What is Liberation Theology?


I always heard about it, but I can’t relate to it. Why it is against the Catholic Church and its teachings?


Liberation theology is a Marxist distortion of sound Catholic teaching on economics and freedom popularized in Latin America.

To understand the view the Church takes of it, there is some footage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua where he immediately dresses down a Catholic bishop who disobeyed Vatican orders not to become a member of the Sandinista government.

Catholic interest in social justice does not extend to support for Communist tyranny.


Read this from then Cardinal Ratzinger:



This is a great question, because I have read a fair amount about it, and no one is very clear in saying exactly WHAT it is. They say it’s bad, it’s political, it’s Marxist, but that doesn’t define it. I suspect many people can’t define it, yet they have an opinion on it!

The Pope’s articles on it are a pretty hard read, so they aren’t a ton of help either. The article cited is 28 pages! That’s a long answer to the question.:smiley:

So if anyone can state what Liberation Theology is in a sentence, I would commend them. To me, I would probably say something like it’s the theology that says we can liberate the poor and suffering from their plight through political activity focused on a style of government where the state controls all resources and economy to ensure these people are taken care of (which is Marxist).

Not sure if that is exactly right though. Can others take a shot?


Well, only certain aspects of it were condemned.


I’ll tell you a bit. It arose in Latin America as best as I understand, or at least it got its major impetus there. For years of course the Church has been in Latin America, much of which is ruled by either military juntas or rich oligarchies. American aid intended to help build these economies only put money in the pockets of the rich and ruling class, and the peasants (often native indians) continued to suffer, literally being starved to death over time.

Liberation Theology was an attempt to start grassroot community bases wherein the message of Jesus is encorporated into the lives of the people. The hope is that they will become united and will work en mass to improve their lives. The Church is asked to support this endevour and to “exercise a preferential option for the poor”. It is also tied to praxis which is the gospel in action as opposed to rhetoric.

The church, many priests and nuns were embroiled in the revolution in El Salvador for instance. The Sandanistas did overthrow the govt. There are definite tendencies toward Marxism that this theology can fall trap to. The Church has gone in both directions on this.

While its true that the Pope did chastise a priest for his I think refusal to step down as ordered, in 1986, the Church put forth a surprising favorable document entitled: Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation.

Leading Catholic theologians in Liberation Theology are:

J.L. Segundo, S.J. , Gustavo Gutierrez, G Arroyo, S.J., Jon Sobrino, S.J. , Leonardo Boff.

Boff has been on and off the “silenced” list for years, and Sobrino is presently so I believe.

It gives a wonderful perscpective I find to Luke. Like all theologies, it is not a answer in itself, but serves to broaden the base to a fuller theology.


From Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary


A movement in the Roman Catholic Church that makes criticism of oppression essential to the task of theology. The forms of oppression to be criticized are mainly social and economic evils. Originating in Latin America, liberation theology has held as its main concern the exploitation of the poor, but it also seeks to defend the rights of minority and ethnic groups and to support women’s liberation. It is, therefore, a theory of deliverance from the injustices caused to people by the power structures of modern society.

It is a new approach to theology, and its leaders urge a reinterpretation of the Christian faith to concentrate on the main task of the Church today, to deliver people everywhere from the inhumanity to which they are being subjected, especially by those in political power. Accordingly all the main doctrines of historic Christianity are to be reassessed and, if need be, revised. Christ becomes an inspired human deliverer of the weak and oppressed; God’s kingdom centers on this world, and not on the next; sin is essentially social evil and not an offense against God; the Church’s mission is mainly sociopolitical and not eschatological; and objective divine revelation is subordinated to personal experience.

Aware of both the potential and risks of liberation theology, Pope John Paul II addressed himself mainly to this subject of his visit to Mexico in early 1979. He told the bishops of Latin America, met at Puebla for their General Conference: “The Church feels the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, the duty to help this liberation become firmly established.” At the same time, “. . . she also feels the corresponding duty to proclaim liberation in its integral and profound meaning, as Jesus proclaimed and realized it.” Then, drawing on Pope Paul VI’s teaching, he declared that it is “above all, liberation from sin and the evil one, in the joy of knowing God and being known by him.”

The Pope finally set down the norms “that help to distinguish when the liberation in question is Christian and when on the other hand it is based rather on ideologies that rob it of consistency with an evangelical point of view.” Basically these norms refer to the content “of what the evangelizers proclaim” and to “the concrete attitudes that they adopts.” On the level of content, “one must see what is their fidelity to the word of God, to the Church’s living Tradition and to her Magisterium.” On the level of attitudes, “one must consider what sense of communion they have with the bishops, in the first place, and with the other sectors of the People of God; what contribution they make to the real building up of the community; in what form they lovingly show care for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the neglected and the oppressed, and in what way they find in them the image of the poor and suffering Jesus, and strive to relieve their need and serve Christ in them” (address to the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, January 28, 1979).

