Posts tagged with: Option for the poor


Archbishop Oscar Romero

Rev. Robert Sirico ponders the economic and theological links between Pope Francis and Oscar Romero today at RealClear Religion. Sirico says that these “two prominent churchmen of our era … expose the difference between a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and a preferential option for the state.”

Both men have been linked heavily to Liberation Theology, but Sirico points out that this is a misguided understanding of the thoughts and works of both Pope Francis and Archbishop Romero.

For whatever form of Liberation Theology (and there are several) either Romero or Francis represent, it is certainly not the variety most popularly espoused in the Latin America of the 1980s and condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ascendant form of Liberation Theology of that era emerged from a Christian encounter with Marxism as seen largely in the work of Gustavo Gutierrez (Peruvian), Leonardo Boff (Brazilian), Juan Luis Segundo (Uruguayan), Jon Sobrino (Spanish) and Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaraguan). (more…)

TaxCollectorDuring the 20th century, the option for the poor or the preferential option for the poor was articulated as one of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. For example, in Octogesima Adveniens (1971), Pope Paul VI writes:

In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.

Yet while all Christians — not just Catholics — should express a kinship for the less fortunate, Nathan Duffy reminds us that Jesus also expressed a “special, unique concern for wealthy tax collectors.”

will work for foodThere is no reason to assume that the preferential option for the poor is somehow a preferential option for big government, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg. Gregg writes that lifting people out of poverty — and not just material poverty but also moral and spiritual poverty — does not necessarily mean that the most effective action is to implement yet another welfare program:

What does living out the option for the poor mean in practice? We must engage in works of charity — those activities that often address specific dimensions of poverty in ways that no state program ever could. And this means giving of our time, energy, and human and monetary capital in ways that bring Christ’s light into some of the darkest places on earth.

Yet this does not mean that Catholics are required to give something to everything, or even that Catholics must give away everything they own. As Fr. James Schall, SJ, writes, “If we take all the existing world wealth and simply distribute it, what would happen? It would quickly disappear; all would be poor.” Put another way, living out the option for the poor may well involve those people with a talent for creating wealth doing precisely that.

Read more . . .

With a bit of breathless excitement (“a progressive theological current“), there is news in Rome that Pope Francis is welcoming liberation theology back into the Vatican. On Sunday, Sept. 8, the Vatican announced a meeting between the pope Vatican Popeand Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Mueller has co-authored a book with Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian who is considered the founder of liberation theology, and the two will present the book to Pope Francis.

Liberation theology came out of Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, emphasizing a preferential option for the poor, but with strong ties to Marxist ideals as well. In 1984, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) noted that liberation theology began with the premise that all other theologies were no longer sufficient, and a new “spiritual orientation” was needed. Further, Cardinal Ratzinger said of this theology,

The idea of a turning to the world, of responsibility for the world, frequently deteriorated into a naive belief in science which accepted the human sciences as a new gospel without wanting to see their limitations and endemic problems. Psychology, sociology and the marxist interpretation of history seemed to be scientifically established and hence to become unquestionable arbiters of Christian thought.


On the popular Italian news portal, Rev. Robert A. Sirico is interviewed about the social and political views of Pope Francis. To a question about Francis’ rejection of liberation theology, even as many of his fellow Jesuits embraced it, the Acton Institute president and co-founder replied that “it was a very brave thing that Pope Francis did at that time in Argentina, and all the more difficult because he had to confront his brother Jesuits who were attempting to politicize the Gospel and service to the poor.”

Read the complete interview “The option for the poor is not necessarily an option for the state” translated into English on

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, October 19, 2012

George Weigel on why Americans respond positively to presidential aspirants who lift up “a vision of American possibility—prosperity linked to creativity, responsibility, and generosity”:

A robust economy is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral and cultural imperative. A robust economy makes honorable work possible for all who wish to be responsible for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. And work, according to Blessed John Paul II in the 1983 encyclical Laborem Exercens, is an expression of our participation in God’s sustaining “creation” of the world.

A robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.

A robust economy is essential in supporting one telling sign of America’s enduring generosity and idealism: the remarkable philanthropy of the American people. Americans, these days, give some $300 billion a year to charitable organizations, including religious institutions that fund vast networks of education, health care, and social service serving people in real need. There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the Western world; if you doubt that, go to Europe or Canada, where the tradition of the benign, caretaker state (the contemporary version of the benign, caretaker monarch) has severely eroded charitable instincts—meaning giving.

Read more . . .

R.R. Reno at First Things has written a moving meditation on the preferential option for the poor:

“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”

Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:

“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”

“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.

The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.

When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.