Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

South African churches get it

July 29, 2014



In June 2014 the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three companies doing business with Israel:in the Occupied Territories. Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. The story  hardly covered in our newspapers is a virtual primer on the role of the Christian church under advanced capitalism.

In 2003 a young solidarity worker from The United States Rachel Corrie  was crushed to death in Gaza as she tried to prevent the razing of a Palestinian home The spotlight  was directed to the manufacturer of the Israeli bulldozer that killed her. Israel had been buying and “weaponising” Caterpillar bulldozers then using them to demolish Palestinian homes, build settlements and the separation wall, clear land to build Jewish-only roads, uproot olive and fruit trees, and carry out military operations.

This gave impetus to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement(BDS) which helped to bring down the quintessential apartheid state South Africa. It is a tried nonviolent measure to help bring countries to their senses. South Africa sensing that it had become a universal pariah for its racist segregationist policies finally capitulated.

Nobody hated the country but disliked its awful policies. Remember at the time the Dutch Reformed Church was the voice of the the establishment.  For decades it justified the unjustifiable. Once again bad theology produced bad practice. Many great Christians like Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé and the Catholic archbishop of Durban Denis Hurley distinguished themselves in this struggle.

The contemporary South African Catholic Church apparently gets it and supports the present BDS Movement. They have the lived experience to fall back on. They supported BDS when it happened. They see a striking parallel, not an exact replica for sure but the same demonic features in Israel:L dispossession, racism marginalization and humiliation. True biblical discipleship demands solidarity not weak-kneed sympathy. It demands pastoral planning and calls to action. Both are missing in Toronto and New York inter alios.

The Roman Catholic Church in North America is still too compromised, too timorous, too afraid of Jewish reaction to speak the prophetic word. Notice in the following statement supported by the Roman Catholic Church in South Africa the note of lamentation in the backing away from social justice. There are several reasons for this which I will address in future  posts



Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Challenging injustice through the courage of faith

The South African Christian community through the South African Council of Churches (SACC), South African Conference of Bishops of the Catholic Churches (SACBC) and other several ecumenical agencies join the other parts of the Church in the world to remember the Israeli/Palestinian people in their celebration of the 8th International Israeli Apartheid Week starting from the 5 -11 March.

Our participation in this Week is influenced highly by our own history of struggle and suffering in South Africa for over many decades when the values of justice, peace and love were suppressed in the interest of apartheid, division, exclusion and conflict. We found through the teachings of the Gospel how these values formed the core of Christ’s ministry.

It is only regrettable that the voice of the Church against injustice in our society is highly weakened today. It is an observation that South Africans have made with a desire now rekindled to resuscitate the voice of prophesy.

As this reflection is made on the life of our own nation in South Africa, many of you will remember that Israel remained the single supporter of apartheid when the rest of the world implemented economic sanctions, boycotts and divestments to force change in South Africa

Our brothers and sisters in Palestine have made a call in this regard, that we should question what kind of regime Israel is. And to this, after many debates and exchanges, the answer is that it shared and continues to share a similarity with the old South Africa in implementing apartheid where all non-Jews of Palestine are discriminated against, displaced of their land and homes, and subjected to refugee camps and a permanent state of violent military rule.

Today the Palestinians cry out to the world and to God, saying:

How long, O God, will they steal our livelihood? Oppress, imprison and humiliate our people? Deprive our children of their childhood? Indeed how long, God, will the multitudes of Christians of the world ignore the anguish of our Palestinian sisters and brothers and all of the oppressed?
From South Africa we are called to repent of this ignorance and oblivion we have shown. We are called to return to the way of truth, community in humanity and speak out from the podiums to the mountain tops. We are called to tell the truth and join in prayer, in the pursuit for justice, peace and love in their land.
In their Kairos Document, similar to the one South Africans put to the world in the 1980s, Palestinians say:

Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?