Here are some articles on the topic:

Instruction on Certain Aspects of Theology of Liberation

Leonardo Boff and Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology: A Debate

The Retreat of Liberation Theology


Aspiring Deacon,

If you are really an aspiring deacon you had better get used to reading Vatican documents of sometimes great length.

The Ratzinger Report, Chapter 12 A Certain “Liberation” has a good explanation of Liberation Theology - it is only 12 pages long. :slight_smile:


Excellent Post John paul two two. Fair and balanced as they say…

I think one thing I remember from my studies is that in Latin America, the Church was protected by the ruling class or military junta, and so was in some sense complicit in the misery perpetrated there. There was over-emphasis for example on Mark’s gospel. (get used to suffering in this life, reward is in the afterlife). This of course worked well for the oppressive minority.

As the Church in Latin America moved toward the liberation model, Luke was emphasized. Many many priests and nuns were murdered for speaking out and working with the base communities. Prominent was Archbiship Romero who was murdered will saying Mass. Romero had been sent to be a stabalizing presence by the Vatican. He became so sickened by the plight of the poor, he became a major spokesman for the cause, and was murdered by anti-Sandinista government troups.

As I said earlier, the tendency to devolve into Marxism is real. Additionally the Church disagreed with its over-emphasis on social evil or sin as opposed to personal.

The Church has over time had difficulty with social issues of this kind. In fact, as far as I know, there was little support for unions, and other issues of individual human rights and democracy until Vatican II. The Church was still tied to the Church & State model prior to that.


Firstly, because LT has appropriated aspects of Marxism it does not necessarily support state control. Marx opposed state control, promoting the idea that every aspect of the economy should be directly subject to the people. State control is based upon fascism not Marxism.

If I had to sum up LT in one sentence?

“The emphasis upon Christ as the “liberator” of humanity, with respect to both the spiritual and the material; with a particular focus upon those who are oppressed socially or materially”

I believe it is this “particular focus” that causes concern to the magisterium; they fear LT does (or has the potential to) over emphasise the material liberation of humanity at the expense of spiritual liberation from evil. The primary concern of any theology should be spiritual liberation; our physical welfare should be secondary.


That is so silly, the Marxist element was only a part of some circles. Liberation Theology is grounded in the Bible, not only a Marxism combination. You aren’t giving the full answer and thats dishonesty.


Liberation theology invloves priests and nuns supporting violence and the killing of innocent people with the aim of bringing down governments. To suggest its a harmless social equality fight is ridiculous.


The primary purpose of any theology should be spiritual liberation. I tend to agree, but if one is not alive, that’s pretty much a dead issue. That’s why is some cases, for a period of timephysical welfare may have to take precedence over spirutual. Pure surivival would you not agree comes first?


Yes some priests and nuns did do violence, and its very hard to reconcile that under any cirucumstances, however, its a huge stretch to call the victims “innocents”. They were part of a ruling junta who had for years lined their pocket with foreign aid and done nothing. The native indians there had a caloric diet that was insufficient to sustain life over time. People were literally starving to death while the fascist regime prospered. Romero was sent there to quell the priests and nuns. Instead he joined them.**


You’re kidding, right? Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labour) was written in 1891 - more than 50 years before Vatican II.


Why would I be kidding? or are you just attempting to be sarcastic? I take it you believe I am wrong?

Actually I think you are right. I was writing from memory and thought it nearer Vatican II. Still the point is not lost, The rights of workers had been an issue worldwide long before the Church finally moved. It was considered “progessive social thought” and prior to that ignored. But of course it did finally prevail, and now no one would seriously argue the Church is not supporter of workers, unions, and other labor issues. But some tell me the church never changes…sigh…I’m not exactly sure what this has to do with LT, but whatever…I shall attempt to be scrupulous about my statements even on points of minor or little impact lest we get sidetracked again.


And where did the Church “move” to? The Church has never been a large-scale employer, to begin with, and where it does act as an employer, it follows a small-business model - it is neither Capitalist (since it does not exist to make money), nor Socialist (since it does not exist to provide jobs), and I doubt there are any unionized workers in your local parish, even today.

It was thus when Michelangelo was employed to paint the Sistine Chapel, and is still so today.


And if everyone in your Parish was systematically being killed you might do the same, I don’t think I would but then I wasn’t in Central America in the 80’s. Youre looking at the fringe, please show me where Oscar Romero told people to pick up guns. Oh he told Jimmy Carter to stop sending guns.



I’m not going to win the “one sentence” prize. I’m not sure anyone can, because I don’t think there’s a single definition for “Liberation Theology”, any more than there is for “Protestantism”.

In general, though, my understanding is that it’s a focus on the notion of social justice. Some adherents have supported really odious regimes like the Sandinistas. Some have virtually ignored the spiritual aspects of Catholicism and made it an almost entirely political thing. With some, it’s more an emphasis on charity, loosely supported by political means. To me, the UCCB is at least mildly influenced by it. My impression, though, is that it varies a lot, depending on who you’re talking about.


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