Monday, May 07, 2007

As Pope Heads to Brazil, a Rival Theology Persists

~from Spiegel Online via NYT Online

Liberation theology, which the pope once called "a fundamental threat," retains its appeal in Latin America.

In the early 1980s, when Pope John Paul II wanted to clamp down on what he considered a dangerous, Marxist-inspired movement in the Roman Catholic Church, liberation theology, he turned to a trusted aide: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Now Cardinal Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI, and when he arrives here on Wednesday for his first pastoral visit to Latin America he may be surprised at what he finds. Liberation theology, which he once called "a fundamental threat to the faith of the church," persists as an active, even defiant force in Latin America, home to nearly half the world's one billion Roman Catholics.

Over the past 25 years, even as the Vatican moved to silence the clerical theorists of liberation theology and the church fortified its conservative hierarchy, the social and economic ills the movement highlighted have worsened. In recent years, the politics of the region have also drifted leftward, giving the movement's demand that the church embrace "a preferential option for the poor" new impetus and credibility.

Today some 80,000 "base communities," as the grass-roots building blocks of liberation theology are called, operate in Brazil, the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation, and nearly one million "Bible circles" meet regularly to read and discuss scripture from the viewpoint of the theology of liberation.

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