Ratzinger’s fear of the church of the poor

A contribution to the 26. Anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero

Even as the supreme guardian of the faith of the Roman Church, Joseph Ratzinger criticized liberation theology and, in the opinion of former Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli, struck too harsh a note in 1984. Under his pontificate, Rome still does not let go of attacks against the Church of the Poor and its theologians. So far, the pope from Bavaria has shown no intention of continuing the social teachings of his predecessors in view of the triumph of "neoliberalism" for the present. His most urgent concern is a commitment to the "eternal Son of God," who is above the things of this world and who made only a brief appearance on this earth more than 2,000 years ago.

The Roman criticism of liberation theology is correspondingly quite apolitical. It currently invokes above all the "objective" dogma that the state church has established in philosophical terms from the fourth century onward. Jesus is spoken of in a way that is incomprehensible even to most simple pastors. The movement of thought goes "from top to bottom": The second "hypostasis" of the triune God is the innermost center and reason for the unity of the incarnated Son of God. Within the so-called "hypostatic union" a divine nature and a human nature are distinguished, which are however both neither mixed nor separated.

To explain to the hungry the Christological doctrine of the second nature?

The Catholic liberation theologians do not even reject these complicated and abstract formulas. But they think that the human and divine nature should not be understood through the power categories of the Greek philosophy. Jesus and his young men in Galilee did not speak of philosophical metaphysics at all. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that at the end of time people were asked whether they had correctly recited the Roman Catechism and the undercooked dogmas of the early councils, some of which were supervised by the state. The Jesus tradition rather knows a generally understandable criterion by which the truth of the people can be read: "I was hungry and you gave me to eat". I was a stranger and you took me in. I was in prison or sick and you came to me."(cf. Matthaus Gospel Cape. 25, 31-46)

In this country, z.B. also the catholic rural youth movement, that is a highly topical message under the sign of an aggressive globalization. Every year, about 30 million people die of hunger on Earth. 800 million people are chronically malnourished and probably have hardly a clear head to learn about the specialties of the Christological doctrine of two natures.

In such a world, Rome’s dogmatic option is not neutral, but a highly political partisanship. It serves the European claim to power within the universal church and strengthens the right wing in Catholicism. The "option for the poor" critical of capitalism, which already John Paul II. as a common good of the whole church, is watered down in the sense of North American ideas to a non-committal or purely benevolent "love for the needy". In his first encyclical Deus est Caritas, Joseph Ratzinger already speaks a different language than his predecessor.

The awakening of the church in Latin America

From a Christian point of view, the liberation theologians also consider it a matter of course to help one’s neighbor in need. But they think that in a world of global mass misery and structural injustice, one can hardly exemplify a credible Christianity by giving mild gifts alone.

In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, Vatican Council II had declared that the Church was to be a "faithful Christian". In 1965, the Second Vatican Council recognized social movements for human rights as highly significant from a theological point of view, stating explicitly: "The hunger-stricken people demand an account from the richer people."Pope Paul VI was even more explicit after the Council. with his circular Populorum Progressio uber den Fortschritt der Volker (26. Marz 1967), which the Bavarian politician Franz-Josef Strauss considered "black Marxism". This encyclical refers to the priority common use by people of all the riches of the earth:

"It is not your good," says Ambrosius, "with which you rude against the poor. You give him back only what belongs to him. For you have taken what is given for common use. The earth is for everyone, not just the rich."Private property is not an absolute and unconditional right for anyone.

Paul VI. condemns in this text an unrestrained capitalism, according to which "profit is the real engine of economic progress, competition the supreme law of the economy, ownership of the means of production an absolute right, without barriers, without corresponding obligations to society". He formulates as a central principle "that the economy has to serve exclusively man".

A year later, in 1968, Latin American bishops met in a groundbreaking assembly in Medellin, Colombia. There the Church, which for centuries on the continent had been in league with the powerful, affirmed a preferential – that is, partisan – "option for the poor. The worldwide Jesuit order, which had a much older tradition of taking sides with the oppressed, made an uncompromising commitment to justice in 1974. In the bishops’ conferences of Brazil and other Latin American countries, most of the pastors subsequently sympathized with the still young "theology of liberation. By 1980 alone, more than 800 priests and nuns who followed this movement in their pastoral practice were murdered in Latin America.

Romero: The conversion of a traditionalist bishop

Among the critics of liberation theology in El Salvador was a priest named Oscar Arnulfo Romero (1917-1980). This already spiritual and conservative chaplain had in Rome still under Pius XII. studied orthodox dogmatics. He did not perceive the close church liaison with the oligarchy, which consisted of 14 family clans and had ruled the country like a private estate for decades, as a scandal. At times he was under the influence of the right-wing "Opus Dei".

As bishop of the diocese of Santiago de MarIa from 1974 on, Romero got to know the misery of the population even better. The classic "care of the poor" was very close to his heart. The Vatican appointed the devout traditionalist as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. In his capacity as president of the Bishops’ Conference of El Salvador, Romero very soon saw the brutal policies of the regime in a new light. In March 1977, the Jesuit priest and liberation theologian Rutilio Grande, a friend of his, was murdered together with an altar boy and a 65-year-old catechist by paramilitaries on behalf of the landowners. Romero was shaken, invited the entire diocese to the funeral service at the cathedral, and announced that he would stop cooperating with the government:

The plight of a church persecuted to the point of murdering a priest has forced me to orient my pastoral care more strongly toward the defense of the church and human rights.

The Salvadoran military junta of those years paid homage to the "doctrine of national security" prevalent in Latin America. Suffragan Bishop Gregor Rosa Chavez describes the core of this ideology as follows: "Anyone who wants changes is a communist and must be eliminated."The "death squads" for the murder of opponents of the regime functioned as an integral part of the state apparatus in El Salvador. Romero visited the parishes and Christians who were targeted by this state terror, and loved to meticulously document all incidents in the human rights office of his diocese: "It is my job to record acts of violence and collect corpses."In the order lists of the death squads, the reward for killing a priest was higher than that for killing a campesino or leftist intellectual. Leaflets carried the slogan: "Be a patriot! Dead a priest!"

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