My Photo
Location: United States

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jon Sobrino SJ

Jeff has a great post today - A Legacy Being Buried: Jon Sobrino and Oscar Romero. I share his frustration about what seems like the demise of liberation theology. I guess we all should have seen it coming.

There's an article on the subject in The Tablet this week - Iron fist, but velvet glove. It discusses the denunciation by the CDF of Jesuit Jon Sobrino's liberation theology, and notes the Archbishop of San Salvador's decision that he cannot teach or publish until he "recitifies his conclusions."

But here below, I've instead posted part of another article in The Tablet, this one from 2000. In this article - The hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador - you can see the foreshadowing of what's now come to pass ...


Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, is revered in Latin America as a saint because of his support for the voiceless and the poor. But the civil war is over and times have changed. A lay volunteer and researcher in El Salvador assesses the policy of Romero’s successor. Standing in the rose garden of the University of Central America (UCA), where the torn and butchered bodies of the six Jesuits were found almost 11 years ago, it is hard to believe Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador’s declaration that liberation theology no longer has any place in his country.

Jon Sobrino, the only Jesuit theologian in the UCA not to be killed, tells me I am one of 20,000 people a year who come looking for inspiration from these martyrs, whose faces stare down from the walls. The centre itself, buzzing with activity, visitors, seminars and delegations is a far cry from the garishly restored Metropolitan Cathedral. Here, where Oscar Romero used to appeal for justice to be restored to the poor and suffering, Archbishop Sáenz’s sermons centre on individual salvation and morality. Much has changed in the eight years since the peace accords were signed; and the Salvadorean Church no longer merits the quasi-utopian haze through which outsiders still see it. The country itself is in a state of post-war flux. At one end of this city stands the UCA, at the other, the cathedral – and it is clear which is in charge .....

Under Archbishop Sáenz Lacalle, an Opus Dei man, the strategy has not been to reform liberation theology, but to undo and remove all traces of it. There are frequent denunciations of it by church leaders in the national press; bishops have withdrawn funding and support from key programmes; priests have been strategically shifted, and nuns expelled. Drastic changes have been made to the seminary curriculum, with books containing liberationist teachings banned, conservative rectors put in charge, and seminarians pulled in from pastoral outposts in poor areas. For the visitor, who inevitably has in mind Archbishop Romero’s brave pronouncements from the pulpit in the Metropolitan Cathedral, it is the sermons that most register the change. When you hear them, it is hard to realise you are in El Salvador at all.

This purge of liberation theology and all its works has gone hand in hand with the Church repositioning itself in relation to social and political actors. In light of the recent Florida trial – when two former generals admitted the army’s systematic use of torture and massacre – Archbishop Sáenz’s 1997 acceptance from the military of the title of Brigadier General says much.

According to Jon Sobrino, this apparent rejection of the recent past should not come as too great a surprise. Liberation theology from the outset had the weight of the world against it, after all, and would inevitably provoke division and conflict between Church and state. A Church that is at war with a state is not in a position to suffuse all levels of society, instead of just the poor, with the Christian faith – an objective that has taken on a new force under Pope John Paul II; while a state that is at war with the Church is hard pushed to find moral justification for its existence and policies. An end to the rift offers mutually beneficial outcomes .....


I hope that liberation theology does not disappear - it's not an easy theology to accept or act out, and I admire the nerve and the integrity it took for the Jesuits to put justice next to faith at the top of their list ...

The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus
December 2nd, 1974 - March 7th, 1975
Decree 4:
Our Mission Today - The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.

