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Leader of Latin American Bishops: Liberation Theology ‘Archaic, If Not Already Dead’

Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, president of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, indicated that liberation theology is irrelevant at a recent news conference in Rome, according to Catholic News Agency.  Liberation theology is, however, still prominent on the campuses of many Catholic universities throughout the United States.

“The relevant figures of liberation theology are all very elderly, and liberation theology as such, as the expression of what it was, is very archaic, if not already dead,” Archbishop Aguiar reportedly said, adding that liberation theology "had been put forth with a sociological foundation that did not square with theological foundations."

“True liberation is showing the merciful face of God the Father, the tenderness of God among us,” he reportedly said. "Now it is not about class warfare, with the confrontation between rich and poor, because as we know, for the Church this is not the way to social liberation.”

However, many Catholic universities feature prominent liberation theologians as faculty, host them for lectures, and place an emphasis on liberation theology in coursework.

Father Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P., who is credited with coining the term "liberation theology," is an endowed professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.  He once reportedly claimed that, “Only a radical break with the present state of things, a profound transformation of the property system, the access to power by the exploited class, a social revolution that breaks up that dependence, will allow a different society, a Socialist society to come to pass.”

He also reportedly said the “Church must be converted to the world, in which Christ and the Spirit are present and active, and must allow itself to be inhabited and evangelized by it.”

Pope Francis distanced himself from Guttierez’ version of liberation theology, according to Catholic News Agency, which reported last year:

During a meeting on Monday with priests from the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis reportedly suggested that he does not support the version of liberation theology represented by Peruvian priest Father Gustavo Gutierrez.

… [Vatican analyst Sandro] Magister said the meeting was “behind closed doors” and described Pope Francis’ comment on liberation theology as “serious and sharp,” although it went largely unnoticed by the media, including the Vatican press office.

In 2011, Notre Dame also hosted Harvard professor of global health and social medicine Paul Farmer to discuss liberation theology. Farmer reportedly called liberation theology "an inexhaustible font for understanding poverty."

In 2013, Boston College hosted Farmer as well to discuss liberation theology.

According to BC’s website, Roberto Goizueta, the Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology, taught a course in liberation theology. Andrew L. Prevot, also of the theology department, lists liberation theology as one of his research interests on the College’s website.

Fordham University’s Core Curriculum requires students to take two philosophy courses and two theology courses which can include a course titled “Theologies of Liberation,” which is described this way: “This course investigates the role of the Christian churches and theology in the struggle for social justice and social change in the Third World. Major emphasis will be given to the liberation theology developed in Latin America and its impact throughout the Third Word and in the United States.”

On its campus ministry website, Villanova University had linked to the “Liberation Theology Lord’s Prayer” which begins:

Our Father and Mother, who is in us here on earth, holy is your name in the hungry who share their bread and their song.

Your Kingdom come, which is a generous land which flows with milk and honey. Let us do your will,

standing up when all are sitting down, and raising our voice when all are silent.

You are giving us our daily bread in the song of the bird and the miracle of the corn.

Forgive us for keeping silent in the face of injustice, and for burying our dreams, for not sharing bread and wine, love and land, among us, now.

Don't let us fall into the temptation of shutting the door through fear; of resigning ourselves to hunger and injustice; of taking up the same arms as the enemy.

But deliver us from evil. Give us the perseverance and the solidarity to look for love, even if the path has not yet been trodden, even if we fail; so we shall have known your Kingdom which is being built forever and ever.

In 2011, it was reported that Xavier University in Ohio hosted Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, “the Marxist liberation theologian who served in the violent Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua during the 1980s … Cardenal was captured in an infamous photograph asking for Pope John Paul II's blessing as the Holy Father arrived in Managua in 1983 and instead got a stern reprimand. He was later suspended from the priesthood.”

The dispute between the Vatican and the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, according to the UK Guardian, was, at its heart, about the theological battle over liberation theology.

Earlier this month, Santa Clara University in California hosted liberation theologian Father Jon Sobrino, S.J., whose work was criticized by the Vatican as containing “erroneous and dangerous propositions” concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ, to deliver the commencement address to the Jesuit School of Theology graduates.

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