose: to draw the attention of pastors, theologians, and all the faithful to the deviations, and risks of deviation, damaging to the faith and to Christian living, that are brought about by certain forms of liberation theology which use, in an insufficiently critical manner, concepts borrowed from various currents of Marxist thought.
This warning should in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the “preferential option for the poor.” It should not at all serve as an excuse for those who maintain the attitude of neutrality and indifference in the face of the tragic and pressing problems of human misery and injustice. It is, on the contrary, dictated by the certitude that the serious ideological deviations which it points out tends inevitably to betray the cause of the poor. More than ever, it is important that numerous Christians, whose faith is clear and who are committed to live the Christian life in its fullness, become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom, and human dignity because of their love for their disinherited, oppressed, and persecuted brothers and sisters. More than ever, the Church intends to condemn abuses, injustices, and attacks against freedom, wherever they occur and whoever commits them. She intends to struggle, by her own means, for the defense and advancement of the rights of mankind, especially of the poor.
5. The new ‘hermeneutic’ inherent in the “theologies of liberation” leads to an essentially ‘political’ re-reading of the Scriptures. Thus, a major importance is given to the Exodus event inasmuch as it is a liberation from political servitude. Likewise, a political reading of the “Magnificat” is proposed. The mistake here is not in bringing attention to a political dimension of the readings of Scripture, but in making of this one dimension the principal or exclusive component. This leads to a reductionist reading of the Bible.
6. Likewise, one places oneself within the perspective of a temporal messianism, which is one of the most radical of the expressions of secularization of the Kingdom of God and of its absorption into the immanence of human history.
7. In giving such priority to the political dimension, one is led to deny the ‘radical newness’ of the New Testament and above all to misunderstand the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and thus the specific character of the salvation he gave us, that is above all liberation from sin, which is the source of all evils.
8. Moreover in setting aside the authoritative interpretation of the Church, denounced as classist, one is at the same time departing from tradition. In that way, one is robbed of an essential theological criterion of interpretation, and in the vacuum thus created, one welcomes the most radical theses of rationalist exegesis. Without a critical eye, one returns to the opposition of the “Jesus of history” versus the “Jesus of faith.”
9. Of course the creeds of the faith are literally preserved, especially the Chalcedonian creed, but a new meaning is given to them which is a negation of the faith of the Church. On one hand, the Christological doctrine of Tradition is rejected in the name of class; on the other hand, one claims to meet again the “Jesus of history” coming from the revolutionary experience of the struggle of the poor for their liberation.
10. One claims to be reliving an experience similar to that of Jesus. The experience of the poor struggling for their liberation, which was Jesus’ experience, would thus reveal, and it alone, the knowledge of the true God and the Kingdom.
11. Faith in the Incarnate Word, dead and risen for all men, and whom “God made Lord and Christ”  is denied. In its place is substituted a figure of Jesus who is a kind of symbol who sums up in Himself the requirements of the struggle of the oppressed.
12. An exclusively political interpretation is thus given to the death of Christ. In this way, its value for salvation and the whole economy of redemption is denied.
13. This new interpretation thus touches the whole of the Christian mystery.
14. In a general way, this brings about what can be an inversion of symbols. Thus, instead of seeing, with St. Paul, a figure of baptism in the Exodus,  some end up making of it a symbol of the political liberation of the people.
15. When the same hermeneutical criterion is applied to the life and to the hierarchical constitution of the Church, the relationship between the hierarchy and the “base” becomes the relationship of obedient domination to the law of the struggle of the classes. Sacramentality, which is at the root of the ecclesial ministries and which makes of the Church a spiritual reality which cannot be reduced to a purely sociological analysis, is quite simply ignored.
16. This inversion of symbols is likewise verified in the area of the ‘sacraments’. The Eucharist is no longer to be understood as the real sacramental presence of the reconciling sacrifice, and as the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ. It becomes a celebration of the people in their struggle. As a consequence, the unity of the Church is radically denied. Unity, reconciliation, and communion in love are no longer seen as a gift we receive from Christ.  It is the historical class of the poor who by means of their struggle will build unity. For them, the struggle of the classes is the way to unity. The Eucharist thus becomes the Eucharist of the class. At the same time, they deny the triumphant force of the love of God which has been given to us.
It is important for younger readers to know that in the early 1980s, liberation theology adherents — including many Latin American priests and religious — were allied with Marxist guerrillas and fellow travelers. It was a big problem, and Pope JP2 addressed it authoritatively.