77 28. From all over the world where Jesuits are working, very similar and very insistent requests have been made that, by a clear decision on the part of the General Congregation, the Society should commit itself to work for the promotion of justice. Our apostolate today urgently requires that we take this decision. As apostles we are bearers of the Christian message. And at the heart of the Christian message is God revealing Himself in Christ as the Father of us all whom through the Spirit He calls to conversion. In its integrity, then, conversion means accepting that we are at one and the same time children of the Father and brothers and sisters of each other. There is no genuine conversion to the love of God without conversion to the love of neighbor and, therefore, to the demands of justice. Hence, fidelity to our apostolic mission requires that we propose the whole of Christian salvation and lead others to embrace it. Christian salvation consists in an undivided love of the Father and of the neighbor and of justice. Since evangelization is proclamation of that faith which is made operative in love of others, the promotion of justice is indispensable to it.

Decree 4 of G.C. 32 transformed the identity and ministry of the Society of Jesus
- link


Blogger Jeff said...

Brilliant post, Crystal. I couldn't agree with you more, and thanks for the tag.

5:13 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

Great post, Crystal. I find the whole thing very sad.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

It is indeed a terriffic post and extremely moving. I know there have always been difficulties with LT but I have always found it equally difficult to understand how we can justify a conservative "individual and moral" theology that puts the real needs of others for justice on the back burner (or removes it from the stove entirely!). I certainly understand 'why' people want to do this but it's saddening and maddening to see.

Another thing that has caught me quite by surprise over the past number of years is how often the Jesuits have been under attack by their own Church. No longer are they being martyred by oppresive governments, but time and again Ignatius' soldiers are being villified by their own. It's awful to see.

10:04 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi you guys - thanks for the comments. Jeff's post really touched me :-)

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A thought provoking post, Crystal. While no expert, I think that one has to be careful of where the cart and the horse are. There is no doubt in my mind that Loving God and loving our fellow man requires justice. But I do not think that it follows that if we have justice that we will come to God or love our fellow man, we will only have justice, and what justice is becomes open to debate. It works much better when the horse is pulling than when it is pushing.

I think another danger of LT is the involving of the Church in politics, which it seems like LT does in practice. As I look back through history, it seems to me that whenever the Church has gotten involved in politics, no matter how spiritual the intent, the result has been the Church being pulled down to secular level, not the uplifting of politics to a spiritual level.

Would I be wrong in thinking that Christ brought us salvation, not through justice but through injustice, the execution of an innocent man on a cross. I am not really sure how this fits into the discussion, but something inside me says that it is something to be considered. Could it be that Christ came to bring salvation, and trying to bring justice uses up resources that could be better used in that mission?

Yet it certainly does go against the grain in me to see LT completely dropped.


Mike L

7:59 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

Maybe LT is more justice that follows faith, rather than justice alone?

I agree about the combination of religion and politics ... our present administration is kind of an example of that combination gone wrong.

But having said that, part of what I like about LT is that it takes life here seriously ... takes seriously the idea that the comditions under which someone lives matter, not just to them, but to God, and should matter to all the rest of us. I guess that verges on politics, in a way.

But I don't really understand LT well, so - I'm probably ttally misrepresenting it :-)

10:09 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Mike, that's very interesting. Just curious, but I'm wondering what leads you to believe that liberation theology puts justice before God, or that doing justice will bring you to God. I think that any liberation theologian would tell you that personal conversion must come first... that in order to address societal and structural sin, we must learn to confront the personal sin within ourselves first. In the post I just put up about Romero, he wrote (drawing on Jon Sobrino's theology):

The church had recovered the insight, which fills the pages of the Bible, that God is acting in human history. Salvation history and profane history are not distinct, but the same. Medellin says: "In the search. for salvation we must avoid the dualism that separates temporal tasks from sanctification."'

The church's relation to the world as universal sacrament of salvation "defines its firm position against the sin of the world and strengthens its stern call to conversion," Romero said. "By being in the world and for the world, one with the world's history, the church uncovers the world's dark side, its depths of evil, what makes humans fail, degrades them, dehumanizes them."

Looking at sin, the church calls for conversion, beginning with its own. And viewing the overwhelming poverty and suffering of most of humanity, in particular in Latin America, it must call for conversion of both hearts and structures. "In the encounter with the world of the poor it has found the most pressing need of conversion. The love of Christ that urges us (2 Cor. 5:14) becomes a clear demand before the brother or sister in need (1 John 3:17)."

