Catholic social activism and the Polish pope

The Los Angeles Times ran a lengthy article with reflections on the legacy of Pope John Paul II from the viewpoint of Catholic social activists in El Salvador. The pope's actions to quash the strongest forces of liberation theology left activists disillusioned about the Church's commitment to improve the lot of the poor and oppressed. The pope's approach was strongly influenced by his anti-communism grounded in an upbringing in post-war communist Poland. From the LA Times article:
"The pope didn't understand the meaning of Romero," said former priest [Miguel] Ventura, now 59. "It indicated that Rome doesn't give aspects of the Salvadoran, the Latin American church, the attention it should."

Ventura says that at least 30 priests and nuns left the Salvadoran clergy after 1990 over disenchantment with Vatican policy. He said he knows of five other former clerics with untraditional pastorates like his in El Salvador.

Moreover, the pope moved to more closely supervise seminary training here and to appoint conservative bishops in the aftermath of Romero's slaying. The current archbishop of San Salvador is Fernando Saenz Lacalle, a Spaniard who is a member of Opus Dei, a highly conservative lay organization.

Andres Santa Maria, a farmer here in La Mora, about 30 miles north of San Salvador, charges that the church no longer is the advocate for the poor that it was during most of the civil conflict that ended with a 1992 peace accord.

"Monsignor Romero gave a voice to the community," he said. "But they killed him for waking us up. And now there is no priest who denounces what goes on here, that the peace accords aren't being observed."

While these viewpoints may correctly describe the attitude of some, but not all, of the Catholic hierarchy in El Salvador, there are still many priests, nuns, Catholic lay workers and others who continue to exercise in El Salvador what liberation theology termed the "preferential option for the poor." For them, the primary memory of the past three weeks has been the remembrance of a murdered Salvadoran bishop, rather than a beloved Polish pope.


Schroeder said…
Nice blog Tim.

The issue of John Paul's stance with respect to Liberation Theology is difficult to understand. I'm not Catholic, but I appreciate some aspects of John Paul's approach to world affairs.

As one who agrees with the precepts of Liberation Theology, and as a student of land tenure in Central America and revolutionary movements, I also find merit in some of John Paul's advocacy for non-violent solutions to conflict.

I know. Lot's of people are suffering. I've seen it. I've also been to Cuba, and I visited Nicaragua during the time of the Sandanistas. I know what repression looks like. I also understand the justifications for it vis a vis U.S. insurgency efforts. I appreciate that in Cuba, nowhere did I see children suffering from starvation, or with gross deformities caused by polio.

Still, the church can't be in a position of aligning itself with violence, or the repression of democracy that has almost inevitably followed from revolutions.

Sure, Romero wasn't aligned with the FMLN (as far as I know), but other priests were.

It's a tough issue to work out.

Feel free to enlighten me if you have a better sense of the issue.