Pope Francis: Liberation theologian

Print More
Pope Francis on his Harley, by Stephen Alcorn

Greenberg Center, Trinity College

Pope Francis on his Harley, by Stephen Alcorn

Pope Francis on his Harley, by Stephen Alcorn

Pope Francis on his Harley, by Stephen Alcorn

Let’s just say it: Pope Francis is a liberation theologian. He has insisted that Roman Catholicism be a “poor church for the poor.” He has persistently criticizing global capitalism. He confirmed a devotee of liberation theology, the otherwise conservative Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has brought Gustavo Gutiérrez, the founder of liberation theology, in from the cold.

Early in his papacy, the conservative commentariat insisted that Francis was, from his time as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, actually an opponent of the radical South American teaching that his two papal predecessors had suppressed. As Sandro Magister, chief Vaticanista for the Italian newspaper L’Espresso, wrote two years ago, “In reality, one of the most severe critics of this theological current has been the present pope.”

To be sure, Francis has warned against “ideological” (read: Marxist) renderings of this current. In his lengthy speech last week’ to the world meeting of social movements in Bolivia, said:

Of the leadership I ask this: be creative and never stop being rooted in local realities, since the father of lies is able to usurp noble words, to promote intellectual fads and to adopt ideological stances. But if you build on solid foundations, on real needs and on the lived experience of your brothers and sisters, of campesinos and natives, of excluded workers and marginalized families, you will surely be on the right path.

It would be hard, however, to find a more thoroughgoing version of the liberationist message than Francis delivered. People do not merely have a right to land, lodging, and labor (the “three L’s”), he declared:

A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their “general, temporal welfare and prosperity.” This includes the three “L’s,” but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation.

As America editor-at-large James Martin, S.J. put it on CNN, “In a stunning, nearly revolutionary, speech on Thursday in Bolivia, Pope Francis said that working for justice is not simply a moral obligation. For Christians, it is a commandment.”


As a liberation theologian, Pope Francis’ distinctive contribution has been to expand the message to include the demand that the challenge of climate change be addressed on a global scale. This is not a simple demand, since the exploitation of carbon fuels may at least in theory be used by developing countries to improve the lot of the poor. But as he made clear in Bolivia, the ecological imperative cannot take a back seat to “putting the economy at the service of peoples” and uniting them “on the path of peace and justice.” On the contrary: “The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth.” 

  • Ted

    Thank God for a major Christian leader practicing and preaching as Christ taught.

    The pharisaic evangelical bible-cultists, with their satanic “prosperity” gospel of greed, must be getting nervous about their huge, tax-free “parsonage” budgets and all their Mercedes-grade “ministerial expenses”.

  • Jack

    In other news, the sun rose this morning in the east and is expected to set this evening in the west.

  • Jack

    The pope’s premise, that the poor are poor because the rich are rich, is based both on Marxist nonsense and on an antiquated, medieval conception of wealth as based on land and thus finite.

    This has no relevance to a modern economy where economic growth is the norm, meaning the pie can expand so everyone can benefit.

  • Josh DeCuir

    You may surprised (perhaps a tad disappointed as well?) to know that it was another “otherwise conservative” German who made Card. Mueller prefect of the CDF, as it was Pope Benedict who appointed him & Francis who confirmed his appointment.

    Guess it wasn’t totally the dark ages before the election of Pope Francis (after all, even Pope Francis managed to bet appointed a bishop & made a Cardinal during the bad old days)!

  • Debbo

    Writer Mark Silk characterized Liberation Theology as a “radical South American teaching”.

    I must disagree. Liberation theology is simply Jesus’ theology, Acts theology, Beattitudes theology. Other things, such as the prosperity gospel mentioned by another commenter, are merely economic scams having to do only with the religion of greed.

    Liberation Theology is basic Christianity.

  • drwho13

    “…the poor are poor because the rich are rich…” Jack, I bet he didn’t say that. I believe unbridled capitalism and Marxism are different. If not, I beg your pardon; please educate me.

  • Jack

    The prosperity gospel and liberation theology are both heresies and widely recognized as such.

    Liberation theology is Marxism attempting to co-opt Christianity for its own purposes. That is certainly no secret. It replaces the Gospel with the dialectic of class struggle and political revolution.

