Even though Pope Francis is deeply concerned for the poor and has been praised by liberation theologians, there is a stark divide between the pontiff and them, according to a Vatican analyst.
“There is a chasm between the vision of the Latin American liberation theologians and the vision of this Argentine pope,” Sandro Magister wrote May 16 in the Italian publication “L'Espresso.”
This is despite perceptions that “when, just three days after his election as pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio called for 'a Church that is poor and for the poor,' his admission among the ranks of the revolutionaries seemed like a done deal.”
Liberation theology developed in Latin America in the 1950s as a Marxist interpretation of the gospel, focusing on freedom from material poverty and injustice rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.
While Pope Francis has been praised by Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan priest and a leader among liberation theologians, the Roman Pontiff “always registered his disagreement with (liberation theology), even at the cost of finding himself isolated.”
“He knows liberation theology well, he saw it emerge and spread among his Jesuit confrères as well,” Magister wrote.
Rather than being influenced by Boff and other radical liberation theologians, Pope Francis took to Father Juan Carlos Scannone, one of his professors.
Magister said that Fr. Scannone “elaborated a theology not of liberation, but 'of the people,' founded on the culture and religious devotion of the common people, of the poor in the first place, with their traditional spirituality and their sense of justice.”
It was this “people's theology” that the Bishop of Rome has embraced, and not a theology of liberation.
In the preface to Una Apuesta Por America Latina, a 2005 book by Guzmán Carriquiry on the legacy and future of Latin America, Pope Francis wrote of liberation theology: “After the collapse of 'real socialism,' these currents of thought were plunged into confusion. Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who, anachronistically, would like to propose it again.”
This “dismissive” judgement of liberation theology, Magister said, is “an enthusiasm for progress that in reality backfires” on Catholic identity.
Pope Francis' frequent references to spiritual realities are a sign of his non-alignment with the immanence characteristic of liberation theology, while at the same time having a deep concern for the poor.
During a homily for a daily Mass said April 30, the Roman Pontiff said that Christ is the one to whom “the prince of this world” comes but can do nothing against. “If we don’t want the prince of this world to take the Church into his hands, we must entrust it to the One who can defeat the prince of this world,” said Pope Francis.
And yet, on May 16, he reminded new ambassadors to the Holy See that he “loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ's name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.”