Liberation theology has definitely come in from the cold, if the recent remarks of Cardinal Gerard Ludwig Müller are anything to go by. Cardinal Müller is, of course, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of The Faith, the guardian of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church. But Cardinal Müller prefers to stress the positive side of his role, “to promote and preserve the faith” and to recognise that there is “trial and error” in theology. And in this context the cardinal mentions Gustavo Gutiérrez in the same breath as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Newman. The era of “God’s Rottweiler”, as Müller’s predecessor-but-one, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was sometimes called, seems to be over.
Also on the way in from the cold, it would seem, is the Pontifical Catholic University (PUCP) in Lima. In the same interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Müller had a lot of good things to say about the university, which granted him an honorary doctorate. He was speaking about a month before the announcement of the papal commission comprising three cardinals appointed to reach “an agreed solution” to the dispute between the university and the church authorities, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he had some inkling of this proposal.
At any rate, Cardinal Müller describes the “renowned” university as having “enormous potential for positive social development and a great opportunity to witness to the Gospel in an age of globalisation”. At the core of this is dialogue. The cardinal says that the Church cannot “carelessly abandon its responsibility for some 70 million pupils and students in Catholic educational institutions by retreating into a group of totally like-minded people”. This attitude might well describe the position of the PUCP’s Grand Chancellor, the archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, not known for his tolerance of dissent and widely believed to have orchestrated the Vatican decree removing the “P” and the “C” from the university’s title.
In the interview Cardinal Müller in fact raises the subject of Cardinal Cipriani, “the local bishop in Lima” in response to a question about Opus Dei, of which Cipriani is a member, and remarks that ‘it is no secret that there are considerable differences of opinion’ with him. The role of a Catholic university’s Grand Chancellor, he says, is to see that the general orientation of the university is guided by the principles of the Catholic faith and the natural moral law, “which has human dignity as its dynamic centre”. The Grand Chancellor “does not govern the university in academic or administrative matters”. One doubts whether this is precisely how Cardinal Cipriani sees it. And “the appeal process” – is that against Cardinal Cipriani’s withdrawal of teaching faculties from theology lecturers? – “is judged by technical criteria, in theology as anywhere else”. Does this mean that the new commission will oversee an appeal process against Cardinal Cipriani’s ban? It is hard to escape the impression that a message is being sent here.
In February there was a book launch in Rome. The book being launched was a series of essays on liberation theology by Cardinal Müller, with contributions from Gustavo Gutiérrez and a preface by Pope Francis. The event turned into a tribute to Fr Gutiérrez, who appeared unannounced. Alongside him and Müller were Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez, head of the Pope’s “C8” Council of Cardinals set up to advise on reforms, and the rector of the PUCP. All were smiling broadly. Maybe they had more than one reason for smiling.
Francis McDonagh writes for The Tablet on Latin America