by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Many have wondered if, because of the fact that the current Pope Francis comes from Latin America, he is an adept of liberation theology. That question is irrelevant. The important thing is not coming from liberation theology, but from the liberation of the oppressed, the poor and the wronged. And that he is, with indubitable clarity.
That, indeed, has always been the purpose of liberation theology. First comes the concrete liberation from hunger, misery, moral degradation and rupture with God. This reality pertains to the properties of the Kingdom of God and was in Jesus' plans. Then, secondly, comes reflection on this real fact: to what extent is the Kingdom of God brought about anticipatorily here, and how Christianity, as the spiritual potential inherited from Jesus, can collaborate -- together with other humanitarian groups -- in this necessary liberation.
This subsequent reflection, called theology, may or may not exist because there may not be people able to perform this task. What is imporatnt is that the fact of real liberation occur. But there will always be attentive spirits who will hear the cry of the oppressed and of the devastated Earth and ask themselves how, with what we have learned from Jesus, the Apostles and the Christian doctrine of so many centuries, we can make our contribution to the process of liberation. It is what an entire generation of Christians, from cardinals to laymen and laywomen, has done since the 1960s. It continues to the present day, because the poor do not stop growing and their cry has turned into an uproar.
Now, Pope Francis has made this option for the poor, and he has lived and lives plainly in solidarity with them and he clearly said in one of his first speeches, "how I would like a poor Church for the poor." In this sense, Pope Francis is carrying out the primary intuition of liberation theology and seconding its trademark -- a preferential option for the poor, against poverty, and in favor of life and justice.
This option is not just words for him but a choice of life and spirituality. Because of the poor, he has been ill disposed towards President Cristina Kirchner because he has demanded from her government more political commitment to overcoming social problems, analytically called inequality, ethically injustice, and theologically a social sin that directly affects the living God who showed himself biblically as always being on the side of those who have less life and who have been wronged.
In 1990, 4% of Argentina was poor. Today, given the voracity of national and international capital, that has gone up to 30%. These are not just numbers. For a sensitive spiritual person like Francis the bishop of Rome, this fact represents a Via Crucis of suffering, tears of hungry children, and despair of unemployed parents. This reminds me of a quote from Dostoevsky: "All the progress in the world is not worth the cry of a hungry child."
This poverty, Pope Francis has firmly insisted, is not overcome by philanthropy but by public policies that restore dignity to the oppressed and turn them into autonomous participating citizens.
It doesn't matter that Pope Francis doesn't use the expression "liberation theology". What's most important is that he speaks and acts in a liberation manner.
It's even good that the Pope doesn't affiliate with any type of theology, such as liberation theology or any other one. His two predecessors assumed a certain kind of theology that was in their minds and it appeared as expressions of papal magisterium. In the name of it, many theologians were condemned.
It is historically proven that the "magisterium" category attributed to popes is a recent creation. It started to be used by Popes Gregory XVI (1765-1846) and Pius X (1835-1914) and became common with Pius XII (1876-1958). Before, the "magisterium" was composed of doctors of theology and not of the bishops and the Pope. The latter are teachers of the faith. Theologians are masters of understanding of the faith. Therefore it isn't the job of bishops and popes to do theology but to officially give witness to and zealously secure the Christian faith. It has been -- and is -- the theologians' job to deepen this testimony with the intellectual tools offered by the present culture. When popes begin to do theology, as has happened recently, it's unclear whether they're speaking as popes or as theologians. It creates great confusion in the Church; the freedom of research and dialogue with the various wisdoms is lost.
Thank God Pope Francis explicitly presents himself as a pastor and not as a doctor and theologian even if it were as a liberation one. Thus he is freer to speak from the gospel, from his emotional and spiritual intelligence, with an open and sensitive heart, in tune with the globalized world of today. May the Pope let theologians do theology and may he preside over the Church in love and hope. Pope Francis: Put theology in a minor key so that liberation resounds in the major one -- solace for the oppressed and challenge to the consciences of the powerful. Therefore, less theology and more liberation.