Rorate Caeli

The Father of Liberation Theology's full rehabilitation:
A perfect example of ecclesiastical amnesia at work

The stages of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez's rehabilitation and ascent to favor have been well-documented on this blog and elsewhere, beginning with the appointment of Gerhard Cardinal Müller as Prefect of the CDF in 2012, and accelerating with the election in 2013 of Pope Francis, who received Gutierrez in private audience later that year. In February 2014, he was present in the Vatican for the launch of Cardinal Müller's book Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church; two of the book's chapters were written by Gutierrez, and the preface was written by ... Pope Francis. 

Today, Fr. Gutierrez -- without any clerical collar or insignia, let alone any sign of his Dominican habit -- was the star speaker at the Vatican press conference for the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, alongside Caritas' outgoing President and the Coordinator of the C9, Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga. Praising the "change in atmosphere" in the Vatican,  Gutierrez also stressed that the Vatican had never condemned his work, commenting that he was not being "rehabilitated" because he never needed it in the first place. 

In reality the lack of a condemnation does not mean anything; the postconciliar Vatican's desire to punish dissident theologians has always been greatly exaggerated. A very long list can be compiled of glaringly dissident and prominent "theologians" who massively wreaked havoc in Catholic institutions during the past 35 years without getting so much as a "bad book review" from the CDF. 

There could be also other reasons for the lack of a condemnation: foot-dragging by the relevant episcopal authorities, for instance...

Now conveniently covered in silence and forgetfulness are the public denunciations against Gutierrez and his followers by an ecclesiastical authority whose experience of the damage and theological dissent they caused was much more immediate than that of the CDF: the Archbishop of Lima since 1999, Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani. In a 2004 interview with John Allen, Cardinal Cipriani explicitly accused Gutierrez of doing "lots of harm in religious congregations" and of being partly responsible for the creation of a "parallel magisterium" in Peru. Cardinal Cipriani also noted that the CDF was waiting for Gutierrez to "revise his theological positions", but was relying on the Peruvian bishops' conference to extract the revisions. It just so happened that some of the Peruvian bishops were themselves followers of Gutierrez. 

The relevant portions from John Allen's interview with Cardinal Cipriani (reproduced here solely for purposes of documentation):

I spoke to Cipriani about Gutierrez, who left the clergy of the Lima archdiocese to join the Dominicans weeks after Cipriani arrived as archbishop. Today, Gutierrez spends part of each year teaching at the University of Notre Dame.

Cipriani described a conversation between the two men in his residence shortly before Gutierrrez left.

"He came in to see me, saying, here's a paper of your predecessor approving my going to the Dominicans," Cipriani said. "I said, well, let's have a talk before you leave, because when I get in touch with St. Peter in the next life, maybe he will ask me, 'What about Gutierrez?' I said, you have done lots of harm in religious congregations. I would appreciate it if you would rethink your theology. … If you move one millimeter, the church will move one kilometer.

"I said, I'm putting all the responsibility for your theology on your soul. It's in your hands. I know you're moving away, but I'm sure you are not a Dominican."

Asked what he meant by that, Cipriani said Gutierrez is "faking" his identity as a Dominican in order to escape his control.

In fairness, people close to Gutierrez say that while he was indeed motivated to get out from under Cipriani's authority, he nevertheless is sincere about his Dominican vocation. He took his formation in France seriously, these observers say, and sees the charism of the Order of Preachers as a good fit with his own sense of mission.

Cipriani said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is still waiting for the Peruvian bishops' conference to obtain a written revision of Gutierrez's positions, but some bishops lack the "guts" to move forward.

"Some of the people in the conference were followers of Gutierrez," he said. "It's quite difficult to find people willing to confront hard situations."

Cipriani said that in his view, the challenge posed by liberation theology remains.

"They created a system of pastoral work that is now inside of the church, and not only in Peru," he said. "Desacralization, making social work the first thing to do, criticizing the magisterium, involving priests in politics … It's a whole system, a parallel magisterium to the real magisterium. … This way of doing the church, the pastoral work, is still going on and is quite difficult to change."

If Gustavo Gutierrez's theology was orthodox, then why was he under the CDF's investigation for so long? And why was the CDF asking for "revisions" to his work - revisions that never came at any time after 2004? At any rate, with his de facto rehabilitation since 2012, that he was ever under Vatican pressure to revise his theology has become an inconvenient memory, best forgotten and treated as if it never happened.

As late as 2013, Cardinal Cipriani continued to air his reservations over Gutierrez, not hesitating to call out Muller for being "naive" with the father of Liberation Theology. Since then, the Cardinal has preferred to be silent over the matter. One cannot help but wonder what he thinks of the current circus. Although he has not been unseated like other outspokenly conservative prelates, Cardinal Cipriani's repeated humiliation by the Vatican in the last two years over his lonely defense of theological orthodoxy in his country (first over the "Pontifical Catholic" University of Peru, and now over Gustavo Gutierrez) does nothing to encourage those bishops who might be inclined to assert their right and authority to fight heterodoxy.

In the meantime, the official Catholic press has been docilely going along with the rehabilitation of this beacon of the new orthodoxy. Amnesia when it is convenient is, alas, one of the virtues of modern "Catholicism."