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Low-intensity war against liberation theology

What are we, the people of God, endowed with intelligence and free will, and confident that divine guidance will never abandon us -- what are we to make of the new forms the Roman Inquisition is taking in our days?

A respected theologian -- Tissa Balasuriya -- is excommunicated, even though he subscribed to the most recent official Confession of Faith, that formulated by Pope Paul VI. Other equally respected theologians, such as Hans Kung and Leonardo Boff, have their teaching license withdrawn. A popular French bishop is removed from his diocese. Other popular bishops are given coadjutors empowered to override their decisions.

Most recently, two teaching centers operated by the Conference of Religious Institutions of Mexico, a body representing all the orders and congregations of men and women in that country, have been suspended, and two Jesuit teaching centers in Mexico are forbidden to teach any students other than members of the Society of Jesus.

What is particularly shocking about these actions is the way they are implemented. The Roman style of today is dictatorial, far removed from that of the gentle Jesus who welcomed children and sinners, who treated powerful and weak with equal respect.

There is little attempt at dialogue. Instead the face we see is that of the Roman paterfamilias who held and exercised the power of life and death over his family. His judgments are not to be questioned.

Not less distressing, however, is the widespread failure to protest such injustices. A paralyzing fear seems to have enveloped many who should speak out on behalf of those whose reputations have been smeared.

When, for example, Cardinal Pio Laghi, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, singles out as authors disapproved for use in institutes of pastoral formation Bishop Samuel Ruiz García of San Cristobal and two other bishops who share his pastoral commitment to the defense of the human rights of indigenous peoples, why do we hear no protest from their colleagues?

These three bishops are leading critics of the Mexican government's refusal to implement the accords it signed last year on the human rights and culture of indigenous peoples. Their colleagues' silence now legitimates the government's repudiation of the commitments it made under international pressure. It is shameful.

Some are interpreting the Vatican's disapproval of Ruiz and his episcopal colleagues as a preemptive strike in preparation for the Synod of the Americas to open in Rome in November, and that would be logical. Like Balasuriya, they insist that Catholicism can be expressed in all its purity in cultures other than European and in philosophies other than Aristotelian. This is a challenge with which Rome is reluctant to deal, even though the center of gravity of Catholicism has already shifted from the so-called First World as represented by European civilization to the Third World of Latin America, Africa and Asia. All the historical trends point to an acceleration of this shift. The logical lessening of the role of Rome is understandably threatening to those who benefit from its longtime centrality.

Less understandable is the low-intensity warfare against the theology of liberation, the theology that calls on all of us to choose the preferential option for the poor and to work to change social and economic structures that condemn the majority of humans to subhuman living conditions while providing lives of luxury for a small minority.

What seems to underlie it is an effort to establish closer relations with secular governments in a kind of neo-Christendom. This policy is well exemplified by the activities of Papal Nuncio Girolamo Prigione today in Mexico and by Cardinal Pio Laghi when he was nuncio in Argentina during the Argentine military dictatorship's "dirty war" against its own people. The policy calls on the church to oppose the radical social change demanded by the theology of liberation's option for the poor.

Why do we hear so little protest against such unchristian behavior by high dignitaries of the church? Have the prophets all been terrified into shameful silence? There have indeed been in recent times some powerful statements by church leaders, and we are grateful for them. But they would have meant more had they not in most cases been delayed until the speaker had no longer hope of ecclesiastical preferment. There ought to be others out there who feel as we do that these scandals must be denounced as harmful to religion and to humanity.

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 1997