“The Vatican never condemned the Theology of Liberation,” Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez O.P., the father of Liberation Theology, told a press conference in the Vatican on May 12.
“There was a dialogue with the Congregation (for the Doctrine of the Faith) here in Rome, sometimes a very critical dialogue. Indeed, certain moments were difficult but we were never condemned,” Gutiérrez stated.
He explained that “the central notion of the theology of liberation is the preferential option for the poor. I think that 90 percent of the theology of liberation is the preferential option for the poor.” He recalled that “the preferential option for the poor” was a central notion at the General Assemblies of Latin American Bishops Conferences (CELAM) at Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979), Santo Domingo (1992) and Aparecida (2007) “at which Cardinal Bergoglio had a major role.”
The preferential option for the poor is very much present in the Church today, he observed. “It’s clearer today with Pope Francis. It’s not a change, but it is very clear now.” Francis “speaks about a poor Church for the poor,” and the way he does so “is fresh, it’s not a theology, it is the Gospel.”
He said “we can be happy to see this change” of climate in the Church, and Francis’ focus on the poor and on the peripheries. “This is a ‘kairos’ – the opportune moment. We live this moment, and express gratitude to this Pope and to God.”
Speaking about the change of climate in the Vatican, this humble and deeply spiritual priest of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) could have mentioned - but didn’t - that Pope Francis celebrated Mass with him and Archbishop (now cardinal) Gerhard Muller in the Vatican on 11 September 2013.
He went onto explain that for him “doing theology comes second to living the Gospel” because “I consider myself first and foremost as a Christian, and when I have done my theology I hope that I am still a Christian!” Doing theology comes second to living the Christian life, “but it is not secondary,” he added. In actual fact, Gutiérrez has spent many years working in a parish in Lima, as well as doing theology.
Gutiérrez wrote his ground-breaking work, “A theology of Liberation”, in 1971. When, at the press conference he was asked by a reporter whether today, after so many years of study and research, he would change something in his theological work, the Peruvian responded that he had been often asked this same question, and has come up with an answer that sees this in terms of the relationship of a couple who have been married for many years. If you ask the husband whether he would write the same love letter to his wife as he did many years ago when he first met her – he said - the answer would surely be no. “For me too," Gutiérrez said, "to do theology is to write a letter of love to my God, to my church, and to my people. I do not know if I would write the same things today (as yesterday), but the love is the same, the faithfulness is permanent.”
The 86 year-old humble and humorous priest was one of a panel of speakers that presented the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis (the worldwide federation of Catholic charities in 165 countries) which is taking place in Rome this week. He is one of the keynote speakers at this international event, which the Pope will open today by celebrating mass for the participants in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Others members on the press panel included Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the outgoing President of the organization, Michel Roy, its Secretary General, Haridas Varikottil, an agricultural expert from Caritas, India, and Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., who chaired the press conference.
Gutiérrez was the star attraction at the conference today. It was his first appearance at a public event hosted by the Vatican. When asked if he considered this as rehabilitation, Gutiérrez replied that this was not an exact way of reading the situation since he had never been ‘‘dishabilitated’ (‘disqualified’). He acknowledged however that “the climate is different towards the theology of liberation” in the Vatican today. “It’s another moment” but “what’s more important is the rehabilitation of the Gospel, the speaking about the poor, and speaking about the peripheries.”
He emphasized that the poor and poverty “are at the heart of the Gospel” and are “central to the work of the Church.” It is particularly important to keep this in mind today, he added, because we live in a world where the gap between rich and poor is greater today than at any time in history. This too underlines the great importance of Caritas Internationalis, he said.
“People today say we are living in a post-socialist period, in a post-capitalist period, in a post-industrialist period, but we never hear them say that we are living in a post-poverty period,” Gutiérrez stated. He went onto emphasize the important link between charity and justice and said, “When we say charity we are not forgetting justice”. Indeed, to fight for justice is a principal task of charity. "We cannot have true solidarity with the poor if we are not friends of the poor. The notion of friendship is very important because it demands a certain equality and closeness to these persons, and to speak in this way has economic and political consequences," he said.