Israeli Apartheid Week

We urge all South Africans and the Church in South Africa to join in the Awareness Campaign that over 100 Universities in the world including those in our country are engaging in during what is called Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW)

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events (including rallies, lectures, cultural performances, film screenings and multimedia displays) held -by ordinary people- in cities, communities, churches and campuses across the globe.
IAW seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to mobilize support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Last year IAW was incredibly successful with over 90 cities worldwide, and 9 universities in South Africa, participating in the week’s events.  We now urge churches in South Africa to join in collective intercession for Freedom in Palestine before the Israel Apartheid Week takes place in different parts of the World. On the 4th of March we will join in collective prayer to bring Palestine to God our Father.

Poor judgement: “Radiant holiness.”

May 14, 2014



Catholics wonder how a palpable fraud and sycophant like Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the disgraced founder of the reactionary religious order the Legionnaires could pull the wool over so many eyes in the Catholic church. When the serial priest pedophile and father of children was finally cast aside by Cardinal Ratzinger and described by the future pope as living “a wasted, twisted life”. He had done much damage to the John Paul ll papacy. The latter’s promotion of Macial as “an efficacious leader of youth” called into question the pope’s suspect judgment and gave a necessary rethink to his papacy, As if the shocking canonization of Josemaria Escriva didn’t. another papal sycophant who poured money into Rome and got a free get out jail card from Pope JP ll who made Opus dei a personal prelature.
The Polish pope had a narrow vision. He should have copied leo xll who when they asked him about his successful term as pope (1878-1903) replied that he was never afraid to promote those who disagreed with him. The Woytyla record proved just the opposite and stopped reform dead in its tracks. The Catholic Church is still suffering from too many lame appointments.
JP ll was a sharp guy but like all of us circumscribed by his environment, in his case a narrow Polish background. He failed to reform the church in this image, particularly in the more educated countries where Catholics had grown immeasurably in their theological sophistication. The real heroes of this period were those brave theologians and lay people who resisted his attempts to do an end run around Vatican ll.25 lost years. a massive failure of nerve.
The pope did find many idolators who cast their sails to his narrow vision. Many of these were promoted and in diocese after diocese, new papal automata cropped up in parishes and in the media. Like W.H. Auden’s Average Man , “When there was peace they were for peace and when there was war they went.” The same ones now are thrown into confusion as a new wind blows from Rome
It is hilarious to watch the right wingers like George Weigel try to skirt their previous endorsement of arch fraud Fr Marcial. In 2002 Weigel wrote
I have been deeply impressed by the work of the Legionaries of Christ in the United States, in Mexico, and in Rome.If Father Maciel and his charism as a founder are to be judged by the fruits of his work, those fruits are most impressive indeed.”
What were the fruits? Huge amounts of money which rolled into the Vatican, pay offs to cardinals who should have known better, a far right wing order which turned its back on the thrust of the Council and genuflected to anything to come out of Rome.
Jason Berry the great New Orleans journalist assiduously tracked the promoters of Marcial and his order. He wrote:
The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon, and CNN political analyst Bill Bennett were among them. Glendon, now a Harvard law professor, scoffed at “old slanders”.
Boy was she wrong.
To say that Weigel, Glendon and Neuhaus — who asserted Maciel’s innocence as “a moral certainty” — were duped is to overstate the obvious. Clearly, they were influenced by John Paul’s own personal support for Maciel. Neuhaus even stated that there was no doubt about Marcial’s innocence. It was “a moral certainty.”
Weigel as Berry pointed out consistently whitewashed JP ll’s blindness in the pedophilia crisis. His 992 page tome on Pope Woytyla totally avoided the issue.
Berry again:
The book ignores widely reported clergy abuse cases that rocked America and Ireland in the 1990s: the charges that brought down Covenant House founder Fr. Bruce Ritter; the resignation of Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe, N.M., amid allegations from young women; the $119 million jury verdict against the Dallas diocese in 1997 that was a subject of great conversation in the Congregation for the Clergy, according to former priest Christopher Kunze, who worked there at the time. Were these not issues for the pope?

The former ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon was similarly duped:
The recent revival of long discredited allegations against Father Maciel would come as a surprise were it not for the fact that the U.S. is currently experiencing a resurgence of anti-Catholicism. One would have thought that Father Neuhaus’s meticulous analysis of the evidence in First Things had put the matter to rest once and for all. As one who sat near Father Maciel for several weeks during the Synod for America, I simply cannot reconcile those old stories with the man’s radiant holiness.”

