Liberation theology may have been forced out of the front door of the Catholic Church in Latin America only to make an appearance at the back door, influencing the region’s political culture.
In fact, “wherever the left has come to power in Latin America,” one finds a connection between liberation theology and secular politics, writes John L. Allen Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 23). This is most clear in the case of Paraguay, where Fernando Lugo, a radical Catholic bishop who has tendered his resignation but who is officially still on the books, is making a bid to form the country’s next government. Lugo has been ordered by the Vatican not to run for public office in the national elections, an order he has defied, with the support of at least one other Paraguayan bishop. In Venezuela, a group of priests inspired by President Hugo Chavez have accused their bishops of reactionary opposition –and have caused enough concern for a delegation of Venezuelan bishops to meet with Pope Benedict [though suspicions are likely to be quieted by Chavez‘s recent defeat at the polls].
Meanwhile, Ecuadorian President Correa, a Catholic socialist, recently appeared at a conference sponsored by the Saint Egido lay movement calling for a “new Catholicism” which would challenge global capitalism and offer a rebuke to what he called the “anti-immigrant U.S. Christians.” In Bolivia, President Evo Morales’ own police chief is an ex-Jesuit and a staunch liberation theologian. Allen writes that “what’s happened over the last decade is that some of those Catholics most committed to liberation theology have gravitated out of the church and into secular politics. In a number of Latin American countries, the electoral success of leftist populists has given the liberationists a new lease on life.”
Allen adds that the “secular reincarnation of liberation theology” has arrived at a time of new challenges and opportunities for the church in Latin America. Competition with burgeoning Protestantism may have moved the church into a new stage of growth. Overall, seminarians in Latin America have increased 440 percent in the last two decades, according to Fr. Edward Cleary. “This new social capital intersects with a new spirit among the Latin American bishops, who in the main seem determined to avoid the ideological fractures of the past and strike a more pastoral and evangelical tone,” Allen writes. This new stance may also “allow churches in Latin America to work out a modus vivendi with Latin America’s new leftist governments, focused on pragmatic social policy and economic developments that favor the poor.”
(National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncr.org)