The Jesuits of UCAII watched television in amazement one night as Molina made a campaign broadcast on behalf of the PCN “candidate” General Romero. The president stood before a large blackboard with a piece of chalk in his hand. Then he slowly drew a line down the middle and announced that on one side of the line were to be found the enemies of El Salvador, and on the other, the friends. “Starting with the enemies,” he went on, “number one: liberation theology.” 1
The quote above references the 1977 presidential election in El Salvador. Liberation Theology, and many other forces, were at play in that country. Opposition to the murderous thugs who ruled the country and their oppressive policies was growing. The Vatican sided with the government. Many of the priests in El Salvador sided with the people and especially with the poor.
I think about the opposition to the beatification of the martyred Archbishop Óscar Romero by men such as Archbishop Emanuele Gerada because he disapproved of Romero’s breaking with the El Salvadoran government.2 I also think of Pope John Paul II’s disregard of Romero’s warnings, a disregard that arguably3 contributed to the Archbishop’s death. I think of these things and I cannot help but believe fear of the radical Gospel of Jesus Christ is an underlying constant in the life of the Church and especially of powerful men of the cloth. Of course, I cannot pass judgement on others if I don’t also pass judgement on myself. I know of no one more fearful of the demands of the Gospel than myself. It is a fear that plagues all human beings, perhaps Christians most of all.
But under that fear is a deep longing; a longing for true and complete liberation. This is why Liberation Theology increasingly reveals itself as one of the truest expression of the Gospel in our world today. However, I do recognize many claim Liberation Theology is too interested in Marxist ideas at best or outright leftist ideological heresy at worst. I would counter by saying if someone such as Molina publicly states Liberation Theology is enemy number one, maybe that’s because the darkness hates the light and Liberation Theology deserves a more honest look than many are willing to give.
Liberation Theology has not only been a threat to the sin of oppression and arrogant rulers who grind the poor into subservience, and to governments who prop up dictators, it has also been felt as a threat by many in the Church who sadly fear a truly integral salvation. Fortunately not all are threatened.
1 Teresa Whitfield, Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuria and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador (Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaPA: Temple University Press, 1995), 100.
2Carlos Dada, “The Beatification of Óscar Romero,” The New Yorker, May 19, 2015, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-beatification-of-oscar-romero.
3 Claire Saldana, “Oscar Romero: The Fight for Beatification,” STMU research scholars, April 5, 2022, https://stmuscholars.org/oscar-romero-the-fight-for-beatification/. I must also note that Saint John Paul II has been a kind of hero of mine and his example played a role in my becoming Catholic. And yet, the more I learn of his pontificate the less I can stomach some of the hagiographies of him. Nonetheless, I think he was a generally good pope and a very good and holy man. I do believe, however, the Church should not have rushed his canonization for sainthood.