Acton Institute Powerblog

Censuring Sobrino

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When the Vatican last week issued a stinging rebuke of Fr. Jon Sobrino, a noted proponent of Liberation Theology, predictable complaints ensued about the Church squelching “dissent.” However, as Samuel Gregg points out, Fr. Sobrino’s books were not only based on faulty economic thinking, his works placed him outside the bounds of orthodox Catholic teaching about the faith. “For Fr. Sobrino, the ‘true’ Church is to be found in the materially poor at a given time, rather than in those who adhere to the apostolic Catholic faith transmitted from generation to generation,” Gregg writes.

Read the full commentary here. Read more information about the censure of Fr. Sobrino in Catholic World News.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Jan Wnek

    When the Roman Catholic Church moves away from the "moral relativism" it adopted when it entered into a unholy alliance with the pagan Constantine and became a "state religion", I will re-evaluate my position towards the line which you "Actonites" propose…..actually, I would LOVE to see a debate between your "guru" Mr. Sirico and my favorite retreat master , Rev. Emmanuel McCarthy ( …..true Christianity would win out, not this post-Constantinian hoax most uninformed Catholics are subjected to…..TRUE Christianity is PRE-Constantinian Christianity……the state-protected religion is a FRAUD…..and all of you "Actonites" know it!
    Pax vobiscum,
    Jan J. Wnek

  • Richard Deal

    I think the criticism is pretty harsh. The church does live through the times, although I do agree that we are consistently challenged to do and live the right way by looking at the way the church first started thru the patristics before Constantine. However, there are some benefits that have occurred since Constantine and to deny this by saying that "TRUE Christianity is PRE-Constantinian Christianity" is misguided as best and probably disingenous at worse. Christ lives and He lives thru His church, the one in El Salvador as well as in the Vatican. However, having said that, liberation theology greatest error has been to align itself with any of the Marxist notions that have been attributed to it. As strong an effort it has made to identify itself with the poor, it’s effort should have been just as strong to condemn those aspects of Marxism that used its perspectives to advance their own cause. To not acknowledge this reality has allowed the current situation to spiral out of control in these countries. At the same, the "supposed" pro-capitalistic institutions that govern these countries don’t deserve to feel comfortable either in their utter failure to address the widening misery and suffering that exists there.

  • Rich Leonardi

    [i]TRUE Christianity is PRE-Constantinian Christianity …[/i]

    Ah, yes. The revolt (tantrum, really) of the primitive never goes out of style.

  • Grant Pearse

    True Christianity needs no Neo-Marxist analysis. It requires that all, no matter what social or financial standing, turn their hearts to God, and in turn Christ will turn their hearts back to their fellows for the betterment of society. Endeavoring to alter, change the rules, and liberate the Church from the truth of pure Christianity would be analogous to setting up a bible school with politicians to make the rules.

  • Dr Augusto Zimmermann

    So-called ‘liberation theology’ represents a gross distortion of Christianity. Its vision of ‘church’ is a photographic negative of the Christian vision of the Church as a community of reconciliation and peace.

    The outward form of ‘Christian community’ by ‘liberation’ theology is nothing but a totalitarian state armed with the opressive power to intervene in every aspect of human life.

    It proposes a socialistic regime that is coercive and oriented toward exacerbating rather than reconciling conflict. Its central and characterizing activity is the tearing down of social relationships, not their loving constitution.

    According to Leonardo Boff, who this article correctly reminds as being a leading contributor to liberation theology, the free-market system is to be compared with ‘the “666” of the whore of Babylon’. He thus states: ‘There is no cure for this system. It must be overcome’.

    Leonardo Boff is a radical Marxist who believes the world must face a ‘final apocalyptic confrontation of the forces of good [communism] and evil [capitalism], and then the blessed millennium’. Thus the violent suppression of capitalism, he argues, would represent the advent of ‘God’s Kingdom on Earth, and the advent of a new society of a socialistic type’.

    And since his apocalyptic understanding of the ‘Day of Judgment’ is clearly based on the emergence of violent confrontation between social classes, he openly advocates the use of the Catholic Church as a means of revolutionary support and indoctrination. As Boff explains:

    “The subordinated classes solicit the Church to aid them in their search for greater power and autonomy in the face of the domination they suffer. They ask the Church to support and justify the breakdown of the ruling classes and lend itself to revolutionary service.

