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USGovt, El Salvador, Pope Francis, Liberation Theology

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Liberation theology began as a movement within the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. The USGovt and the Vatican saw it as an extension of Marxism. The CIA and the US State dept set about training local militia to eradicate “leftists” it. Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, one of the principal proponents of “liberation theology” was assassinated by US trained militia in 1980. For decades the Vatican has blocked moves towards canonization for Romero. Comes now Pope Francis:

From the NYT — (Emphasis and notes are mine)

A Church for the Poor

LONDON — Pope Francis grabbed headlines recently when he announced that Rome had lifted the block on sainthood for Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot dead while saying Mass in 1980. But much less attention was given to another of the pope’s actions, one that underscores a significant shift inside the Vatican under the first Latin American pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated after speaking out in favor of the poor during an era when merican trained right-wing death squads stalked El Salvador under an American-backed, military-led government in the 1970s and ’80s.

For three decades Rome blocked his path to sainthood for fear that it would give succor to the proponents of liberation theology, the revolutionary movement that insists that the Catholic Church should work to bring economic and social — as well as spiritual — liberation to the poor. (GMB Note: The Vatican, rabidly anti-communist since the Russian Revolution of 1918, allied itself with Franco, Mussolini and to a certain extent with the Nazi regime. After WW2 the Vatican, together with prominent Americans helped Nazis fleeing prosecution to settle in many countries in Central and South America.)

Under Pope Francis that obstacle has been removed. The pope now says it is important that Archbishop Romero’s beatification — the precursor to becoming a saint — “be done quickly.” Conservative Catholics have tried to minimize the political significance of the pope’s stance by asserting that the archbishop, though a champion of the poor, never fully embraced liberation theology. ( GMB note:  US “conservative Catholics” are often of central European stock. Many of them, together with the Vatican under Pius XII and and John II, were rabidly anti-communist, and strong Reagan supporters). 

But another move by Pope Francis undermines such revisionism. This month he also lifted a ban from saying Mass imposed nearly 30 years ago upon Rev. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who had been suspended as a priest for serving as foreign minister in Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the same era.

There is no ambiguity about the position on liberation theology of Father d’Escoto, who once called President Ronald Reagan a “butcher” and an “international outlaw.” Later, as president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father d’Escoto condemned American “acts of aggression” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

….. During the Cold War, the idea that the Catholic Church should give “a preferential option for the poor” was seen by many in Rome as thinly disguised Marxism. ….. The Vatican also silenced key exponents of liberation theology, and its founding father, the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, was placed under investigation by the Vatican’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or C.D.F.

Washington shared the Polish pope’s fears that the new theology could open another door to Communist infiltration of Latin America. The C.I.A. created a special unit that informed on hundreds of radical priests and nuns, many of whom became victims of the region’s military dictatorships.

Pope Benedict XVI took a more sophisticated approach than his predecessor. ….

After the Cold War ended, Pope Benedict encouraged bishops in Latin America to find new ways of expressing the church’s “bias to the poor.” He attended their seminal meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, at which they refined the message of liberation theology.

The priest the bishops elected to draft the document was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who six years later was elected Pope Francis, and announced that he wanted “a poor church, for the poor.”


When Argentina underwent the biggest debt default in banking history in 2001 — which plunged half the population below the poverty line — Father Bergoglio began to condemn what he called “corrupt” economic structures. He attacked “unbridled capitalism” for fragmenting economic and social life and said the “unjust distribution of goods” creates “a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven.”


The perspectives of the West, which have for so long dominated the thinking of the Vatican, are being augmented by those of Latin America. A new historical moment has arrived. Pope Francis is taking a risk. Conservatives, who are already muttering about other changes in this new Franciscan era, are not happy. But at a time when the economic gap between the rich and the poor is widening, the pope’s rehabilitation of liberation theology is timely and most welcome.

(GMB Note: How long before Pope Francis goes the way of Archbishop Romero, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Robert Kennedy?)

Paul Vallely is a director of The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly, and the author of “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots.”


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