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March 9, 2018

Aurelio Porfiri

The election of a South American Pope has brought this part of the American continent to the center of the attention of Catholic media and public opinion. 

New books and studies have been done on the history of Catholicism in many Latin American countries. New attention was given to Liberation Theology, a theological doctrine that was always considered highly controversial. It was object of two documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith: the Instruction “Libertatis Nuntius” on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation (1984) and the Instruction On Christian Freedom and Liberation (1986). Libertatis Nuntius warned against deviations coming from Liberation Theology.

Peruvian professor Julio Loredo de Izcue has written a book that takes up this subject anew. In Teología de la Liberación. Un salvavidas de plomo para los pobres (Theology of Liberation. A lifebelt for the poor made of lead) the author presents his strong objections against the doctrine, based on an extensive bibliography (occupying 34 pages of the book itself!).

Julio Loredo de Izcue is a journalist and writer. He is the president in Italy of the association Tradition, Family and Property. His writings are published in several languages in Europe and in  the Americas.

Dr Loredo, you were raised in Peru. Did you have occasion to come in contact with Liberation Theology, or is it an interest that you developed later on?

I lived in Peru until I was 12, then I came to Europe to attend high school. In 1970 I went back to Peru, from where I had to leave in 1974, when I was only 19, due to the persecution by the communist government headed by General Juan Velasco Alvarado. I was a founding member of “Tradición y Acción por un Perú Mayor” (“Tradition and Action for a Better Peru”). In 1973, we did the first campaign against Liberation Theology, launched in Peru by its founder, Father Gustavo Gutiérrez. Rather than a theological school, it was a political movement that openly sided with the communist dictatorship of Velasco Alvarado. In 1973 the government started to persecute us harshly, we were openly threatened. As a consequence, members of the association had to go into exile in August 1974. So, my relationship with Liberation Theology was not merely academic. I suffered its consequences in my own flesh.

How would you define Liberation Theology?

I would repeat Fr Gutiérrez’s definition: “What we understand by liberation theology is involvement in the revolutionary political process.”

The subtitle of your book says that Liberation Theology is a “leaden life belt for the poor.” Why?

First of all this phrase is not mine. I took it from Uruguayan Jesuit theologian Horacio Bojorge. It expresses very well one of the most controversial aspects of Liberation Theology. It purports to be a theology for the poor, with the poor, of the poor. But if we analyze its application, country by country, we can see that where this theology was implemented the economic and social situation of the poorer classes plummeted. So this theology is not a salvation for the poor; on the contrary it condemns them to a more severe poverty.

I would like to go even deeper on this. Your statement on Liberation Theology seems quite strong. What is the ground for this?

One chapter of my book is dedicated to a synthetic analysis, country by country, of the implementation of Liberation Theology. Where its socialist postulates were implemented, the outcome was an exponential rising of poverty and of social unrest. On the contrary, where opposite policies were applied, the result was an increase in wealth and its better distribution among people.

Speaking about the forerunners of Liberation Theology, you mention Social Catholicism, Liberal Catholicism, Christian Democracy, Americanism, Modernism, Nouvelle Théologie…

Liberation Theology was not born from zero in the 60s. There is a whole background that I start to analyze since the French Revolution. We can trace a very clear line, both in the theological and philosophical field and in that of social and political activism. Liberation Theology is the daughter of Nouvelle Théologie, as this had been the daughter of Modernism, itself an offspring of Liberal Catholicism. In the field of social action, Liberation Theology continues Christian Socialism, an offspring of Democratic Catholicism, deriving from left-wing Social Catholicism.

Your work is inspired by the teachings of Brazilian thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. He gives much emphasis to “tendencies,” elements that prepare future developments, directly or indirectly. What tendencies prepared Liberation Theology?

Not only Liberation Theology, but all modern heresies. Analyzing these heresies, one can see that the justification presented by their mentors is always the same: “we need to adapt to the present time.” They do not start from theological or philosophical principles, but rather adopt them ex post to justify the adaptation of the Church to the contemporary world or, better, to the revolutionary elements in the contemporary world. At the base, there is always this anxiety to adapt to the egalitarian and liberal aspects of the modern world. Doctrines come afterwards. The Programma dei Modernisti (“Program of the modernists”), written in 1907, states: “We just want to be Catholics that speak the language of our time.” As French writer Paul Claudel said: “We need to live as we think or we will think as we live.” So, first we start to live in a certain way and then we try to adapt our thinking to that.

Is it wrong to adapt to the modern world?

I said very clearly that it is adaptation to the revolutionary tendencies in the modern world, not to the modern world in itself.

Do you think that Liberation Theology is still popular today, or is it more a thing of the past?

The answer is two-fold. On the one side, Liberation Theology, that was dying away after the Vatican’s condemnation in 1984 and the downfall of real socialism, has been proposed again in recent years.

On the other hand, Liberation Theology is changing, proceeding to more radical manifestations of its own postulates. The nucleus of Liberation Theology is dialectic struggle. In Marxism, this meant class struggle: proletarians against bourgeois. In 1988, liberation theologians had an international meeting in New York, analyzing the collapse of socialism and the need to go beyond Marxism. They thus began to recycle their doctrines, adapting to new tendencies. They began to look for new “oppressions.” Thus, the oppression of women, in need of liberation, whence Feminist Liberation Theology. The oppression of black people, whence Black Liberation Theology. The oppression of Indians, whence Indigenist Liberation Theology. The oppression of homosexuals, whence Gay and Lesbian Liberation Theology. Later, they developed an Eco-Theology of Liberation, proposing the liberation of the Earth from man’s oppression. This theology, for example, had no little influence on the encyclical Laudato Sì (inspired by one of the most prominent liberation theologians, Leonardo Boff, who now has become an eco-liberation theologian). 

What about “People Theology”?

At the beginning of the 60s, when Liberation Theology was been developed, several Argentinean theologians participated in it. At the end of the 60s, however, the Argentinean group parted from mainstream Liberation Theology. They maintained the nucleus of the doctrine, but they rejected some elements such as Marxism and atheism. They said that liberation theologians had a wrong idea of people, an ideological idea. They would rather consider the people in its sociological reality. So they started to develop an “Argentinean Liberation Theology,” called “People’s Theology.” As I said, they preserve the core of Liberation Theology, dialectical struggle, although not more between proletarians and bourgeois, but between “people” and “anti-people.” They proclaim themselves continuators of Latin-American populism, which rose in the 30s with leaders like Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina, and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre in Peru. It was clearly a revolutionary populism, radically anti-traditional, anti-hierarchic, anti-elitist. It has the same goal as Communism – seize power from the elites and give it to the masses—but reject violence. So it is a different stream, not to be confounded with Liberation Theology, but a careful analysis shows that they are practically the same thing.