Ratzinger and Liberation Theology

As I continue posting comments on Benedict XVI as I read through David Gibson's fascinating biography The Rule of Benedict (Harper 2006), I was intrigued by his discussion of Joseph Ratzinger's interactions with Liberation Theology/Theologians. A while back I posted on Benedict's treatment of Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, but Gibson puts that in context.

Like John Paul II, who had a strong aversion to anything Marxist (understandable considering his experience in Poland), Benedict had a similar distaste (to put it mildly) for things Marxist. Though Ratzinger wasn't a big fan of western capitalism, which he found "hellish," Marxism was much worse.

That many Liberationists turned to Marxist analysis to analyze Latin American society and promote change, provoked a strong reaction. He believed that they had co-opted the Gospel and turned it into a "godless prophetic movement." It promised this-world benefits, but did not deal with spiritual matters in a way Ratzinger believed proper.
Gibson comments on this turn to caricature to respond to Liberationists such as Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff, among others:

As he often does with ideas he opposes, Ratzinger painted liberation theology in stark tones that distorted the movement's tenets beyond all recognition. Whatever the undeniable excesses of some proponents of liberation theology, Ratzinger was in reality criticizing a movement that did not exist. But the tactic also made liberation theology -- and other deviations Ratzinger perceived -- much easier to condemn since they were made to seem so patently corrupt. This is in keeping with Ratzinger's grim, purist theological outlook, which sees even the slightest deviation from his view of tradition as tantamount to despoiling the entire theory or movement or person, a seduction so subtle we may not ever realize it is happening. (Gibson, 193).

A bit like a Harold Lindsell of "Battle for the Bible" fame, Ratzinger was afraid of the slippery slope, "where the smallest misstep will inevitably lead to disaster." And therefore, he viewed liberation theology fomenting all kinds of evils, from Islamic terrorism to militant feminism. Why, because Liberation theologies assumed that "man is to be his own creator." (p. 194).
It wasn't that Ratzinger had no sympathy for the poor, but he saw in liberationist ideas a movement toward anarchy in society and in the church, and he could not abide that possibility.


In reading his condemnation of Boff or Sobrino, one got the opinion that he had not actually read the writings of those he condemned. Ironically, he was harshest with these two, who barely ever mention Marx, than with a Segundo Galilea or Juan Luis Segundo, who used Marx heavily, but were ignored by Ratzinger. He also accused the Franciscan Boff, a pacifist, of supporting terrorism, a charge he also made concerning Sobrino who was nearly the victim of death squad attacks.
It's so easy to condemn sweeping generalities and not actually pay attention to the people you are hurting.
Joe said…
As a church member who has been on the receiving end of disempowering and egocentric church leaderships for years, I was so glad to read Leonardo and Clodovis Boff's Introduction to Liberation Theology and see that someone else shared my thoughts on community participation. I feel quite sure that God never intended the laity to be marginalised from the decision-making of the church in the ways that I have seen. Please make it different.

Marxist thought does contain its errors, but to ignore many of its observations is to ignore the social history of the world which is permeated with class struggle and the kind of exploitation of the poor that the Old Testament Prophets condemned. The Bible says, "sift everything carefully" but Ratzinger just throws everything out instead.

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