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 fruit of the modern social justice movement

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:

“ 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.

So what is authentic Social Justice?

Since the Encyclical (Rerum Novarum) in 1891, the Church has spoken many times on social justice. In 2004 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a 300 page document titled the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which exhaustively reviews all Catholic teachings on social justice in all spheres, not just economic. The Compendium reaffirms Rerum Novarum is “a lasting paradigm” for the Church’s social doctrine.

Protect property rights

  • Socialism is not a remedy to social ills.
  • Private property is an unalienable right.

Respect for work and the worker

  • The fruits of one's labor are to be the sole property of the individual. No one has a right to take your property.
  • Wage negotiations should be free agreements between the workingman and the employer.
  • Employers owe their workers a just wage sufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage earner.
  • Workers owe your employer a fair and honest days work.
  • “The free market is an institution of social importance because of its capacity to guarantee effective results in the production of goods and services.”
  • “Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person.”
  • No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12). Rather, all are charged by the Apostle Paul to make it a point of honour to work with their own hands, so as to “be dependent on nobody” (1 Thes 4:12).

Work for the Common Good

The common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (Pope John XXIII: Pacem in Terris 55)Pope John Paul II said:

[The Common Good] "is not simply the sum total of particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately, it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person" (Centesimus Annus 47).

Participation and Solidarity

Participation and solidarity are two other fundamental principles of Catholic social thought. Participation is defined by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church as when each

[C]itizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which he belongs. Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good. (189)

But the state should not make the people dependant financially upon it:

[Solidarity is not a] feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. (John Paul II: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38)


We should pursue peace at almost all cost. These are the conditions under which a nation may take up arms:

[T]he damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC 2309)

Deference to the poor

Almsgiving is a core principle of Catholicism. Give to the poor. The state should not overreach their jurisdiction in this, and become a "Nanny" state.

Malfunctions and defects in the social assistance state [or welfare state] are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the state. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus48)


The institution closest to the conditions on the ground should handle responsibility for overseeing and controlling that activity. In other words, if a municipal government can handle a social responsibility, such as community planning, or water supply, it should do so rather than a national government.

In conclusion

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:


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Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.