As for the charge that the Church was meddling in politics, he wrote:

As for meddling in politics: what the church says and does can certainly have political effects, but the church does not use the mechanisms of political parties or similar organizations to do its task. In El Salvador, Romero reminded the people, the law recognized the church, but in recent months its priests and catechists had been attacked and their rights trampled, and their rights were part of the church's responsibility. The persecution touched Christ himself, because it afflicted his followers: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4).

Romero continued: "The church is persecuted because it wants to be truly the church of Christ. As long as the church preaches an eternal salvation without involving itself in the real problems of our world, the church is respected and praised and is even given privileges. But if it is faithful to its mission of pointing out the sin that puts many in misery, and if it proclaims the hope of a more just and human world, then it is persecuted and slandered and called subversive and communist."

In an agrarian country in which 10% of the people owned 90% of the land, I don't think there was anything wrong with the liberation theolgians telling the peasants that they didn't need to accept fatalism... that they didn't have to buy into the notion that it was God's will that a few people were going to be wealthy and that the great mass of people were destined to be poor. They didn't need to accept "pie in the sky" religion that was all too convenient for the people keeping them in their state. It wasn't wrong of them to tell them that they didn't need to just sit there and take injustice. For encouraging them to pursue land reform initiatives and to form their own trade unions, they were branded as "communists".

I agree that the Church must not gt directly involved in the formation of of overtly Christian political parties, etc..., and I firmly beleive in keeping the state out of Church affairs as well, but I think we need to recognize that there will always be an element of the political involved. The liberation theologians in Latin America would have pointed out that the Church was already political in that they had aligned their interests with the interests of those who were wealthy and powerful, wheras scripture suggests that the Church should be aligned with the interests of the poor.

Plenty of conservative Catholics have told me in no uncertain terms that it is impossible in good conscience that I should be able to vote for anyone who isn't a pro-life Republican, and some bishops want to withhold the Eucharist from pro-choice Democratic politicians, so I guess the playing of the political card all depends on whose oxe is being gored.

I think the biggest mistake the liberation theologians made was to borrow Marxist terms for some of their social critique. I think in the popular imagination, people hear "liberation theology" and they think of guys with beards, military fatigues, berets, and red flags. With a couple of notable exceptions, it isn't an accurate picture. Therefore, I'm not surprised that Sobrino doesn't accept a notification about theology that he doesn't recognize as his own.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Justice surely is a requirement of Christian/Catholic faith; it's not the only one, but it is one of them. I suppose that's part of the problem, in my opinion - I think too many Catholics have stopped understanding that our faith and our tradition is multi-layered and diverse. It's a soup with a whole lot of ingredients, none of which should overpower the other, and all of which can complement each other.

10:04 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Good points, Steve. Thanks.

4:50 PM  
Blogger MCM(Movimento Contra a Miséria) said...

Buenas tarde

Les escrivo de um movimiento acá de Brasil de nombre Movimiento Contra la Miséria e tenemos acciones en las áreas pobres de São Paulo, ademas tenemos escritos de Frei Betto, Leonardo Boff y jung Mo Sung.
Tenemos la dirección de nuestro proyecto
tambien tenemos unos encuentros de relexión sobre la miseria e la desigualdad el primero fue con Frei Betto y Ariovaldo Ramos el segundo es ahora en noviembre y sera con Jung Mo Sung y Milton Shwantes.
Nos gustaria que nos ayudaran a mandar esta noticia para los mas diversos lugares de América latina e asi estamos abiertos para todos los latinos o personas del mundo que quieran visitarnos o conocernos.
Les agradesco mucho la atención.

Paulo Escobar.

10:21 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the comment. I'm sorry, but my high school Spanish isn't up to translating it - I'll ask a friend if he can do it for me.

4:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home