Radiant holiness.


Maureen Dowd on papal blindness

May 4, 2014



Saint John Paul ll according to the papal diktat  has entered the realm of those specially favoured by God. He was accompanied by the roly poly peasant pope, the man who turned the triumphalist Catholic church upside down Giovanni Roncalli. this  apparently pleased both wings of a highly polarized church.

We should understand that saints are humans, like all of us, have their flaws and that  is perfectly fine. Saint John Paul ll was no exception. A towering figure on the global stage, he was less  than inspirational in his own Catholic church. He was a man who constantly counseled  his co-believers to “be not afraid” yet he inspired much fear in those employed in the institutional church. He arbitrarily attempted to impose his view on the whole church. It was an anti-democratic, imperious view which constantly ignored collegial input from  fellow bishops and, as for the laity, he never considered  their views particularly if they did not buy his brand of restorationist policies.

One of his most obvious failings was his poor judge of character. He constantly promoted anti-intellectual and rigid dogmatists to vacant sees. These men were largely considered by church watchers more notable for their slavish adherence to everything which came out of Rome. They were never interested in the sensus fidelium of the people they were sworn to serve . They acted as branch plant managers of the unipolar line emanating from Rome. So many bishops had poor listening skills and were tone deaf to the signs of the times, the Spirit wisdom bubbling up in history—the cry of women, the voice of the people of God, the cry of the anguished  heart, the cry for ecumenical relations.


These men were part of the lost years, the ice age of Catholicism. The JP ll appointees in the end were idolaters of hard line papal edicts. In diocese after diocese the great men of Vatican ll were replaced by the grey men of John Paul ll.  Paralyzed by their dedication to an institution, they circled the wagons  and ignored Christ among  the vulnerable and broken lives of the sexually abused and their  shattered loved ones.

Two Catholics in the public eye, reacted to JP ll s elevation to sainthood. One at a time.

First, the lay voice of Catholic columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Dowd began her article by reminiscing about her own baptism as she attended mass at Nativity her childhood church. She then launched into a barely controlled tirade against the canonization of JP ll.


John Paul was a charmer, and a great man in many ways. But given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain’t no saint.

Dowd acknowledged the many talents of the late pope already acknowledged here, but then she quoted Ken Briggs, the well known religion writer:

This is a political balancing act, Unfortunately, the comparisons are invidious. John opened up the church to the world and J.P. II began to close it down again, make it into a more restricted community, putting boundaries up. He has a cloud hanging over his papacy.”



Then Dowd moved into high gear, opinions widely shared by many Catholics:

One of John Paul’s great shames was giving Vatican sanctuary to Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, a horrendous enabler of child abuse who resigned in disgrace in 2002 as archbishop of Boston. Another unforgivable breach was the pope’s stubborn defense of the dastardly Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a pedophile, womanizer, embezzler and drug addict.

Again we have here a stunning lack of papal judgment on the character of people whose greatest talents were fund raising and flattery.

Maciel according to his journalistic exposer Jason Berry was “the greatest fund-raiser for the postwar Catholic Church and equally its greatest criminal.”


Dowd again:

His order, the Legionaries of Christ, which he ran like a cult and ATM for himself and the Vatican for 65 years, denounced him posthumously in February for his “reprehensible and object. The statement followed a United Nations report upbraiding the church for turning a blind eye to child abuse by priests and the sins of Father Maciel, who had serially abused adolescent seminarians, some as young as 12, and had several children with at least two women. His sons also claimed he abused them..

Dowd went on to criticize JP ll for his woeful inaction in this area. Many Catholics agree with her. Saints like all of us have blind spots. Dowd is no less a Catholic for pointing this out.

Given the searing damage the scandal has done to so many lives and to the church, that rationalization that pope was kept in the dark doesn’t have a prayer. that the accusations were phony one He needed to recognize the scope of the misconduct and do something, not play the globe-trotting ostrich.




The tin ear bishops

April 13, 2014



Wilton Gregory the Atlanta bishop was shamed into selling his mansion after Germany’s Bishop of Bling was outed in Germany “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for” a parishioner wrote. Gregory who seems like a decent guy ate humble pie. Decent, yes but totally out of touch

“As the shepherd of this local church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, I am disappointed that, while my advisers and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia,” he wrote in The Georgia Bulletin.

