The Grand Inquisitor
(Thanks to John Donaghy for finding two factual errors, now corrected. My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!)
The new “Prefect for the Congregation of Faith” appointed today by the Vatican, Bishop (now Archbishop) Gerhard Ludwig Müller may signal a subtle change in Vatican policy towards the Latin American church, and a greater willingness to accommodate itself to the realities of Latin American religious beliefs.
Archbishop Müller’s brief is to head what was, way back called The Inquisition, although the “Congregation of Faith” is also briefed with overseeing cleaning up the various sex scandals that have rocked the Church in recent years and maintaining relations with other Christian sects.
The previous Prefect, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, was best known in the U.S. for cracking down on nuns, and making nice to the far right-wing, holocaust denying “traditionalist” Saint Pius X Society — a break-away Catholic sect, that was considered heretical, but is somewhat back in the good graces of the Church.
What makes this noteworthy here is that the present Pope, Benedict XVI, had this job under John-Paul II, and was the “holy hit-man” when the Papacy turned against Liberation Theology. Müller, who is also the Pope’s editor, and knew the Pope from the days when both lived in Regensburg (Germany), has ties to Liberation Theologians, and has worked in Bolivia and Peru with Liberationists. He maintains close ties to a former teacher of his, Peruvian theologian
and bishop Gustavo Gutiérrez whose 1971 A Theology of Liberation (“Poverty is not fate, it is a condition; it is not a misfortune, it is an injustice. It is the result of social structures and mental and cultural categories, it is linked to the way in which society has been built, in its various manifestations“) gave name to the movement in the Church — especially in Latin America — to develop a “preference for the poor”.
With most modern economic and social theories that deal with class and poverty rooted in Marxist rhetoric, it is somewhat understandable that the old Polish pope — having spent most of his career countering Marxists in his own country — saw liberation theology as a danger to the church, and unleashed then-Cardinal Ratzenburger (now Pope Benedict) to quash the movement. Nor is it is any wonder that so many of the political figures considered Marxists — Jean Bertrand Aristide (Haiti), Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Miguel d’Escoto (Nicaragua), Andres Manuel Lopez Obradór (Mexico) are products of that Catholic movement. Miguel d’Escoto is a priest, Aristide and Lugo were priests; Correa was a lay brother; Hugo Chavez’ parents were both Catechists; and Lopez Obradór worked with Protestant church groups that adopted many of the tenents of Liberation Theology when he was a young social worker. Within the Church itself, you had any number of Liberationist priests and bishops who played an important part in progressive Latin American politics, like the late Mexican bishop Samuel Ruiz and his still living disciple, Raul Vera.
While not always in step with the theology of liberation, the focus on human rights over economic ones inspired prominent churchmen like the gutsy Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez of Chile (whose “Vicarate for Human Rights” documented and assisted victims of Pinochet’s neo-liberal fascism and who personally protected dissidents from the Army, going face to face with armed soliders) and Salvadorian Oscar Romero — a theological conservative — who stood up to his country’s U.S. backed dictators and earned a martyrdom for his trouble.
The crackdown under John-Paul II pushed the liberationists to the side, in many cases, replacing liberationist bishops, or liberation-friendly cardinals to the side, replacing them with extreme conservatives, and Opus Dei influenced (or trained) clerics.
In the process, politically active Catholics left the church, often for Evangelical sects. What was once unthinkable in Latin American politics has been for leaders like Hugo Chavez and Andres Manuel Lopez Obradór — both nominally Catholics — to make no secret of their admiration and sometimes open acceptance of Evangelical Christian practices.
Both Müller’s ties to Liberation Theology and his own theological writings defending Protestantism (he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer) make him a much different sort of “Grand Inquisitor” than the previous two incumbents. Whereas the present Pope went after the Liberationists and the retiring Cardinal Leveda tried to mainstream the most reactionary elements or rope in the more conservative factions within the Anglican communion, Müller’s track record is more that of someone less concerned with the issues of the rich nations’ Catholics and more with those of the so-called “developing” nations. That he is already being attacked by the Pius X Society and questioned by Opus Dei means he’s on the right track.