Thursday, October 24, 2013

Answering a critic


The Nobel-winning physicist Robert B. Laughlin said that “conflict through debate is a powerful means of revealing truth.”  It is in that spirit that I publish this response to a criticism posted on Tim’s El Salvador Blog of the views expressed in this site regarding Liberation Theology.  In part, I respond because I thought the criticism was well-formulated.  But I also respond because I think the criticism misapprehends my positions.  According to the poster,
the analysis of the Super Martyrio blog on liberation theology is reprehensible. Apparently, liberation theology is an abstract noun—no people, no texts, only a straw-man about whom you can impute what you want; just as in the Vatican instructions. So who are these mysterious liberation theologians whom Romero rejects? Gustavo Gutierrez from whom he took a course and with whom he spoke on the phone just a month before his assassination? Jon Sobrino? Who helped draft Romero's 2nd pastoral letter & Louvain address? Ellacuria? Who helped draft the 4th pastoral letter? Rutilio Grande? Whose death caused such a profound change in Romero? Alfonso Navarro? Need we go on?
Yes, there were some liberation theologies with which Romero had differences, but blanket statements like those of Carlos distort the truth and are spread by those who wish to blunt or domesticate the prophetic ministry of Romero.
Generally, I have no trouble conceding that my analysis of Liberation Theology tracks the Vatican instructions of 1984 and 1986.  However, I reject that I have made “blanket statements” that present Liberation Theology as an amorphous mass “about [which] you can impute what you want.”  Neither I nor the Vatican’s instructions do that.  From the first time I posted on the subject, I opened with the proposition that Liberation Theology “has never been entirely rejected by the Church” (September 5, 2010 post—in Spanish).  In that post, I specified that I only separate Romero from Liberation Theology in three discrete areas in which L.T. astrays from Catholic doctrine: (1) in its use of Marxist analysis; (2) in countenancing violence under the rubric of “class struggle;” and (3) in rejecting orthodox notions of ecclesiology (same).  Romero parts company with any Liberation Theology that seeks to do these three things.  But he accepts some of its other premises.  In the same post, I point to Romero’s adoption of the three guiding principles accepted by John Paul II at Puebla (the teachings relating to Christ, the Church, and mankind), later identified by Cardinal Ratzinger as the pillars of authentic Christian Liberation.  And in a subsequent piece (April 26, 2011 post), I identify, by name, which Liberation Theologians Romero read, and which he did not.  Thus, the criticism that my analysis fails to distinguish lines of theology or theologians is without merit.
The poster also argues that I construct a ‘straw man’ argument.  A ‘straw man’ argument is when a debater “creates the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and [purports] to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position” (Wikipedia).  Yet an obvious straw man appears in my critic’s post, when he asks, “So who are these mysterious liberation theologians whom Romero rejects?  Answer: as explained above, I never posited that Romero rejected individual liberation theologians, personally.  Instead, I have acknowledged Romero’s personal friendships with Liberation Theologians: “He grew to admire and know many of them personally and he appreciated their genuine commitment to the poor,” I wrote in my April 26, 2011 post.  Accordingly, the poster is refuting a position I specifically did not take, and not my more nuanced actual position, which acknowledges the friendships and collaborations Romero undertook with particular individuals.  (For example, in my June 20, 2012 post, I described Archbishop Romero’s history with Fr. Sobrino, whom I said I held in “near moral equivalency with the martyrs” because he was targeted for assassination but only escaped death because of a fortuity.)
In general, the poster overstates the degree to which Romero depended on the enumerated adherents of Liberation Theology.  For example, there is no evidence that Romero ever took a course from Gustavo Gutiérrez.  Not in Romero’s very detailed diary, not in any biography of Romero that I am aware of, or even in Gutiérrez’s principal speeches and writings that relate to Romero.  Although Jon Sobrino did collaborate with Romero, by Father Sobrino’s own admission, the draft that he wrote for Romero’s second pastoral letter was almost entirely rejected, and substantially reworked by Romero.  Similarly, Ignacio Ellacuría’s contribution to Romero’s fourth pastoral letter was limited.  Ellacuría was one of several priests who advised Romero regarding the document, and the principal drafting/revision was handled by another cleric, Fr. Fabián Amaya, according to Romero’s diary.  A recent book about Ellacuría limits his contribution to serving as “inspiration” for a single section of Romero’s letter.  Love that Produces Hope: The Thought of Ignacio Ellacuría, edited by María Pilar Aquino, Kevin F. Burke, Robert Anthony Lassalle-Klein.  Liturgical Press, 2006.
Finally, we must be careful not to mistake Romero’s magnanimity and desire to be inclusive to be an indication that he allowed a particular segment to hijack his ministry.  If Romero sought to incorporate the school of Liberation Theology into his project, it was to obtain their input and avail himself of their expertise, together with that of other sectors to which he reached out during his archbishopric.
Interpretations [that emphasize Romero’s] liberationist outlook may fail to adequately reflect an equally important dimension of his life and work that is highlighted in his personal diary: his commitment to unity … It involved overcoming divisions in the church and in society, and also overcoming divisions between the church and society.  Appreciating Romero’s concern for unity and therefore his Christian sense of reconciliation is at least as important for an understanding of his theology, ministry and life journey as understanding his Christian sense of liberation.
Latin America Between Conflict and Reconciliation, edited by Martin Leiner, Susan Flämig.  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.
As I wrote in my original response to this poster on Tim’s Blog, I do not purport to be an expert in Liberation Theology, as I am not specially trained or a theologian.  While I very well may be mistaken in some of my expressions regarding this subject, I do not believe that I have committed the systemic errors ascribed to me by my critic.  I have simply sought to point out that the generalized statement often advanced, that Romero was a believer or practitioner of Liberation Theology, has significant limitations, which Romero himself, often times, was eager to point out.

See also:

My professed P.O.V.
The Blog's "Thesis" (in Spanish)
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