Now there’s an understatement..

You wonder just what guys like this are thinking—particularly given the still ghetto conditions in Georgia. And Gregory is a black man.

Well, privilege and isolation are no respecters of color. The celibate life too often isolates people from the harsh realities of this world. Too often there has been little accountability. Many never answer to the people they are sworn to serve.
One wonders if these people ever internalized the gospel. As one critic of Gregory sputtered, “Jesus was born in a stable.”



Now Pope Francis humble life style is starting to shame a whole class of bishops.
But New Jersey, Newark Archbishop John Myers still resists he is spending $500,000 to add a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition to his already spacious retirement home. The new wing will include an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, a library and an elevator.

And this is Newark,an almost bombed out city.

Camden, New Jersey is worse,an almost wholly derelict city but that has not stopped Bishop Dennis Sullivan for spending $500,000 to buy a historic 7,000-square-foot mansion with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, three fireplaces, a library, a five-car garage and an in-ground pool. The diocese said Sullivan needs the space to entertain dignitaries and donors.Sorry, Sully it doesn’t wash.


Pope Francis  has set a high bar for “the princes.”

Bling bishop canned

March 28, 2014

On March 26 Pope Francis fired the “bling bishop’ Franz  Peter Tebartz-van Elst from his Limburg diocese in Germany. His $43 million dollar residence was the last straw for the new pontiff.

Francis has signaled that the era of “princes of the church” is over. Time to get back to Jesus.

The Irish priest Diarmuid Omuchu put it best:

We have come a long way from the fiery prophetic figure
Jesus of Nazareth who shocked and disturbed the conventions of his day in the name of justice and liberation. Our respectability has taken a terrible toll on the authentic calling of Christian life.

We have lost sight of the deeper vision and lost heart
for the passion and enthusiasm of God’s New Reign.
The following of Jesus is not a respectable religion.

A decade ago in a magnificent rant,New York Irish Catholic Jimmy Breslin went after Bishop William Murphy who thought that he should have a residence commensurate with the size of his diocese, the 6th largest in the USA. that of Long Island entitled Rockville Centre, “where his efforts were devoted to his own comfort.”

Breslin, in a series of columns, made Murphy the laughing stock of New York by dubbing him “Mansion” Murphy for booting some elderly nuns out of a building “which he then turned into a grand residence.” Breslin skewered the pompous Murphy for his “marble bathroom, $120,000 sub-zero freezer and temperature controlled wine cellar, and let the hapless bishop hang himself with his own words: “It is fitting that the bishop of the sixth largest diocese in the nation should live like a bishop.”
Breslin’s righteous anger was premature. Both popes John Paul ll kept looking for dogmatists to run their dioceses like kommandants, guard dogs who wee sniffing out any whiff of a different opinion than that which reigned in Rome. They were not worried about “bling” or bishops’ palaces, though JP ll did go berserk when he visited Haiti and found the papal legate living like a king high above slums.
The Bling bishop was one of hundreds who were chosen as enforcers which ruled in the 30 year old “ice age” of Catholicism under JPll and Ratzinger.
Gone were the invitational precepts of the great Council —persuasion rather than threats, invitations rather commands, conscience rather than coercion, serving rather than ruling, horizontal rather than vertical.

In was the auto da fe, the burning at the stake, a new inquisition which sent a chill over the church and stopped creative theology in its tracks within Catholic institutions.
Now with a new pope a new message: Vatican ll is irreversible.


Happy Romero Day!

March 25, 2014



One of the  saddest gaffes in Pope John Paul ll’s papacy was his abysmal treatment of the saint of Americas. Seeing Romero’s priesthood through the eyes of the  wealthy he challenged and who used  that old hoary chestnut “Marxist” in describing Romero, JP ll bought the spurious charge and actually humiliated Romero when he came to Rome. Ah, well we all make mistakes.The polish pope was no exception. Labelling the lover of the poor a marxist was atonal music to his Polish background.

