Liberation Theology

Silenced theologian foretold disobedience of Vatican order

Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J.
Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J.

.- Various websites have published a letter from Liberation Theology proponent Father Jon Sobrino, SJ, sent last December to the Father General of the Jesuit Order, Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach.  In the letter Sobrino, anticipates the official Notification from the Holy See pointing out erroneous propositions in some of his Theological works and foresees his reasons for rejecting it.

Last week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published an official Notification regarding the Theological works of Sobrino.  After years of study, the CDF points out “diverse erroneous or dangerous propositions that could harm the faithful” and that “are not in conformity with the Doctrine of the Church.”

Although Sobrino has not made any public comments since the notification was published, various websites sympathetic to Liberation Theology reproduced the letter which he sent to Father Kolvenbach on December 13th, 2006.

In that letter, Sobrino reasserted his Theological beliefs on the points under question by the Holy See and foretold that the “fundamental reason” he would not adhere to the official notification would be the approval he had received from “a good number of theologians” who have read his books and whose “unanimous judgment is that there is nothing incompatible with the faith of the Church in my two books.”

“I don’t feel represented at all by the global judgment of the notification.  Therefore I don’t feel it is right to accept it,” Sobrino said, adding that adhering to it “would be disrespectful to the theologians” who support him and whom he said included Brazilian “Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, and Fathers Gonzalez Faus, J. Vives, X. Alegre, Carlo Palacio, Gesteira, Javier Vitoria, Martin Maier, and Sesboué.”

Sobrino claimed that over the recent years, Father Arrupe above all, but also Jesuit Vicar General, Father Vincent O’Keefe, and Papal Delegate, Father Paolo Dezza, “always encouraged me to respond with honor, fidelity, and humility.  They thanked me for my willingness to respond and they helped me understand that the way the Vatican curia does things is not always honorable or very evangelical.”

“What I want to add now is that not only have I received serious warnings and accusations from these congregations, above all the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but from early on there was a tendency at the Vatican, in various diocesan curias and among certain bishops, to oppose my theology—and liberation theology in general.  An atmosphere of judgment against my theology was created, a priori, often without having read my writings,” Sobrino argued.

Sobrino also claimed that a high-ranking cardinal at the Vatican was involved in an alleged campaign “to get rid of Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, Ronaldo Muñoz, and Jon Sobrino. That’s what I was told, and I think it is very probable.”

Sobrino said he is a victim of a smear campaign by uninformed persons who have not read his books.  “I don’t think this ‘bad reputation’ was something specifically personal, but rather part of a campaign against liberation theology,” he maintained.

The second reason

Later in his letter, Sobrino explained the second reason why he would not adhere to the notification, saying it was related to “the way the Vatican has worked during the last 20 or 30 years.  In these years, many theologians, good people with their own limitations of course, who love Jesus Christ and the Church and have great love for the poor, have been mercilessly persecuted.”

According to Sobrino, such individuals include “Archbishop Romero, when he was alive (there are still some at the Vatican who don’t like him, at least not the real Archbishop Romero instead of a watered-down one).”  The Vatican, he claimed, has tried to silence thousands of religious brothers and sisters who have been “immensely generous” in their ministries and to shut down base communities, whose members are “the privileged of God,” he said.

“To adhere to the notification, which expresses in large measure that campaign and that manner of operating, so often clearly unjust and against so many good people, would be to endorse it,” Sobrino stated.  “I don’t want to commit the sin of arrogance, but I don’t believe it would help the cause of the poor of Jesus and of the church of the poor,” he argued.

Against Ratzinger

In the third part of his letter, Sobrino aims his guns at Pope Benedict XVI and the criticism of his theology when he was still a Cardinal.

Although he admitted that “this is not a reason not to subscribe to the notification,” Sobrino asserted that “Cardinal Ratzinger, in 1984, did not at all understand liberation theology, nor did he seem to accept the critical reflections” of some liberationist authors. 

“It is not easy to dialogue with the Congregation for the Faith,” he argued.  “Sometimes it seems impossible.  They seem obsessed with finding any failing or mistake, to find what could be a different conceptualization of some truth of the faith.  In my opinion, what we have here is in large part ignorance, prejudice, and obsession with doing away with liberation theology.  Sincerely it is not easy to dialogue with that kind of mentality,” Sobrino claimed.

“Dear Father Kolvenbach, this is want I wanted to tell you.  You know well that, although these things are unpleasant, I can say that I am at peace,” Sobrino wrote in his letter.  “If you’ll allow me to be totally sincere, I don’t feel ‘at home’ in the world of curias, diplomacy, strategy, power, etc.  Being away from ‘that world,’ even though I’d not seek to do so, does not cause me anguish.  If you know what I mean, it actually brings me relief,” Sobrino said.


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