During a meeting on Monday with priests from the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis reportedly suggested that he does not support the version of liberation theology represented by Peruvian priest Father Gustavo Gutierrez.
In a post for his Italian-language blog Settimo Cielo, Vatican analyst Sandro Magister said the Holy Father distanced himself from Archbishop Gerhard Muller – the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who supports Fr. Gutierrez's views – in a “brief but eloquent” observation made during a question-and-answer session with the priests.
Magister said the meeting was “behind closed doors” and described Pope Francis’ comment on liberation theology as “serious and sharp,” although it went largely unnoticed by the media, including the Vatican press office.
“In the formulation of one of the five questions posed to the Pope, a priest asking about the centrality of the poor in pastoral ministry made a direct reference to liberation theology and Archbishop Gerhard Muller’s stance in support of this theology,” Magister recounted.
But “upon hearing the name of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis didn’t let the priest finish his question and said, ‘That is what Muller thinks, that is what he thinks’,” Magister explained.
The Pope’s statement is significant in light of the audience he granted last Thursday to Fr. Gutierrez, who is considered one of the fathers of liberation theology. The unscheduled meeting took place at the insistence of Archbishop Muller.
Liberation theology is a controversial school of thought that developed in Latin America in the 1950s. It has been criticized as a Marxist interpretation of the gospel, focusing on freedom from material poverty and injustice rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.
Several of Fr. Gutierrez’s writings have attracted controversy, including the claim, “Only a radical break with the present state of things, a profound transformation of the property system, the access to power by the exploited class, a social revolution that breaks up that dependence, will allow a different society, a Socialist society to come to pass.”
“Authentic liberation will be the work of the oppressed themselves, in them the Lord saves history,” he wrote, also saying that the “Church must be converted to the world, in which Christ and the Spirit are present and active, and must allow itself to be inhabited and evangelized by it.”
One of Pope Francis' former teachers, Argentinean Jesuit priest Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone, has said that the Holy Father never supported a Marxist-based liberation theology.
In an extensive interview in the recent book “Francis Our Brother Our Friend” (Ignatius Press, 2013), Fr. Scannone explained that he has studied liberation theology extensively, and that “there are different currents” within it.
“In the Argentinean Liberation Theology, social Marxist analysis is not used, but rather a historical-cultural analysis, not based on class warfare as a determining principle for the interpretation of society and history,” he said, adding that he believes Pope Francis’ pastoral work and attitude toward the poor can be “understood in this context.”
In comments about the Pope’s recent meeting with Fr. Gutierrez, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima said on Sept. 14 that the Peruvian priest still holds positions that need to be rectified.
“The Church does not accept Marxist class warfare,” Cardinal Cipriani said on his weekly radio program. “During the last conversation I had with Gutierrez, before he left Lima…I told him that in his youth he took stances that he should correct now that he is older.”
“If we look carefully at Ratzinger’s instruction,” the cardinal continued, referencing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1984 document “Liberatis Nuntius,” “we can see very clearly that the writings of Gutierrez still need to be corrected.”