Here’s Sr. Joan Chittester’s take on Romero:


A church that does not unite itself to the poor…
is not truly the Church of Jesus Christ.
Oscar Romero,
Archbishop and Martyr of El Salvador,
murdered March 24, 1980


There was no doubt that Oscar Romero was a good man, a caring priest, and an upstanding bishop. He decried evil and did charity. But though Romero was a pastor indeed, he was definitely not a prophet. To Romero, the church was to transcend the world, to define its values, but never, ever to concern itself with its affairs. When he became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, he was the comfort of a conservative episcopacy and the darling of a rich people’s government perhaps, but he was anything but the hope of the poor. Yet three years later, he was assassinated on their behalf. What happened? What does such a turn of events say to the rest of us?

No one knows exactly what changed Romero. No one knows if it was immediate or long in coming. Was it the accumulation of violence over the years that had finally reached a saturation point in him? Was it the sight at last of the body of a friend lying on the garbage heap of bodies that had become such a common sight in El Salvador that moved him? Was it the blinding grace of a genuinely new vision that made him see again what he had seen before but see it differently? Or perhaps it was the very values that had always driven him come together in one decisive moment that impelled him to change: the power of all those years of prayer, the futility of all those years of temporizing in the name of spirituality, the impact of all those years of poverty, the emptiness of all those words about the nature of the church and the meaning of the Gospel—lived until this moment in him almost exclusively as intellectual concepts? Whatever it was, he knew it now and there was no stopping him.

Oscar Romero became a light to the nations, a man on fire, a prophet’s prophet.

In the end he paid the consequence for saying the truth in the light. The church of privilege, his brother bishops, ignored him as many do to this day, in fact, and reported him to Rome for three straight apostolic visitations. This was the blow that hurt him most, he once told friends in tears. The rich waged million-dollar ad campaigns against him in hope of precipitating his mental breakdown. The government taunted him and threatened him and hounded him and ringed him round with violence till on March 24, 1980, they killed him, too. But the people took heart and found hope in a church for whom the Beatitudes were real.

Oscar Romero is a frightening figure if for no other reason than that he shows us to ourselves. The problem is that there is an Oscar Romero lurking in all of us docile, trusting, and obedient people. He teaches us that we too may someday have to change, not because we do not believe in the teaching of the church and the state, but precisely because we do, and they are not living up to it.

Indeed, Romero was a loyalist who became a voice of truth to the system he dearly wanted to serve. He was a pastor who discovered that binding wounds is no substitute for eliminating them. He was a Christian who discovered that the Gospel supersedes the church.

–from A Passion for Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis Books)

Sideshow in Springfield, Illinois

March 22, 2014


Leafing through an old issue of the National Catholic Reporter I read a strange articele.It concerned springfield,Illinois bishop Thomas Paprocki who in December 2013 planned an exorcism over th enactment of same sex marriage bill which was signed into law by Illinois governor Pat Quinn

Be gone Satan, father of lies, enemy of human salvation,” Paprocki intoned  at the ceremony, in front of a crowd of some 500, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “Give way to Christ, in whom you found no trace of your works. Give way to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church, which Christ himself won by his blood.”

The bishop further added “politicians responsible for enacting civil same-sex marriage legislation are morally complicit as co-operators in facilitating this grave sin.”

One does not know where to start in analyzing this embarrassing event.Does this man believe in Satan? Apparently. And the language, “Christ won by his blood”, a reference to an outmoded theory of atoement. Jesus had to shed his perfect blood to win back God’s favour. Nice idea of God.

One wonders how this man became a bishop.Another of the gems created by the last two popes.Men  whose strong orthodoxy was going to save the Catholic church.

Well enough on the bishop.

The real story is the 15,000 who begged the bishop to stop the carnival, stop embarrassing Catholics with this sideshow. The petition read:

Holding an exorcism in response to the enactment of marriage equality is no way to show Christ’s love to the world. Please cancel this political stunt and reconsider your public ministry for the Pope Francis era.

it is through Catholics like this, the sensus fidelium that Catholicism will move forward.


Catholic bishops lagging on climate justice

March 4, 2014

Christians expect their faith communities to espouse and even promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation. It is natural to want to belong to organizations that are doing the right thing — we are drawn to those groups that nurture as well as challenge us to live better lives.

writes Joe Gunn, in the Prairie Messenger.