That was then. Now Catholicism has a Latin American pope who has been described — by Cardinal Kasper and others — as embodying the Pact of the Catacombs. In this report from Crux, we learn of the details of the renewed Pact of the Catacombs. Excerpt:
The new pact contains 14 points, the first of which is a call to defend the Amazon rainforest in the face of global warming and depletion of natural resources. The first three, in fact, concern care for God’s creation and a reminder that man is not the owner of “Mother Earth, but rather the sons and daughters,” called to be caregivers.
The original 42 bishops who signed the 1965 pact pledged to “try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, [and] means of transport…. We renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing … and symbols made of precious metals.”
In the Amazon version, it’s not until the fourth point that signatories affirm their “preferential option for the poor,” underlining native peoples in particular, making them protagonists in society and in the Church, helping them “preserve their lands, cultures, languages, stories, identities and spiritualities.”
The following point calls on the Church to abandon “all types of colonist mentality and posture,” welcoming the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity in dialogue “with all spiritual traditions.”
In the new document — a full copy of which I have only seen on Twitter; I’ll post a link when I find one — it appears that whereas the 1965 predecessor held up “the poor” as its “preferential” group, this one holds up the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Point 5 reads:
To abandon completely, in our dioceses, parishes and groups all types of colonialist mentality and posture, welcoming and valuing cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity in a respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.
Hmm. Does giving up “colonialist mentality and posture” mean surrendering to syncretism? Based on what has been happening at the Amazon Synod so far — see here — it would appear so.
Latin America is home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, but the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging members there, losing many of them to Evangelical or Pentecostal churches. Pew goes deep on the demographics and rationales in this 2014 survey of Latin America. Among the findings:
Syncretism remains a problem for all the Christian churches in Latin America. According to Pew:
Many Latin Americans – including substantial percentages of both Catholics and Protestants – say they subscribe to beliefs and practices often associated with Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Brazilian or indigenous religions. For example, at least a third of adults in every country surveyed believe in the “evil eye,” the idea that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause harm. Beliefs in witchcraft and reincarnation also are widespread, held by 20% or more of the population in most countries. Other beliefs and practices vary widely from country to country. For instance, a majority of Mexicans (60%) and more than a third of Bolivians (39%) say they make offerings of food, drinks, candles or flowers to spirits, but just one-in-ten Uruguayans (9%) do so. Overall, the survey finds the highest levels of indigenous or Afro-Caribbean religious practice in Panama, where most people (58%) – including 66% of Panamanian Catholics and 46% of Protestants – engage in at least three out of the eight indigenous beliefs and practices mentioned in the survey.
SS. Popes John XXIII and Paul VI had their Ostpolitik — an irenic approach to relations between the Catholic Church and the countries of the Soviet bloc. That came to an end with the election of the Polish pope, who was confrontational towards the Soviets. Now Pope Francis’s church, with the Latin American and German episcopate in the lead, appears to be formulating an Amazonpolitik, characterized by an irenic approach to relations with pagan indigenous peoples of Latin America.
Again, it remains to be seen what the signatories of the new Catacombs pact mean by “to abandon completely” a “colonialist mentality and posture” and to “welcome” engagement with “all spiritual traditions.” Events in Rome this month strongly suggest that it means ceasing to claim that the Catholic Church has the Gospel truth, and that the indigenous peoples need conversion. The new Pact of the Catacombs instantiates what you might call a “preferential option for the pagans.” It looks like a surrender to syncretism.
Meanwhile, in Rome last night, some Catholics fought back against the syncretism, stealing the fertility idols — earlier, a Catholic communications official clarified that they were NOT supposed to represent the Virgin Mary, but rather “an indigenous woman who represents life” and is “neither pagan nor sacred” (though there was a pagan ceremony involving prostration before them, in front of Francis) — from the Catholic church where they were on display, and throwing them into the Tiber. The casting them into the river begins around the 3:15 mark:
UPDATE: From a tradd(ish?) Catholic, addressing left-liberal Catholics wailing this morning about the “iconoclasm” of throwing the fertility idols into the Tiber:
I would say that I love all the concern about "iconoclasm" from people who have spent their entire careers defending the systematic destruction of thousands of churches and the erasure of ancient and venerable devotional practices, but the Discourse is too boring.
— Matthew Walther (@matthewwalther) October 21, 2019