  • Jack

    None of what he says makes any sense whatsoever unless he believes wealth to be finite, a static pie, and economic life thus to be a zero-sum game where one person’s gain necessitates another’s loss.

    That’s why socialism is such nonsense. It rests on a demonstrably false premise of a zero-sum world.

    If that premise were correct, then of course, socialism would be the only truly moral response to poverty and want. But if the premise is wrong, then socialism is a colossal non-sequitur — an answer that has nothing to do with problem.

  • The Protestant Reformation insisted the Pope was the Antichrist.
    He strikes me as more of the False Prophet –having two horns like a lamb, but a mouth like a dragon.

  • Be Brave

    Nothing makes more money for the Catholic Church than “helping the poor.”

  • David Lloyd-Jones


    Your expanding pie is in the future. “There’ll be pie in the sky when you die,” as the old hymn goes.

    Existing wealth is in fact limited. It is. Period. And it is distributed with terrific inequality. Hence there are rich, there are poor, and the rich are richer than the poor because they have more.

    Of what is. In existence. Now.



  • David Lloyd-Jones


    One comment I liked on the topic:

    “The pope is redeeming Liberation Theology, they say.”
    “Oh, no. He’s redeeming the Rman cathollic Church.”



  • Betty Clermont
  • Jack

    David, welcome to the modern world, where an expanding pie is the norm whether it gets reported or not.

    Over the past generation alone, a half billion people have been lifted out of starvation and destitution. That is unprecedented in world history and is easily the most underreported story of our lifetime.

    Don’t expect socialists to tell you this, since it was all about production of new wealth, not redistribution of existing wealth.

    Don’t expect world hunger organizations to tell you, either, since they must stress the bad for fundraising purposes.

    Don’t expect millennial-minded preachers to tell you, since it upsets their narrative that everything in the world must get worse in the end times.

    And don’t expect the Millennial generation to believe it, because they’d rather remain slavish conformists to what the authority figures — ideologically driven teachers and professors — have been drilling into their unquestioning minds.

  • Jack

    Pastor, it’s more likely that he’s just the latest bit of evidence of the Vatican’s childishly antiquated view of wealth and poverty.

    When an adult views the modern economy the way an eight-year-old does, it’s pretty sad.

  • Jack

    The Pope Francis view of wealth and poverty, while doing nothing to fight poverty in the real world, has the advantage of making its adherents feel morally superior to others.

    Someone should tell him and others that life is not just about feeling good….it’s about doing good. And if you feel good without actually doing good, something’s not quite right.

  • drwho13


    Is this your position?

    “Atlas Shrugged is unapologetically a novel of and for the 1%, and like it or not, that makes it a novel of and for our time. It argues that tooth-and-claw capitalism, unfettered by rules or regulations, isn’t just the best but the only way to run a society, and taxes, laws and social programs are all intolerable trespasses on the sacred right of a few individuals to get as rich as they possibly can. Rand’s worldview is Manichaean, utterly black-and-white: you’re either a heroically selfish capitalist (she regarded selfishness as the highest of all virtues), or you’re one of the looters. And she isn’t shy about saying that people who don’t believe in capitalism as she defines it aren’t just lazy, but worthless: moochers, parasites, literally unworthy of life, whose deaths we’re meant to cheer.” – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2013/03/atlas-shrugged-a-novel-for-the-1/#sthash.Lrv44XeG.dpuf

  • Jack

    drwho13, no, I’m not a devotee of Ayn Rand, who at her worst seemed to worship selfishness as a virtue. Nor for that matter are most other people like me who believe free markets work far better than socialism. For me, the issue is which policies do the greatest good for the most people. And it’s clear that policies focused on expanding the pie so there’s more for everyone and that give people equal access to the expansion are far more effective than those that force people to fight each other for a static pie. That’s been proven again and again across the world.

  • Jack

    Susan, if you are on this board, are you reading the post above from Ted? It’s people like him who are fueling the bigoted and historically inaccurate portrayal of the Pharisees. I’ve been countering it each time it comes up.

    And Ted has read my rebuttals each time, but apparently he doesn’t care that he is helping keep alive a particularly gross form of anti-Semitism.