THE9900 HOW I WOULD LIKE A CHURCH WHICH IS POOR AND FOR THE POOR

Research Paper

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“HOW I WOULD LIKE A CHURCH WHICH IS POOR AND FOR THE POOR”[1] – REVISITING LATIN AMERICAN LIBERATION THEOLOGICAL METHOD AND ITS CRITIQUES IN GUTIERREZ, RATZINGER, AND PADILLA

            On Wednesday, March 13th 2013, a puff of white smoke escaped from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. The response was an echoing shout of “Habemus papam!” that was echoed not only from the awaiting rain-soaked crowd outside the Chapel, but all across social media venues.  Next, the world watched with excitement as a curtain on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica hid the identity of the next Roman Catholic pope.  Who would he be? Would it be an Italian, or the first African, or a Franciscan? In surprise to everyone but the Catholic cardinals who picked him, out walked a sheepish looking Argentinian absent of the traditional papal opulent garb. The man’s name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit cardinal from Buenos Aires Argentina, and the first non-European pope in over 1,200 years. In addition to being the first pope from the Americas, and the first Jesuit, he was also the first to take the papal name of Francis. This emphasized the demeanor and tone he gave in his opening address: his papacy will be chiefly concerned with the world’s poor.[2]

Pope Francis proceeded to waste no time in explaining why he named himself after Saint Francis of Assisi and called on the church to focus on the poor.[3] Before an audience of journalists a couple days after his announcement, Pope Francis stated clearly his desire for “una Chiesa povera e per i poveri!”[4] His most recent example has proven his seriousness. He has regularly made headlines for insisting he pay his own hotel bills,[5] for refusing to stay in the opulent penthouse of the Apostolic Palace,[6] and for washing the feet of a female Muslim juvenile delinquent.[7] As the titles of various news articles show, the media coverage has been quite positive. Even prominent Evangelicals have given the new pope upbeat reviews.[8] However, recent punditry hasn’t been completely free from controversy.[9] In coming from a section of the world infamous for its propagation of liberation theology, and in his adamant emphasis on a preferential focus on being a poor Church for the poor, critics have begun questioning his position on liberation theology and capitalism.[10]

Without doubt, Pope Francis has brought the debate about liberation theology to the forefront of discussion inside and outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Given his emphasis on the poor, and the conflict between the Vatican and Latin American Roman Catholic liberationists, it is worth revisiting liberation theology and its corresponding criticisms. This paper will revisit the liberation theological method as articulated by Gustavo Gutierrez, and provide in response the Vatican’s rebuttal as pronounced by Joseph Ratzinger, and the Latin American Evangelical rebuttal as communicated by C. Rene Padilla. In revisiting these three responses, this paper will conclude with an appraisal of the Latin American Evangelical response, and the resulting lessons to be learned by North American Evangelicals.


[1] The decision to entitle this paper after the statement made by Pope Francis is a place on words, given all three perspectives presented in this paper would agree with the quote. All three would agree that the notion that the Church should be poor and focused on the poor, but what they mean by differs as will be developed in this paper.

[2] Rachel Donadio, “Cardinals Pick Bergoglio, Who Will Be Pope Francis,” (NY Times, NYTimes.com). <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/world/europe/cardinals-elect-new-pope.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[3] Hada Messia & Laura Smith-Spark, “Pope Francis explains name, calls for church ‘for the poor’,” (CNN, CNN.com). <http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/16/world/europe/vatican-new-pope> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[4]Ah, come vorrei una Chiesa povera e per i poveri!” (“How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”). Pope Jorge Francis, “Pope Francis to Media Representatives: Full Text,” (Vatican Radio, News.va). <http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-to-media-representatives-full-text> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[5] Jessica Rodriguez, “Pope Pays Hotel Bill; Signs of a Different Kind of Papacy?” (Christian Post, ChristianPost.com). <http://www.christianpost.com/news/pope-pays-hotel-bill-signs-of-a-different-kind-of-papacy-video-91940/> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[6] Hada Messia & Laura Smith-Spark, “Pope Francis to shun luxury papal apartment, for now,” (CNN, CNN.com). <http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/27/world/europe/vatican-pope> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[7] Jena McGregor, “Pope Francis and a holy, humble break from tradition.” (Washington Post, WashingtonPost.com). <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/pope-francis-and-a-holy-humble-break-from-tradition/2013/03/28/a9a5f2b4-981e-11e2-b68f-dc5c4b47e519_story.html?wprss=rss_national> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[8] For comments from prominent Argentinian evangelicals, see Jeremy Weber, “Argentine Evangelicals Say Bergoglio as Pope Francis is ‘Answer to Our Praters’,” (Christianity Today, ChristianityToday.com). <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/march-web-only/argentine-evangelicals-say-bergoglio-as-pope-francis-is-ans.html?start=2> (accessed March 29, 2013). For comments from prominent American evangelicals, see Ruth Moon, “Why Pope Francis Excites (Most) Evangelical Leaders,” (Christianity Today, ChristianityToday.com). <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/march-web-only/why-pope-francis-excites-most-evangelical-leaders-bergoglio.html> (accessed March 29, 2013). For comments from prominent Argentinian evangelist and evangelical Luis Palau, see Melissa Steffan, “Luis Palau: Why It Matters that Pope Francis Drinks Mate with Evangelicals,” (Christianity Today, ChristianityToday.com). <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/march-web-only/luis-palau-pope-francis-drinks-mate-evangelicals-bergoglio.html> (accessed March 29, 2013).

[9] “Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls – a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic – during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.” Nicole Winfield, “Pope’s Foot-Wash a Final Straw for Traditionalists,” (Associated Press, AP.org). <http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_VATICAN_POPE_TRADITIONALISTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-03-29-16-43-17> (accessed March 29, 2013)

[10] For an article questioning Pope Francis’ position on Social Justice and liberation theology, see Alejandro Chafuen, “Social Justice and Pope Francis: Choosing Freedom Over Serfdom,” (Forbes, Forbes.com). <http://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2013/03/20/social-justice-and-pope-francis-choosing-freedom-over-serfdom/> (accessed March 29, 2013). For an article questioning his position on Capitalism, see Jerry Bowyer. “Is Jorge Bergoglio, The New Pope Francis, A Capitalist?” (Forbes, Forbes.com). <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrybowyer/2013/03/13/is-jorge-bergoglio-the-new-pope-francis-a-capitalist/> (accessed March 29, 2013). The second article’s title is a bit comical, given the Church’s adamant critique and definition of “Capitalism.” This will be treated later in this paper under the Roman Catholic rebuttal to liberation theology.

 

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