    “Yet, the faithful are present on both sides; the Church is inevitably affected by class conflicts and so may serve a revolutionary function or serve as a strengthening force for the ruling classes. These two possibilities are not free choices or options”.

    Boff refuses, in this sense, to accept the possibility of any peaceful coexistence between different social classes. For him, every religious person has the moral obligation ‘to rouse the working class to an awareness of class struggle and the need to take part in it’. Thus, he certainly would not regard it as a ‘sin’ for a person to physically attack another person from a supposedly ‘oppressive’ social class, since this would be committed by those who are ‘oppressed’ and involved in the struggle to remove social inequalities. Under this type of radical thinking, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, suggests:

    “The desire to love everyone here and now, despite his class, and to go out to meet him with the non-violent means of dialogue and persuasion, is denounced as counterproductive and opposed to love. If one holds that a person should not be the object of hate, it is claimed nevertheless that, if he belongs to the objective class of the rich, he is primarily an enemy to be fought. Thus the universality of love of neighbour and brotherhood become an eschatological principle, which will only have meaning for the ‘new man’, who arises out of the victorious revolution”.

    Boff left the priesthood in 1992 but is still a prominent Catholic figure. He is currently the editor of Vozes, Brazil’s leading Catholic publishing house. In his 1987 book O Socialismo Como Desafio Teológico (‘Socialism as a Theological Challenge’) Boff explicitly declares that the highly oppressive former communist regimes in Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet Union, ‘offer[ed] the best objective possibility of living more easily in the spirit of the Gospels and of observing the Commandments’. Returning from a visit to the former Soviet Union in 1987, just a few years before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, he also argued that these notoriously oppressive regimes were rather ‘highly ethical and… morally clean’, and that he had not noticed any restrictions in those countries on freedom of expression.

  • Richard Deal

    Dr Augusto Zimmermann,

    You took Boff as the "only" representative of liberation theology. This is hardly the case with Sobrino. We’re looking at two different persons here. Sobrino is hardly Boff, and Boff is hardly Sobrino. Maybe this is why Boff is no longer a priest and Sobrino continues to maintain and firmly believe in his priesthood.

  • Dr. Bruno Soria

    I cannot agree with your statement that the intent of liberation theologists to liberate the poor from their poverty is inconsistent. Quite to the contrary, I think this is the only point in which they are fully consistent.

    Please bear in mind that the policy they foster to end poverty is Socialism. As we know from the track record of all Socialist regimes in History, if they were successful what they would achieve is precisely spreading poverty to everybody. QED

  • Richard Deal

    I disagree. You obviously haven’t read them nor understand the criticism they make. I think most folks understand the socialism that has been practiced in the failing governments of the last century is not the way. What they are criticizing are the lack of justice in the present day system more than advocating an overall system of governance. Yes, they do have practical implementations stated in their proposals; but they are hardly a proposal for an overall governing system at the top, although most interpret them to be stating something of this sort. If you see that are attempting to create a practical answer at the local level of such a dire impoverished reality, you’d see that they are hardly expousing some economic theory that would imply some large economic system. Basically, we can agree on one thing with them; the current system isn’t working for most of their populations; and, any good Christian won’t be wrong an acknowledging this lamentable and shameful reality. I would point you to an article recently by Vatican theologian that clearly empathizes with this reality and clearly states an overwhelming empathy for Sobrino’s position:

  • William Gissy

    The far right loves to simplify the world. To them the only choices are Socialism and radical free market capitalism. While the former fails to generate significant growth, the only alternative (let the state do nothing and let fat cats get fatter) does little to create justice. The main problem is caused by the far right’s (and that would be most individuals associated witht he Acton Institute) belief that markets operate according to a model put forth in a sophmore level text book. Alas, reality check!!! We do not live in a world of complete information, perfect mobility where time and space don’t matter. The ability of firms to pay labor less than the value of its marginal contribution is too easy to demonstrate in for complex models involving decision hierarchies, menu costs and other complexities that don’t exist in Sammy Gregg’s world.However I don’t suspect that social justice is an important factor for Mr Gregg or his ilk.