With his long commitment to justice  within the Catholic Church and in ecumenical coalitions (now Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice ( Joe writes on hoe the world religions are responding to Climate Change. Here he mines the work of Edmonton academic Randolph Haluza-Delay

How do we evaluate how our faith communities are doing in this regard?

A new book ventures important insights as to how faith communities are responding to the climate crisis. An Edmonton-based academic, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, is among the editors of How the World’s Religions Are Responding to Climate Change (Routledge, 2014). The activities of several religions in various parts of the planet are analyzed.

In an earlier work Haluza-DeLay focused on the barriers to an engaged faith: focus on the after life, focus on other issues, an obsession with individualist solutions (no social critique) and finally the comfortable nature of bourgeois religion  and the fear of change.

In one chapter Mishka Lysack an Anglican priest evaluates how Canadian faith communities are responding to climate change. Those who are  “conspicuous through their lack of a current public stance on climate change—” Evangelical Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism.”

How utterly sad to see  the episcopal leaders Canada’s largest denomination Roman Catholicism  sitting on their hands, lagging behind on the greatest moral issue confronting our wounded globe.

One of our female prophets Sr.Elizabeth Johnson in her  new book Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love writes

Still, critics have rightly censured Christianity for long abetting the ecological crisis. Indeed, with some exceptions, Christian churches often choose not to face this calamity with the energy they spend on other matters. It’s as though the planet were undergoing its agony in the garden, and we, the disciples of Jesus, are curled up fast asleep. Waking up to our own role in this crisis will require a dramatic course correction, a reorienting of our ethical compass away from ourselves alone and toward all creation. In a word, ecological conversion requires profound humility.

The bishops of our major Canadian cities seem to ne among those napping on the job. There needs  as Johnson says “a reorienting of in this case our ecclesiological compass”.

Meanwhile the People of God are moving forward with or without episcopal blessing.

In another article Gunn  pointed a way:

Here in Canada, prophetic religious leaders like the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Rev. Susan Johnson, and some members of the Canadian Council of Churches, have also committed themselves to this fast.

Some of us who are fasting are donating the money we would have spent on food during the fast to disaster relief efforts, or to environmental organizations and groups like CPJ which are working for ecological justice.

Food for thought?

There is a long history in Christianity of fasting as a strategy for personal purification and social change. Fasting is not demanded in the Bible, nor should it be seen as a punishment of the flesh. It should be done with joy, as a strategy to renew our relationship with God and God’s purpose for the world (Matthew 6: 16 – 18). Christians engaged in efforts to right social wrongs – from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King – have often engaged in fasting and prayer as essential elements of their struggles to initiate change. Indeed, joining a prayerful fast can be a way to engage in what John Calvin described as “making the invisible kingdom visible.”

A petty good Lenten idea.






Liberation theology and Guttierez are back

March 1, 2014


Gustavo Gutierrez, Gerhard Ludwig MuellerFr.Gustavo Guttierez is back. The 85 year old theological giant, commonly styled as the father of liberation theology has been officially “rehabilitated” as they used to say in the Kremlin. Instead of being  hailed as the faith-filled lover of the poor, the Peruvian theologian was hounded by John Paul ll and Joseph Ratzinger who failed to understand a theology which grew out of the massive poverty of the southern cone.

Last Tuesday the diminutive Dominican was feted by Cardinal  Gerhard Mueller; one of Francis’ top advisers, and the head of the Holy Office. The occasion was the launch of the cardinal’s book Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church. The book, which has a preface from Pope Francis, also has two chapters written by Guttierez in which he defends liberation theology.

Well how times change.

In he mid 80s Ratzinger was riding high as  the bad cop for the Polish pope, neither of whom “got’ liberation theology. Their stereotype of this biblically drenched work was caricatured as Marxist and one which fomented “class war”, that old cold war bugaboo.”Class war” here meant the Latin American bishops wanted Vatican ll lived out—the people of God must be consulted, and listened to. Ratzinger was never comfortable with this,preferring to tell the poor what was good for them. The bishops insistedon listening to the base.

