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Pope Francis has close ties with liberation theology, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that once condemned the movement, has said.
In a lengthy interview in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller said Pope Francis “is not so much a liberation theologian in the academic sense, but as far as pastoral work is concerned, he has close ties with liberation theology’s concerns. What we can learn from him is the insight that there is no pastoral work without profound theology and vice versa”.
In the 1980s the CDF under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger attacked liberation theology as borrowing “from various currents of Marxist thought“. But a visit to Peru in 1988, when the then Archbishop Müller met Fr Gustavo Gutiérrez OP, regarded as the father of the movement, convinced the him of its orthodoxy.
“Liberation theology wants to make God’s liberating actions visible in the Church’s religious and social practice ... It would stop being genuine theology if it were to confuse the Christian message with Marxist or other social analysis,” he explained.
Asked by FAZ if liberation theology was meanwhile recognised as a form of thought on an equal footing with the other traditional forms of theology, Cardinal Müller explained that liberation theology’s basic concern was congruent with the Gospel for the Poor – “for those on the periphery”, as Pope Francis never tired of emphasising, he said.
To the question whether it was true that Fr Gutiérrez, with whom he has published two book on poverty, was still not above all suspicion in the Vatican, Cardinal Müller replied that as far as he knew Fr Gutiérrez had always been treated fairly by the CDF.
“Of course liberation theology was called into question. That is perfectly legitimate. There is always trial and error in theology, even with great Doctors of the Church like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas or theologians like Newman, Rahner or von Balthasar. Liberation theology developed the three-step method of ‘see-judge-act’ which has never been found fault with,” he added.