Liberationism for North America

by Stephanie Block


Liberation Theology was addressed and denounced by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its 1984 Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation". In this 2002 commentary Stephanie Block examines the Marxist roots of liberation theology and exposes some of the most significant and influential organizations which share the liberationist philosophy.

Larger Work

Forum Focus


4 – 22

Publisher & Date

Wanderer Forum Foundation, Inc., Hudson, WI, Spring 2002

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit . . . for the sake of food, do not destroy the work of God (Romans 14:17, 20).
Fr. Rudy Vela, from the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) in San Antonio, Texas, had come to New Mexico to give a talk as part of a program for training Catholics in social justice activism. The program, Public Disciples, was being piloted in several dioceses and in October of 2000 was holding its first Albuquerque retreat.

Fr. Vela described a "sacramental theology" that was the grounding for any future social action that the retreat participants before him might take. "The seven sacraments are special examples of the more sacramental view of life that is catholic," Father said. "We are the instruments of God's saving reality. We are the visible signs. We are the communicators of God's love and grace."

We, Father continued, are the human and social dimension of God's grace, and therefore we are the eucharist, the real presence of Jesus who doesn't die but who lives in us, going forth with new life into the public arena. "Who is Church? We are . . . each of you has an important sacramental role as eucharist . . . you are grace to one another."

The point was so important that Father repeated it in a second talk during the retreat: "We share in the divinity of Jesus . . . we're into publicly being Jesus, being Jesus to the world. That's what public discipleship literally means."

Later, the participants were introduced to a "tool" for "reflective criticism" on social problems. The trainer called this a "pastoral circle," and he explained that it had threefold focus: observe, analyze, act.

The speaker put this "tool" at the service of "bringing about the reign of God." How is this accomplished? You need power to change social structures. "We're talking about temporal power . . . as we unlock Scriptures, we see that God made us powerful because we are in God's images . . . God challenges us to bring about the reign of God on earth." And that takes power.

Liberation Theology Presents Problems

The Albuquerque retreat provides an example of the liberationism that is being spread around the United States. The errors of this expanding theological movement, which had become epidemic in South America during the '60s and '70s (see "Unholy Alliance," Forum Focus, November, 1990, published by the Wanderer Forum Foundation, Hudson, WI 54016) were addressed — and denounced — by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984. Its Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" describes liberationism, as "a perversion of the Christian message as God entrusted it to His Church" (IX.1).

The Instruction is emphatic that the issues provoking liberationism are genuine. Crushing poverty understandably will be resented "as an intolerable violation of . . . [man's] native dignity." The shocking inequality between the rich and the poor is a "scandal." Certain kinds of colonialism are "crimes," and "the gigantic arms race" that swallows so many material resources ought instead to provide people with the essentials of life (I.4-9). These are serious and real problems that cry out for redress.

On the other hand, some remedies may be as bad as the evils they seek to correct and justice — the professed goal of liberationism — suffers from "ideologies which hide or pervert its meaning" (II.3). These perversions are described in some detail by the Instruction.

In the first place, the Vatican document identifies the Marxist roots of liberationism. Just as Marxism promotes class struggle — and the fundamental "law" of history, which is violence (VII.7; VIII.6) — so, too, the theologies of liberation ". . . go on to a disastrous confusion between the poor of the Scripture and the proletariat of Marx. In this way they pervert the Christian meaning of the poor and they transform a fight for the rights of the poor into a class fight within the ideological perspective of a class struggle" (IX 10). The Instruction observes that "The class struggle as a road toward a classless society is a myth which slows reform and aggravates poverty and injustice"(XI. 11).

Secondly, liberationism, like Marxist relativism, abandons the truth (VII.9-10; VIII.4-5). The Instruction counters that "an effective defense of justice needs to be based on the truth of mankind, created in the image and likeness of God and called to the grace of divine sonship" (XI.6).

Liberationism reduces the spiritual to politics. The Instruction speaks of liberationism's tendency to take concepts whose primary intention, meaning or import is spiritual and reinterpret them to signify merely political or material meanings. The first example given is the very use of the word "liberation." The Vatican document states: "Liberation is first and foremost liberation from the radical slavery of sin." Liberationism, however, emphasizes "the liberation from servitude of an earthly and temporal kind," and the "serious ideological deviations which it points out tend inevitably to betray the cause of the poor" (Introduction).

Human Truth Vs. Divine Truth

This inclination to politicize the spiritual causes the liberationist to undervalue the effects of personal sin and overvalue structural (or societal) sin. As a result, economic or socio-political structures are misunderstood as root causes of evil rather than as a consequence of human actions, done by free and responsible persons. The Vatican document argues: "To demand first of all a radical revolution in social relations and then criticize the search for personal perfection is to set out on a road which leads to the denial of the meaning of the person and his transcendence, and to destroy ethics and its foundation which is the absolute character of the distinction between good and evil" (IV 15). It also notes that the radical deliverance of Christ, offered to both freeman and slave, "does not require some change in the political or social condition as a prerequisite for entrance into this freedom" (IV 13). The Good News cannot be reduced to an earthly gospel (VI.4).

To support its theses, liberationism routinely reinterprets Scriptures and other matters of the Faith. The Instruction describes an example: ". . . [T]he liberation of Exodus cannot be reduced to a liberation which is principally or exclusively political in nature" (IV 3). Nor can Scripture be used to teach that a given political or economic system liberates. "God is the defender and liberator of the poor" (IV 6).

The Instruction also demonstrates how liberationism may apply itself illegitimately to teachings of the Church, such as by celebrating a "Eucharist" that is "transformed into a celebration of the people in struggle" (IX.1), or by twisting the concepts of faith, hope, and charity to signify "fidelity to history," "confidence in the future," and "option for the poor." Liberationism empties such matters of their theological reality and subordinates every affirmation of faith or theology "to a political criterion" (IX.5-6).

Further, the Instruction examines the manner by which liberationism is spread. Liberationists speak of a pedagogy — a teaching methodology — which they have found efficacious in promoting their views. While this pedagogy goes by a number of names — conscientization, see-judge-act, popular education, adult literacy, the pastoral circle or spiral — the Instruction identifies its salient (and Marxist) nature. "Data received from observation and analysis are brought together in a philosophical and ideological structure, which predetermines the significance and importance to be attached to them. The ideological principles come prior to the study of the social reality and are presupposed in it" (VII.6).

It is important to understand what the Instruction has described. In classical Catholic Action, see-judge-act pedagogy was used to determine a course of action that was well-grounded in Catholic moral values. This is legitimate. The pre-Vatican II encyclical on social justice, Mater et Magistra, suggested that "teachings in regard to social matters for the most part [be] . . . put into effect in the following three stages . . . observe, judge, act." The encyclical explained what this entailed: "First the actual situation is examined; then the situation is evaluated carefully in relation to these teachings [of the Church]; then only is it decided what can and should be done in order that the traditional norms may be adapted to circumstances of time and place" (n. 236).

Paul VI's 1965, Vatican II Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes (On the Church in the Modern World), took up this suggestion in its own, internal organization. Beginning with a careful analysis of the contemporary situation, it turns to sacred Scripture and theology for reflection on that situation, and then offers pastoral applications. As this was unprecedented among Church documents, it represented to some analysts a shift from a dogmatic, deductive perspective to one that was exploratory and inductive, and was used as proof of official magisterial sanction of liberationism — which it was not.

Thus, the see-judge-act methodology proved extremely vulnerable to abuse. In the first place, it is not a methodology that can be legitimately used to discover theological truth. It is, rather, itself predicated on given principles — on Catholic theological truth. In the hands of liberationists, however, whose foundational principles are Marxist, not Catholic, and the see-judge-act pedagogy (conscientization) is used to draw people away from their Catholic foundations to see the world through a Marxist lens.

The 1968 Council and Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) called together an assembly of the Latin American bishops in Medellín, Colombia. This meeting gave something of an imprimatur to liberation theology, and its preliminary working papers, the main characteristics of which were contained in the final Medellín document, were mapped out by proponents off liberationism — including Gustavo Gutierrez. In the Justice section of the Medellín document, "conscientization" and "social education" were identified as "tasks" to be "integrated into joint Pastoral Action at various levels." Other sections promoted the base community — small groups of Christians under lay guidance — as desirable new faith structures. The church was decried as a sinful church in a sinful (unjust) society.

The Vatican moved slowly but deliberately to curb this movement. At the 1979 CELAM conference in Puebla, Mexico, Pope John Paul II exhorted the Bishops' conference to be teachers of the truth, "not of a human, rational truth but of the truth that comes from God. That truth includes the principle of authentic human liberation . . . the one and only truth that offers a solid basis for an adequate 'praxis.' Carefully watching over purity of doctrine, basic in building up the Christian community, is therefore the primary and irreplaceable duty of the pastor . . ." Pope John Paul II decried "re-readings of the Gospel that are the product of theoretical speculations rather than of authentic meditation on the word of God . . ." (I-4) and stated plainly that "this conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary . . . does not tally with the Church's catechesis" (I-4).

Later Vatican efforts went beyond exhortation. The pre-conference working document for the 1997 Vatican-convened Synod of the Americas was perceived as changing the see-judge-act methodology to judge-see-act, though that terminology is not found in the document. According to one observer: "Theology accordingly comes first, then observation of the world, and finally the application of theology to the world." What the Lineamenta itself says, regarding formation in the Church's social teaching, is: "Indeed, the aim of formation in this area is twofold: on the one hand — on the level of enduring principles — to achieve an objective judgment in the social situation, and on the other hand, to put into effect the most appropriate options for eliminating injustice and promoting political, economic and social changes in accord with the particular circumstances of each case." In other words, as the Church teaches, justice is predicated on unchanging truth.

Unfortunately, the poison was already deep in North and South American veins.

Disseminating Liberationism in the U.S.

There have been many historical precedents and influences on contemporary liberationist thought and its pedagogy. The Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, developed the concepts of praxis (the unity of theory and practice) and ideological hegemony (the creation of a popular consensus — support — for socialist ideas and structures through use of media, education, law, and mass culture rather than coercion). The French Young Christian Workers Movement of the early 20th century, which popularized the see-judge-act methodology as a tool for applying Christian values to everyday life, later used it to apply socialist values.

From the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, came the concept of conscientization or consciousness-raising to describe and "authentic education" that not merely taught people to read or write, but to participate in the political process. These influences spread to the United States where they became widely disseminated, often through the Catholic Church. Freire not only taught at Harvard University in the late 1960s, but he collaborated with Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander Research and Education Center, where his ideas passed to the community organizer Saul Alinsky, himself a teacher of "popular education." Alinsky, in turn, by organizing faith-based institutions — parishes and other religious congregations — conscientized hundreds of Catholics through programs initiated by his Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) which he founded in 1940.

Other organizations imported liberationist thinkers into the United States. The Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), mentioned above, was founded in San Antonio in 1972. It frequently invited spokesmen for liberation theology from all over Latin America to be part of its programs. In fact, at one time, Gustavo Gutierrez, "father" of liberationism, taught Praxis de Liberacion y Fe Cristiana / Praxis of Liberation and Christian Faith at MACC. The IAF has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with MACC.

MACC was used by the IAF as a training institute to educate the clergy and civilians on "social justice" issues — as it continues to do, evidenced by Fr. Vela's presentations in Albuquerque. The lead organizer of the San Antonio IAF local (and later southwest regional director of the IAF) was also an instructor at MACC, whose own founder and director was, in turn, Alinskyian trained. The late Fr. Jack Egan, at various times, served on the Boards of both MACC and the IAF, as did Bishop Flores.

Charles Curran wrote of the IAF:

There are many similarities between Alinsky's community organization approach and liberation theology . . . An important similarity concerns the basic understanding of sociology and epistemology. Liberation theology rightly reacts against a value-free sociology with its claim of arriving at totally objective truth and its emphasis on quantitative analysis. A value-free approach by its very nature tends to identify with and reinforce the status quo. Knowledge is not as objective and independent of human involvement as a classical understanding once thought. The sociology of knowledge reminds us that all knowledge is situated and subject to prejudice. One must approach existing realities and thought patterns with ideological suspicion . . . There is no dispassionate objectivity. Rationalization is an important human reality with which any organizer must come to grips (Charles Curran, "Saul. D. Alinsky, Catholic Social Practice, and Catholic Theory," Directions in Catholic Social Ethics, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Ind., 1985).

Alinskyian organizing, like liberation theology, is grounded on a Marxist class analysis and uses the technique of "popular education" (conscientization) to change values. Curran writes:

Liberation theology gives great importance to Paulo Friere's pedagogy of the oppressed. In the process called 'conscientization,' through an unalienating and liberating cultural action, the oppressed person perceives and modifies one's relationship to the world . . . Although Alinsky does not use the word 'conscientization,' there is no doubt that such a process is the cornerstone of his method . . . The people must learn that through their power they can bring about change. Raising consciousness is a part of Alinsky's overarching commitment to popular education. (Ibid.)

Popular Education or Popular Brainwashing?

The technique of "popular education" strives to change the values of its target and replace them with the values of the organizer. To give an example, a New Republic article states: ". . . [The] IAF seeks to teach groups like Mexican / Americans of San Antonio to build on and then transcend natural ties of family and ethnicity."

The first step is to form base communities, which is simply the regrouping of a larger structure into smaller sections. While such restructuring may serve many useful and legitimate purposes (bible study, fellowship, prayer support, etc.), such base communities encouraged by Alinskyian organizing isolate its Catholic members from their parishes, replacing their loyalties with loyalties to the group. The group can be led toward a preset conclusion by the discussion leader/organizer. There are dangers for any such group that severs itself from the full and unequivocal teaching of the Church — as is frequently, though subtly, encouraged in the various facilitator manuals made available to small Christian communities through USCCB publications (such as RENEW) or USCCB associated organizations (such as CCHD or MACC). If the members are not well educated in their faith, they can easily be led to misinterpretations of Catholic teaching.

For example, as one writer put it: "[The head organizer for IAF, southwest region] knew that Mexican parents willingly sacrificed for their children — and often for their church. By talking about family values, could you motivate and organize people to act politically in their own genuine self-interest? . . . The new organization had to reach into the heart . . . The idea of protecting and enhancing families might make that possible." The implication of these passages is that the religious and family values of Catholics could be used to spark a conversation between them and the IAF. The IAF then uses the relationship built from those values to introduce another set of values — those of the IAF.

Harry Boyte continues on that theme: "In St. Timothy's Church [in San Antonio], for instance, new catechisms connected biblical and Mexican historical and cultural themes with the current issues COPS [the IAF local] was working on . . . From such experiences, the [the IAF] developed an ongoing process of community and parish renewal."

Harold McDougall writes about the IAF in Baltimore, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). Participating pastors in the BUILD, he reports, are networked together in "peer group, sharing experiences . . . They are trying to raise consensus-oriented decision-making models for BUILD as a whole on the foundation of their peer relationships. Some are beginning to see the need to share power within their own churches . . ." Integral to these small communities would be "Bible study, in which the Scripture 'text' is discussed in the 'context' of community." The BUILD small faith communities would engage in facilitated discussions "of what community is for, the people involved, and what obstacles to community they think exist, always using the text of the Bible as a central resonating point for the discussion."

As the discussions continue, a challenge to Church structure and authority is easily come by. In the Diocese of Brownsville there are 500 small faith communities operating both in the IAF network and in the dissident Catholic Call to Action network.

Liberationist Materials Prepared by the CCHD

Liberationism's spread throughout the United States is all too easily demonstrated by the examination of numerous "official" documents and programs prepared and published by the Catholic bureaucracy in the United States, or affiliated with same. Prior to July 2001, this bureaucracy had two entities: the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and its civil arm, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) both of which merged and became the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB). While much good is to be wished of this merge, the USCCB retains the same functionaries, publishes and promotes the same materials, and associates with the same organizations as its former parts.

Foremost among Catholic liberationist activity in the United States is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the USCCB's primary charitable project. The CCHD's funding problems over the past 30 years have been discussed in detail elsewhere (See Commentary on the Campaign for Human Development, Wanderer Forum Foundation, 1997; an abbreviated format was put out by WFF and is listed on the Documentation page in this issue). Among those problems are that approximately one third of CCHD funding goes to liberationist Alinsky-style, faith-based organizing.

Supporters of the CCHD might contend that the liberationism of the Industrial Areas Foundation and the other Alinsky-style organizations supported by CCHD money (notably PICO, DART, Gamaliel, and ACORN) are not indicative of any essential liberationist bias in the CCHD itself. However, the liberationist bias of CCHD, per se, can be observed in the educational materials that it has produced over the past 30 years:

The CHD Sourcebook on Poverty, Development and Justice, a collection of five essays, is an apology for the foundational liberation theology of the CHD and openly acknowledges that relationship (p.42). One essay, using liberationist distortion of Scriptures, retells the parable of the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:32-46), putting into Jesus' mouth the words:

When you changed those structures that generate hunger, thirst, nakedness, and loneliness, when you created or operated structures through which men could finally feed themselves, satisfy their thirst and clothe themselves in a community of justice and love, it was to me that you did it. And when you abstained, it was to me that you did not do it (p. 45).

Another essay discusses "the 'new' category of social sin" and disparages concern for "individual morality" in favor of the truly "morally upright" person who is socially conscious. Yet another essay, by the Education Coordinator of CHD, described the "liberating education" — a "new theory of catechesis" — that is achieved by values clarification and a threefold pedagogy: transference, reflection, and action-living, lived out by the learner in a "continual dialectical interrelationship (p.119-120, 124-125).

Poverty and Faithjustice is another CCHD-prepared material, intended for use by small groups "in a context of faith and prayer." It is a guide for six facilitated sessions designed to "encourage everyone to participate and to do so from personal experience and conviction rather than from abstract theories or ideologies." The sessions are structured according to a modified see-judge-act pedagogy in which the "actions" suggested to participants are that they engage in political activism supporting CCHD-identified issues and that they support CCHD-funded projects in the local community.

The program is highly directive. Session 1, for example, asks the question: "Who is poor in the US? Why are people poor in a wealthy society?" The guided conclusion is that poverty will require fundamental changes in the social and economic structures of the United States. As the Vatican's Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" warns, the "data" has been chosen with a predetermined significance to support a philosophical and ideological structure. The ideological principles come prior to the study of the social reality, are presupposed in it, leaving no room for the variety of prudential judgments that an honest inquiry generates. The third session asks "What is God's vision for human life? What moral principles regarding poverty are called forth by God's vision?" and then guides the participant to consider solely material answers. The fourth session develops the participant's support for "social/system change." Political activism, the material explains, is the way to accomplish social change. The see-judge-act methodology is used manipulatively.

Another problematic program is "A Catholic Call to Justice: Activity Book for Raising Social Justice Awareness," produced jointly by CCHD and Catholic Relief Services. It is a consciousness-raising lesson plan to teach young people "the six major principles of the Church's social teaching." Young people are "asked to play the role of refugees" and thereby develop some understanding of "the difficulties of being poor and on the move" (p. 1). They are given new "identities" (a card with a name and set of circumstances) and are moved through various "checkpoints," each concerned with one of the themes of Catholic social teaching. However, the "data" is again colored by ideology. Participants are asked, for example, to reflect on the questions "Are we as people living in the industrialized world entitled to more water (or other resources) than people living in Africa or Asia or Latin America? Why do we use more resources than people living in these countries?" (p. 6).

"Sharing the Tradition / Shaping the Future Series," a CHD program for "small group sharing" stresses CHD's vision to fund "organized people" and its "dual focus of empowerment and transformative education." Book Two, session 2, interprets Zechariah's vision of the "New Jerusalem" in purely worldly terms: "This passage from Zechariah evokes the image of a healthy community . . . What are the essential components of a community? . . . Participation in economic, social, and political systems is essential . . ." (p. 6-7) The story of Mary sitting at the Lord's feet despite her sister Martha's impatience, is described by the CHD as illustrative of "God's universal call to participation (p. 10)."

To participate in what?

Session four discusses support of CHD work: the CHD "vision to fund organized groups of low-income people who would identify their own problems and create solutions to those problems . . . This process of empowerment was viewed as a genuine application of the gospel to love our neighbor" (p.11; This line is repeated verbatim in book 3, p. 20, again in book 4, p. 21 and, just in case one didn't catch it, again in the last session of book 5). In session five, participants in the CHD program are again told that "participation in society's economic, social, and political systems (p. 13)," is what makes healthy communities. They are then instructed that "the intention and choice to participate in this call and in the work of the kingdom will 'not be taken' from anyone (p. 14)." In the context of the CHD program, which has not said a word about God's heavenly, spiritual kingdom, but has discussed in depth a transformed, ideal earthly society, the spiritual meanings of Scripture has been crafted to support an ideological agenda. To accomplish this, Scripture is given a new, distorted meaning.

CCHD promotes liberationism in several ways. It funds organizations, such as Industrial Areas Foundation locals, that preach liberation theology to member congregations, including Catholic parishes. It also produces materials and programs that themselves have liberationist elements. It produces programs that work to develop a sympathetic support for liberationist CHD-funded groups. The sympathy is valid; the liberationist solution is not. Therefore sympathies have been manipulated to serve a non-Catholic ideology.

Other NCCB / USCC Materials

Besides the CCHD, various departments, secretariats, and committees of the United States Catholic bureaucracy have also issued disturbingly liberationist materials. Among them:

  • The Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women & Youth (Subcommittee on Youth) developed the The Many Faces of God: Youth / Adult Jubilee Guidebook, in consultation with the NCCB Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs, the Secretariat for the Third Millennium and the Jubilee Year 2000 and the USCC Department of Education through the Secretariat for Family, Women & Youth Subcommittee on Youth.

    Participants of the Guidebook program are told to "Tolerate ambiguity because we are not here to debate right or wrong" (emphasis in the original) and are led through a conscientizing process, following the trinomial pedagogy of see-judge-act.

    The program also presumes that groups of individuals may legitimately take charge of some aspect of parish life such as: "providing an environment of hospitality in . . . the liturgical and sacramental life of your faith community, in religious and catechetical formation . . . in the active participation and decision-making process of the parish." On one level, the youth are making jubilee door-symbol logos for buttons and tee shirts, on another level they are being taught the Call to Action, "We Are Church" philosophy.

  • The Department of Social Development and World Peace committee-authored a Communities of Salt and Light: Parish Resource Manual that includes a generous representation of liberationist thought among its recommended books and organizations.

  • The USCC Committee on Education, together with the USCC Committee on Domestic Policy, and the USCC Committee in International Policy prepared Sharing Catholic Social Teachings: Challenges and Directions — Reflections of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. This was designed to encourage Catholic educators and educational institutions to redouble their efforts to share the Catholic "social tradition." The "social tradition" described, however, in the various examples provided in the document, is not particularly Catholic.

For instance the Catholic Justice Educator's Network (CJEN), a program of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is featured in a sidebar of Sharing. CJEN produces a newsletter, one of which recommends that educators use "Loving Our Neighbor the Earth: Creation-Spirituality Activities for 9-11 Year Olds." Another newsletter recommends, as a "Bright Idea" for Catholic kindergartners, reading For Every Child A Better World with Kermit the Frog, in cooperation with the Children's Defense Fund. Afterwards children are told to sign a UN pledge "to ensure that every child gets what every child needs." What the kindergartner probably would not know is that the Children's Defense Fund has pushed U.S. ratification of the United Nations problematic Convention on the Rights of the Child, guaranteeing a child's "right" to "freedom of association" and "freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers . . . through any . . . media of child's choice" despite parental direction to the contrary. As that document has met with resistance in some countries, the UN, through its subsidiary organization UNICEF, organized a "Say Yes" pledge, "calling upon world leaders to create a world fit for children." Though this violates clear Catholic teaching about the rights and responsibilities of parents, it is promoted first by a "Catholic" justice program (CJEN) and next by "official" USCC bodies.

Another sidebar features the National Issues Forums in the Catholic Community. National Issues Forums is a creation of the Kettering Foundation to promote "deliberative forums . . . based on the town meeting tradition." An article in US Catholic recommends the process as enabling parishes to "handle controversial issues without the discussion degenerating into ideological camps . . ." To keep the issue focused, rather than encouraging participants to do their own research, NIF guides have already assembled all the "facts, figures, and stories about a current issue, such as the health care debate or capital punishment." The outcome of a "deliberative forum" organized in such a manner can be controlled, therefore, by the careful choice of "facts, figures, and stories."

Some "Official" Materials

There are other "official" materials betraying a liberationist ideology that have been prepared by (or under the supervision of) individual United States bishops or groups of bishops and then recommended or used by the United States Catholic bureaucracy. Two of these are:

  • Of One Heart and One Mind, a 1997 Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of North Carolina. Of One Heart . . . plays on class distinction: "Andy and Kathy are an example of the growing divide between the rich and the poor" (See sidebar in "Difficult Questions on Economic Divisions" section). Its suggestions to resolve this divide include forming "partnerships with our state and county governments and with our local businesses to ensure that any process for reducing poverty includes substantial commitments to assist Work First participants and low-wage workers with education, job training, reliable transportation, and child care so that they may move up to higher wage jobs." Diocesan leaders of North Carolina are asked to "pledge" to "convene and/or enter into new partnerships with other faith communities, nonprofit agencies, and government to find real solutions to poverty." Each county is to have "a Work First Task Force with representatives from the various segments of the community."

