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Ties to power, not the people, pave way to Rome

When the flowery language of episcopal appointments is scraped away, what remains is a clear view of the leadership chosen to carry out a program. And the program throughout Latin America under John Paul II has been, in an episcopal sense, as brutal as some of the region’s civil politics.

Reading the record on those who served this papal administration in Latin America -- by squashing liberation theology while cozying up to some of the hemisphere’s most notorious abusers of human rights -- brings to light one of the more dismal chapters in contemporary church history.

John Allen’s report on the six men who have been handsomely rewarded for doing Rome’s bidding in places such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Brazil is a look at a disturbingly sinister use of power on the one hand and accommodation of power on the other, all ostensibly in the service of Jesus’ mission.

Liberation theology certainly had its own problems. Its analysis of the social and economic reality was often imperfect, its readings of people’s deepest desires sometimes off the mark. But it remains beyond question that it was liberation theologians who woke up First World believers to the sins of domination, to the significant role played by rich countries in creating the grinding poverty of the South, to systemic causes for deep and too-often deadly injustices.

It was the work and language of liberation theology that was largely responsible for dragging the wider church to pledge a preferential option for the poor.

ýOne can only wonder, as we have previously in these pages, what might have evolved in Latin America had the theologians been able to continue their creative work in dialogue with the church Ñ and with the considerable self-criticism of which they are capable -- rather than spending most of their time fending off attacks by the hierarchy.

Some consolation can be taken from the fact that the seeds of thought have been sown and will continue to develop and inevitably will flourish again under new conditions.

For the moment, however, we are left with the current Vatican career ladder and, unfortunately, leadership by those who know best how to climb it.

Having trained in the boot camp of thought-squashing and appeasing right-wing dictators, these curial officials now have the entire church on which to impose their views. The effects have been felt in the realms of education, liturgy, theological enterprise and ministry.

The curial heavyweights now in place are good at dismantling, at hunting down and handing out discipline; they show little skill in building up and encouraging and empowering people to live out their mission as the body of Christ.

The late Dominican theologian Yves Congar said of another papal administration (see page 20), but the thought certainly applies today: “What has me wrong (in their eyes) is not having said false things, but having said things that they do not like to have said. I have touched on problems without always aligning myself to the one point of view which [Rome] wants to impose on the comportment of the whole of the Christian world and which is: to think nothing, to say nothing, except what they propose.”

Then came the reform Second Vatican Council, during which Congar played a significant role shaping the council’s teaching on the church.

Restorationists are at work today twisting the intent of Vatican II and neutralizing its effect. They are in ascendancy, perhaps at the peak of their power and influence, working feverishly to squeeze the church into the institution of their imaginations. Beyond this interlude, a new day is inevitable.

National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2000