Liberation Theology, Social Justice
Social Justice is a great Catholic virtue, proposed by several Popes. It should be considered distinct from "Liberation Theology", which is in stark contrast to the valid proposals of the Popes and has influenced the directions of large Catholic charity groups such as “Development and Peace” in Canada and "Catholic Relief Services" in the US.
Where does this Liberation Theology come from, and what does it mean?
“Catholic” Liberation Theology began in Latin America with a book by Gustavo Gutierrez in 1973, in response to a dire situation where many bishops were in the back pocket of a corrupt “capitalistic” government. It seemed to Gutierrez that the only way to get workers the rights they deserved was to undermine the authority of government and the church, where many bishops were part of the social elite.
Gutierrez's philosophy of a “purified Marxism” reduced the problems of this world to a “class struggle.” It was "legitimized" by Bishop Gerardo Valencia Cano of Columbia, who supported a violent coup of government. His plane crashed, which many in the movement attributed to sabotage. This gave the movement the “martyr” it needed. The enemy was no longer the devil, but it was capitalism and church hierarchy.
Liberation theology is fundamentally a political movement rather than a spiritual one. It basically says something like this; “empower the little guy by joining workers together, invert the social pyramid, put the collective poor people at the top of society, and overthrow the big bad establishment.”
Is this what the early Christians did?
Some propose that this what the early Christians did, when they pooled their resources and formed an alternate society. Some argue that in the Bible, those who withheld their property died. Actually, that’s not what the story of Ananias (Acts 5) is about at all:
Ananias’ sin was not holding back part of the price of the land, but was in his attempt to bolster his own reputation through deceit, pretending to be giving the full price when he really was not, thus appearing to be more self-sacrificing than was true ...
The liberation movement of the 70's misrepresented the story of Ananias, to justify Marxism, whose social context was completely distinct from the early Church. The early Christians were in no way trying to create a classless society, there were no capitalistic governments back then, no big factories. Early Christian society was based on free will. It was a completely distinct from Marxist communism. Early Christians were not trying to create a political answer, nor were they trying to overthrow the government. Nor did they in any way want to destroy the validity of the Eucharist, or the priesthood. They were completely reverent and dependent on Church hierarchy, the Bishops and leaders. Early Christians were not trying to usurp national sovereignty for a New World Order. Early Christians were simply trying to stick together and survive, and preach the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is not of this world (which is in complete contrast to social justice movements). This distinction between the "spiritually poor" and the "financially poor" is embedded in Christianity from the time of the apostles. In 400 AD, Pope Leo the Great said:
Blessed, he [Jesus] says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It might have been unclear to which poor he was referring, if after the words Blessed are the poor, he had not added anything about the kind of poor he had in mind. For then the poverty that many suffer because of grave and harsh necessity might seem sufficient to merit the kingdom of heaven. But when he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he shows that the kingdom of heaven is to be given to those who are distinguished by their humility of soul rather than by their lack of worldly goods.
The Lord said “You shall know a tree by its fruit,” and the fruit of the liberation theology has been very bitter. It's proponents tend towards a philosophy that would strip Church leadership of power and authority, and with it the concept of succession, the power of the priesthood and the magisterial authority from which it came. The Lord's command to the apostles (the first Church magisterium) of "binding and loosening" is generally ignored. When the movement hit Europe and North America it's proponents were often arguing for abortion, same sex ordination, same sex marriage, denial of the sacraments, denial of Jesus’ divinity, denial of the Eucharist, denial of confession, denial of the true Grace of baptism, denial of the power of the priesthood, and a long list of other heterodoxical beliefs characteristic of a communist mindset emerged.
Liberation Theology quickly spread to protestant Churches such as the Presbyterians, United and Anglican Churches, which had long since thrown out any concept of a hierarchy. Every Church or part of a Church that adopted this philosophy in the last 30 years has witnessed shrinking congregations, and yet its adherents seem to stubbornly hang onto the idea that it is the best way forward for the Church. Pope Benedict while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger articulated the problem:
“..it would be illusory and dangerous to ignore the intimate bond which radically unites them (liberation theologies), and to accept elements of the Marxist analysis without recognizing its connections with the (Marxist) ideology, or to enter into the practice of the class-struggle and of its Marxist interpretation while failing to see the kind of totalitarian society to which this process slowly leads…
For the Marxist, the truth is a truth of class: there is no truth but the truth in the struggle of the revolutionary class …[the legitimate Catholic] positive meaning the Church of the poor signifies the preference given to the poor, without exclusion, whatever the form of their poverty [which includes "the poor in Spirit"] because they are preferred by God…But the theologies of liberation…go on to a disastrous confusion between the poor of the Scripture [Mat. 5] and the proletariat of Marx [who are financially poor but may also be completely rebellious to God]. In this way they pervert the Christian meaning of the poor, and they transform the fight for the rights of the poor into a class fight within the ideological perspective of the class struggle.”
(Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, now Pope Benedict XVI; written in 1984)
Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Ratzinger) gives an equally stringent message to Catholics about liberation theology's perversion of the Christian understanding of the “poor”. The poor, are those who are oppressed because of their faithfulness to God, not because they belong to a particular "class", and they are not only those who are financially poor, but rather those who are oppressed because they are faithful, as per Matt. 5. This authentic understanding of the "poor" cuts across the class boundaries that Social Justice movements try to create. According to Pope Benedict’s instruction on liberation theology, our understanding of the virtues, faith, hope and charity are subjugated to the new Marxist order:
- Faith becomes “fidelity to history.” We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, to bring about the final fruition of the class struggle.
- Hope becomes “confidence in the future.” Yes, we can change the world; we don’t need God. Our collective redemption comes when we engage in the Marxist class struggle.
- Charity becomes “option for the poor.” All are not created equal. Special political privilege for the oppressed, socialism will set us free. It’s the dawn of a new age.
Authentic Catholic teaching exhorts the rich to give to the poor out of compassion and charity. Marxism exhorts the poor to overthrow the rich either through violence or subversiveness, and steal their fortunes. This is hardly Christian.
This perversion of "social justice" and bent towards "liberation theology", is the heart of what is wrong with the Canadian organization “Development and Peace (D&P)”, and the US bishop's "Catholic Relief Services (CRS)", and why they need to be re-organized, so they are faithful to our Lord and his authentic teachings about what it really means to take care of the poor. It may be why these organizations were so reluctant to inform local bishops of their activities in 3rd world dioceses. When Canadian bishops exercised their legitimate authority to require D&P to get local bishop approval they were basically telling the bishops to mind their own business ... uhh... if this isn't the bishops business, whose business it? The D&P agenda has been found out, and they don't like it.
We pray that D&P and CRS will come into alignment with the Church. Otherwise they should be denied Church money and sent into secular society to fend for themselves. We pray they do the right thing and clean up their act.
We have moved a summary of authentic Catholic Social teaching here
The Catholic Church stands against socialism. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, know first hand the consequences of socialism, communism and fascism. John Paul II suffered first under Nazis fascism and then Soviet communism in Poland and was instrumental in liberating Poland from Soviet Communism and in the fall of the Soviet empire. Benedict XVI grew up in Nazis Germany and risked his life in resistance to the Nazis regime. The Catholic Church promotes personal Christocentric love and respect of your neighbor in all affairs and social dealings under the principle of subsidiarity and has strongly opposed all Government efforts at socialism as an unacceptable remedy for social ills.
More discussion of liberation theology can be found here: