A movement in the Roman Catholic Church that makes criticism of oppression essential to the task of theology. The forms of oppression to be criticized are mainly social and economic evils. Originating in Latin America, liberation theology has held as its main concern the exploitation of the poor, but it also seeks to defend the rights of minority and ethnic groups and to support women's liberation. It is, therefore, a theory of deliverance from the injustices caused to people by the power structures of modern society.
It is a new approach to theology, and its leaders urge a reinterpretation of the Christian faith to concentrate on the main task of the Church today, to deliver people everywhere from the inhumanity to which they are being subjected, especially by those in political power. Accordingly all the main doctrines of historic Christianity are to be reassessed and, if need be, revised. Christ becomes an inspired human deliverer of the weak and oppressed; God's kingdom centers on this world, and not on the next; sin is essentially social evil and not an offense against God; the Church's mission is mainly sociopolitical and not eschatological; and objective divine revelation is subordinated to personal experience.
Aware of both the potential and risks of liberation theology, Pope John Paul II addressed himself mainly to this subject of his visit to Mexico in early 1979. He told the bishops of Latin America, met at Puebla for their General Conference: "The Church feels the duty to proclaim the liberation of millions of human beings, the duty to help this liberation become firmly established." At the same time, ". . . she also feels the corresponding duty to proclaim liberation in its integral and profound meaning, as Jesus proclaimed and realized it." Then, drawing on Pope Paul VI's teaching, he declared that it is "above all, liberation from sin and the evil one, in the joy of knowing God and being known by him."
The Pope finally set down the norms "that help to distinguish when the liberation in question is Christian and when on the other hand it is based rather on ideologies that rob it of consistency with an evangelical point of view." Basically these norms refer to the content "of what the evangelizers proclaim" and to "the concrete attitudes that they adopts." On the level of content, "one must see what is their fidelity to the word of God, to the Church's living Tradition and to her Magisterium." On the level of attitudes, "one must consider what sense of communion they have with the bishops, in the first place, and with the other sectors of the People of God; what contribution they make to the real building up of the community; in what form they lovingly show care for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the neglected and the oppressed, and in what way they find in them the image of the poor and suffering Jesus, and strive to relieve their need and serve Christ in them" (address to the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, January 28, 1979).