Liberation Theology begun at conferences for bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1050’s and 1960’s was named and formalized by Gustavo Gutierrez in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. Its primary tenant being that the poor are victims of social injustice which is a sin that must be atoned for by the rich – more or less. It fell into disfavor with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for implying that political social justice for the poor is just as important as Christian doctrine. This position was rejected by the Church and clarified by Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1980’s. Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict. For all intents and purposes, Liberation Theology fell into disfavor and disuse. However, it came to my attention that it is still alive in Lima, Peru.
It seems that the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima is at odds with the Vatican. The Vatican wants the university to stop calling itself a Catholic university because many of its staff and students espouse Liberation Theology. This conflict has caused factionalism among staff and students. How can one consider oneself a good Catholic and a believer in Liberation theology? Ironically, those students who propose to believe that promoting political social justice for the poor is just as important as, say the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, are of the social class that rides to university in a chauffeur driven car. In South America that may not be considered ironic. Juxtaposed ideologies are relatively common place, in my experience.
The university administration sees the conflict between itself and the Vatican as a ploy by the Vatican to take over the land and the coffers of the university. How social justice for the poor enters into this is anybody’s guess.
The tragedy of this debacle is that individual students who are trying to find a way to be a good Catholic and to help find social justice for the poor are caught on the horns of a dilemma. I just visited friends whose daughter left the university, suffered a mild break-down and is currently under psychiatric treatment. I have great empathy for the young woman because in the 1970’s I found myself in a similar position. It is impossible to try to stay on the fence and to try to reconcile two disparate philosophies forever. One must make a choice. I chose not to have a break-down and left a comfortable life in Peru to face an unknown future in the United States.