Perhaps the most controversial Synod in the recent history of the Church ended on Saturday, October 25, with the publication of its Final Document. Unlike ordinary synods, which deal with specific points of theology or pastoral policy, the special Synod for the Pan-Amazonian region was presented as a sort of “Vatican Council III” which would “forever change the face of the Church,” according to one of its protagonists, Most Rev. Overbeck, bishop of Essen. Someone even spoke of “reinventing the Church.” I believe that a Synod never before had put an ax so deeply into the very roots of the Church by questioning its structure, doctrine, and discipline.
Most European and US commentators have focused on the question of “viri probati,” that is, the ordination of married man to the priesthood. This is a very serious issue because it could alter the discipline of the Church on the Sacrament of the Order, undermining its organic structure: Exactly what the left wants.
Other commentators have examined the change of theological paradigm introduced by the Synod. By speaking of “spirits of divinity, called in various forms, with and in the territory, with and in relation to nature” (No. 14) and other similar statements with a pantheistic flavor, the Final Document implicitly opens the doors to a new immanentist religion aligned with extremist currents of the so-called deep ecology. The whole Church should be reinterpreted in the light of “Indigenous theology, theology with an Amazonian face” (No. 54) to produce “a Church with an Amazonian identity and face” (No. 55).
For my part, I would like to focus not only on the Final Document but more broadly on an aspect that preceded and accompanied the Pan Amazon Synod and was present throughout its debates: the rebirth of Marxist and subversive liberation theology. Let me first, however, make a brief introduction.
Progressivists are employing in the Pan Amazon Synod the same strategy used at the Second Vatican Council. Concerning the Council, people customarily distinguish between its documents, the “event” itself, and media propaganda about it. Here we can again make this distinction. The Synod’s preparatory documents – Lineamenta and Instrumentum Laboris – had aroused so much concern as to be suspected of heresy and schism. The Final Document does not seem to remove that suspicion at all.
To me, however, the “event” appears even more important than the documents, that is, the use and abuse that progressives will make of the Synod. In the final speech, Pope Francis himself made this distinction by stating, “The result of the Synod is not a document. We are full of documents. We have made the document, and now the Spirit gives us the document for it to work on our hearts.”
Document or non-document, the “Spirit” seems to be blowing very strongly in Liberation Theology circles, which are cheering the conclusion of a Synod they believe has definitively consecrated their ideas. In fact, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto, Vice President of Repam (Panamazonian Ecclesial Network) and one of the protagonists of the Synod, declared, “With this Synod, a long journey of 30-40 years by the Latin American Church reaches maturity.” In other words, the Liberation Theology movement has been preparing for this for forty years.
To understand this, we need to make a bit of history.
A Bit of History
Liberation Theology (LT) arose in Latin America in the 1960s, a daughter of Nouvelle Théologie and Modernism, very influenced by the political theology of Metz. Liberation theologians employed Marxism to analyze alleged situations of “oppression” in Latin America, proposing a “liberation” that identified with communism: “Communism and the Kingdom of God on earth they are the same thing,” declared the liberation theologian Ernesto Cardenal.
Assuming the Marxist concept of the primacy of praxis, liberation theologians did not “study theology” but “made Revolution,” to which they conferred a salvific religious character. “What we mean by liberation theology is involvement in the revolutionary process,” explained Gustavo Gutiérrez, the founding father of the current.
Based on these assumptions, LT militants worked hard in almost all revolutionary processes in Latin America, tending to impose socialism and communism, which in many cases led to armed struggle.
The fall of Soviet communism and its condemnation by Pope John Paul II in 1984 marked a setback for the LT movement, which was forced to recycle itself into new currents, including indigenous theology and ecological theology. Instead, in 2013, the election of a Latin American Pope paves the way for its rebirth, inaugurating a “new springtime” as they called it then. First, they made sure to “clear” LT to then “insert it into the life of the Church,” and now turned it into a mainstay of the current pontificate.
Thus we arrive at the Pan Amazon Synod, in which they introduced the principles of liberation theology into the Church’s pastoral policy not only in its updated forms (Indigenous Theology and Ecological Theology) but even in its classical Marxist and subversive form. “To the cry of the poor, we add the cry of the earth, that screams for its liberation,” proclaimed Leonardo Boff, a leading figure in ecological theology and one of the inspirers of the encyclical Laudato Si, doctrinal basis of the synod.