Ratzinger’s language was embarrassing, Guttierez’s work was “heretical,” “a threat to the faith”. The progressive Latin American bishops, giants of that period, Landazuri, the Lorscheiders, Cardinal Arns, Helder Camara totally supported the brilliant Peruvian. When Ratzinger met with the Peruvian hierarchy with what was described as “a coarse and violent” diatribe against liberation theology, he was rebuffed by the bishops. The reason? This theology was the heart of their pastoral work. What Ratzinger was up against was an Andean  pastor who was deeply loved and respected  Cardinal Landazuri. Had  Pope John Paul  ll backed  his enforcer over a much loved pastort there would have been a theological riot. Ratzinger was considered  out of his dept , a stranger to the conditions under which these men laboured.

Liberation theology in the end was not condemned. As Cardinal Landazuri stated, “It is totally orthodox.” Rome had to get over its obsession with a one size fits all theology.that there were not a plurality of ways  for doing theology.

Ratzinger to many was a European snob who thought, given his position that  he could run roughshod over Latin Americans. Many were as smart and theologically sophisticated as he was. They had studied in Europe but lived with massive poverty in Latin America. A middle class German, a lifelong ivory tower theologian had  met his match.

The real conflict was Vatican ll. Ratzinger’s theology was top down, hierarchical and abstract. It never hit the ground, never was filtered through the human. Guttierez phrased  the problem eloquently. In Latin America the issue was not the existence of God but the existence of the human. By 1980 over 800 religious were murdered defending the human, among them the  saint of the Americas,Bishop Oscar Romero also labeled in Rome as a “Marxist” and a “subversive.” It was the new age of the martyrs and the prophets against injustice. Ratzinger was unable to grasp this reality. His abstract theology  separated religion from the secular and life. The real issue was power. Would the poor be given a voice through their bishops who indeed “had the smell of the sheep on them”.

Well, he and JP ll did get their revenge by replacing all the great Vatican ll bishops with second rate Roman toadies who took their marching orders from Rome. In Peru Opus Dei bishops were named. In Haiti the Vatican was the first “nation” to  back the coup against the liberationist ex-priest  and voice of the poor Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Creative theology went underground. Careers were broken, theologians were hounded all in the name of ideology. Guttierez joined the Dominican Order for protection.

Rome went on an ideological crusade banning over 100 theologians. It was an awful period but as Chicago theologian David Tracy predicted “it won’t work.” And it didn’t.

And now with a Vatican ll pope back, so is Guttierez and liberation theology.


The Formidable Sr. Johnson

February 19, 2014



We are still paying the price for the mediocre bishops parachuted into major sees by JPll and Benedict XVl. Good word parachuted—with literally no input from longsuffering Catholics who believed in Vatical ll and “the signs of the times” These company men are still fixated on pelvic orthodoxy. And absolutely out of it when it comes to the greatest moral calamity facing us—a real “sign of the time”, the cry of the earth and climate change.

In Toronto we hear not a peep out of the local bishops  on this issue of signal, overwhelming importance.

To the rescue, the brilliant Sr Elizabeth Johnson csj, one of the great feminine theologians we have. Her new book is just out  Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love 


Johnson had wigged out US bishops when she dared write about the ultimate mystery in her Quest for the Living God and She Who Is. Fordham, her  Jesuit employer, stood right behind her and the great woman has moved on —to the earth and sentient life.

This clip says it all about ecclesial autism and the earth:

Loving life on earth is not foreign to Christianity. Indeed, it is supported by the tradition’s beliefs about God as these are revealed in Scripture and condensed in the creed. (I expand on this in the central chapters of Ask the Beasts, where I discuss the sacred character of the natural world in light of the indwelling of the Spirit, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the Creator God who is the beginning and goal of the universe.) Still, critics have rightly censured Christianity for long abetting the ecological crisis. Indeed, with some exceptions, Christian churches often choose not to face this calamity with the energy they spend on other matters. It’s as though the planet were undergoing its agony in the garden, and we, the disciples of Jesus, are curled up fast asleep. Waking up to our own role in this crisis will require a dramatic course correction, a reorienting of our ethical compass away from ourselves alone and toward all creation. In a word, ecological conversion requires profound humility.


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