This is something you don’t see everyday: Good news coming from the sitting Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). According to a Religion News Service report this is exactly what we’re getting these days!
Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.
The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.
The current Prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, a prelate and theologian appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI, who himself had once occupied that position during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, actually wrote a book with Professor Gutiérrez back in 2004. It was during the book launch for the Italian translation that this news was released.
This is certainly a signal of a good shift in the theological and ecclesiastical worlds. For years the popular (mis)conception of “Liberation Theology,” which might more accurately be called “Liberation Theologies” for the multiplicity of perspectives and approaches that have arisen since Gutiérrez’s 1971 book A Theology of Liberation, has been largely negative due to the perception that Pope John Paul II and the CDF had “condemned” the field of study and reflection. Readers of the two CDF documents on liberation theology from the 1980s will appreciate the slight nuance that has often been overlooked, but still recognize the incredulity the anti-communist pontiff of the era maintained about the movement no less.
It is reasonable to suggest that the incredulity was, in part, the result of Pope John Paul II’s own personal history and experience of communism in Poland. Those who might have had a similar experience see the creative use of social theory and criticism alongside grounded scriptural analysis and theological reflection to be a process of promise, not necessarily a harbinger of “communist values” mixed with Christianity.
Now, with the election of Francis, the first pope from Latin America, liberation theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe,” according to the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Though never a supporter of liberation theology himself, the Argentine pontiff has condemned the exploitation of the poor and called on Catholics to reach out to them.
As I wrote months ago in America magazine, shortly after Pope Francis’s election, in the piece, “Living La Vida Jusicia: Pope Francis and ‘Liberation Theology,‘” just because the then Cardinal in Argentina spoke out against certain iterations of “liberation theology” in accord with the CDF documents of the era, does not mean that he was against the theological and praxiological movement in practice. In other words, we should not “do as he says and not as he does,” but look to “what he does and not what he says” in terms of uncovering the deeply rooted appreciation for “liberation theology” expressed in deed.
In addition to the news about Pope Francis’s forthcoming meeting with Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is now a Dominican friar teaching at the University of Notre Dame, Archbishop Mueller also mentioned that the CDF had given the official “green light” to proceed with the canonization process for slain Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
Some very good news indeed!