The LT Movement Awakens
The Pan Amazon Synod is serving as an excuse and opportunity to rally and reinvigorate the LT movement and especially LT’s “militant” arm, the so-called BCCs (Basic Christian Communities), which the Final Document explicitly commends and encourages. In fact, No. 36 reads: “The basic ecclesial communities have been and are a gift of God to the local churches of the Amazon.”
“Leftist Religious Foresee Rebirth of Basic Christian Communities,” headlined the liberal daily Folha de S. Paulo, the largest newspaper in Brazil, reporting the Pan Amazon Synod. It went on to say: “The Synod encourages themes dear to the Latin American Catholic left, such as the BCCs which, in the 1970s, tried to involve the laity in the restructuring of the Church and society.” It then quotes Father José Boeing, a follower of this current, as saying, “The Final Document will give strength to the BCCs. We are in solidarity with the people’s struggle.”
The São Paulo daily is very clear: “The Synod is leaning in favor of Liberation Theology, which, influenced by Marxism, had a boom in the 1970s. The Synod will expand the spaces of liberation theology. After decades of marginalization during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this is a turnaround for this current.” Almost all representatives of Brazil who took part in the Synod are followers of Liberation Theology, starting with Cardinal Claudio Hummes, general rapporteur for the assembly. When he was bishop of Santo André, in Brazil, he served as a “chaplain” for the newly founded and Marxist-oriented Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party).
The liberal daily continues: “The Synod also defends Indigenous Theology, which supports indigenous peoples regardless of their conversion to Catholicism.”
During the 11th National Meeting of Faith and Politics held in Brazil in July, Frei Betto, one of the leading exponents of LT, stated, “We have before us a window of opportunity that will allow us to move forward. We must not propose liberation theology. It scares many people. We need to talk about socio-environmental issues instead. Among the signs of the times, along this line, here is the Pan Amazon Synod, to be held in October. This is very important.”
The general comment now in Latin America is that the Synod is “giving a new wind to liberation theology and the basic Christian communities, liberation theologian Agenor Brighenti stated, commenting on the pontificate of Pope Francis.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that, while the Pan Amazon Synod sets the Church on fire, the extreme left is trying to ignite Latin America. From Chile to Peru, from Ecuador to Venezuela, the extreme left is striving to recoup the continent at all costs. “Popular,” sometimes violent, demonstrations are multiplying. It is as if an order to attack had come from somewhere. And, as in the old days, the militants of liberation theology are actively participating in the demonstrations.
Thus, the Pan Amazon Synod brings water to the mill of the Latin American left just as they are seeking revenge.
Within the logic of reading the Final Document of the Synod, allowing oneself be carried away by the breath of the “Spirit,” as Pope Francis proposes — that is, by looking for ideas for liberationist militancy– we can say that it has something for everyone – a real smorgasbord.
For classical Marxists, it has a beautiful condemnation of private property. Marx once synthesized communism as the abolition of private property. On a different note, in a chapter titled “The Clamor of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor,” the Final Document denounces as the “cause of the socio-environmental crisis” the “appropriation and privatization of the goods of nature” by the “ruling classes” that seek only “their economic and political interests” (No. 10).
For the enemies of industrial society, it has a condemnation of “extractivism,” a term the current Pontiff also used to designate the industry that employs and transforms the fruits of the earth. This use of the land must come to an end because it causes the “loss of the original culture” of indigenous peoples, that is to say, it makes them leave the savage state, based exclusively on hunting and fishing, thus “losing their identity” (No. 10).
An important element to civilize indigenous peoples is to group them in urban centers. This has been the policy of the Brazilian State since the nineteenth century. On the contrary, the indigenous current seeks to keep them scattered in small rural communities. This position finds a foothold in the Final Document, which rails against the migration of natives to the cities attracted by the “false mirage of urban culture” (No. 13). The Final Document would like to preserve natives from the “influence of Western civilization” (No. 14).
For the partisans of tribal life, the Final Document has an exaltation of indigenous “good living” in the forest, in whom “the beatitudes are fully realized” (No. 9). It goes on to describe wildlife in the Amazon with idyllic tones: “Living in harmony with oneself, with nature, human beings, and the supreme being, since there is intercommunication between the entire cosmos, in which nothing excludes or is excluded. This understanding of life is characterized by the connectivity and harmony of relationships between water, territory and nature, the life and culture of the community, God, and the various spiritual forces” (N ° 9).
These and other passages are serving to encourage and strengthen the liberation theology movement in Latin America. In addition to the Final Document and the announced Apostolic Exhortation, we certainly already have a “Synod event.”
*Julio Loredo is the author of the book, Liberation Theology, A Lead-Filled Lifevest for the Poor, and collaborates with the Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira Institute.