Although the meeting was not listed among the Pope’s official private audiences, the Vatican confirmed that at the request of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis this week received Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian theologian credited with being one of the founders of liberation theology.
Archbishop Müller’s personal friendship with the 85-year-old theologian – who is thought to have become a Dominican in the late 90's to avoid being under the jurisdiction of the current Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani – has sparked speculations about how much Pope Francis supports the “official acceptance” of theology of liberation at the Vatican.
The speculations from some Vatican analysts grew after the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran a short essay from Fr. Gutierrez.
The essay was originally published as part of a book co-written with Archbishop Muller, published in Germany 14 years ago and recently translated to Italian. Gutierrez was in Rome for the presentation of the Italian edition.
However, Fr. Scannone – who taught Pope Francis during his formation period – contends that “there are different currents” within Liberation Theology, which he has studied extensively.
The Argentine current, he said, “which never used Marxist categories or the Marxist analysis of society, but rather, without disregarding the social analysis, it privileges a more historical, cultural analysis.”
“My opinion is that the Argentinean line of Liberation Theology, that some call ‘Theology of the people,’ helps understand the pastoral work of Bergoglio as Bishop, just like many of his affirmations and teachings.”
“There are things that I believe marked Bergoglio in a special way, above all the issue of the evangelization of the culture, an issue of popular piety,” the priest said, observing that it is part of the Pope’s personal “style” to speak “about the faithful people.”
When Pope Francis came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s after first being elected, Fr. Scannone noted, “the first thing that he did was to ask the faithful to pray for him so that God would bless him, before he gave the blessing to the people. That is very much him.”
“He always supports this type of theology and I believe that formed part of the environment where he did his pastoral work,” Fr. Scannone continued. “In fact, the issue of popular piety and the evangelization of the culture, and the enculturation of the Gospel are key to this current of theology.”