The pastoral letter's study guide states that Of One Heart and One Mind employs a see, judge, act approach to make the process "participatory." The "participation" however, is tightly controlled with the "data" provided by a "case study" in which only select information is provided. There is no information, for instance, about the moral circumstances of the case and therefore moral analysis is discouraged. The directive quality of this guide illustrates the enormous abuse to which the see, judge, act pedagogy is prone. The proper Catholic use of the see-judge-act pedagogy is to determine action that has been appropriately grounded in Catholic values and teachings. To accomplish this, it is absolutely essential that either the participants themselves know the values upon which they are determining action or — if there is no respect for the capacity of participants to learn and apply Catholic values — then those who are "guiding" participants to particular action must themselves be so grounded. Eliminating the moral circumstances of a "case study" betrays that the materials are not grounded in Catholic values.

  • As I Have Done for You, by Roger Cardinal Mahony, is another document with similar problems. This pastoral "envisions" a future with few priests and labors to put down "theological" groundwork for developing a "collaborative, inclusive" lay ministry (as opposed to increasing vocations). The specific strategy Mahony recommends in a time of few priests is use of the see-judge-act pedagogy to foster small faith communities.

Again, the "seeing" is provided by the author(s) of the pastoral. It is only participatory to the extent that the reader agrees with the author. The understanding and judging component is not based on a rich Catholic understanding of Church or of ministry but on three Scriptures, interpreted eccentrically by the author(s) to lend support to "the vision." "Action" is also predetermined by the document. Parishes may determine what changes need to be made in order to move toward a more collaborative and inclusive approach to ministry — but do not decide if those changes need to be made. Cooperation with the conclusions is assumed and "willingness to change" is one of the qualities identified as needed for this collaborative ministry (p. 34). As I Have Done for You is patently liberationist in its use of Scripture, in its goal to change Church structure and authority — the ultimate end of creating a collaborative lay ministry whose qualifications are "openness to change" — and in its abuse of the see-judge-act pedagogy to foist its program on the laity.

Organizations Associated with the USCC

The liberationist philosophy is often fostered by the United States Catholic bureaucracy through a protective symbiosis of relationships and associations with liberationist organizations. Among the most significant and influential of these organizations are:

  • The Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC)
  • The National Pastoral Life Center and ROUNDTABLE
  • Center of Concern
  • Network
  • Pax Christi
  • RENEW, International
  • Catholic (Christian) Family Movement
  • Call to Action

The Mexican American Cultural Center

The Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), founded in San Antonio in 1972, frequently invited spokesmen for liberation theology from all over Latin America. Gustavo Gutierrez, "father" of liberationism, taught Praxis de Liberacion y Fe Cristiana / Praxis of Liberation and Christian Faith at MACC. Another liberationist associated with MACC was Brazilian Leonard Boff, who was silenced by the Vatican in 1985. Noting that "praxis neither replaces nor produces the truth, but remains at the service of the truth consigned to us by the Lord," the Vatican Notification found (among other things) that Boff "sets himself inside an orientation where it is affirmed that the 'Jesus did not have in mind the church as institution but rather that it evolved after the resurrection' . . . for him the hierarchy is 'a result,' of 'the powerful need to organize' and the 'assuming of societal characteristics' in 'the Roman and feudal style' (p. 40). Hence the necessity arises for permanent 'change in the church' (p. 64); today a 'new church' must arise (p. 62), which will be 'an alternative for the incarnation of new ecclesial institutions whose power will be pure service' (p. 63)." Boff, like Gutierrez, taught at MACC, and together with the Center's founder, Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, edited several issues of Concilium, a journal of theological trends, which came out well after the Vatican Notification.

About 80 publications on the subject of liberation theology can be purchased at the MACC bookstore in San Antonio, including the works of Gutierrez and Boff. Other titles offered by MACC include one that is dedicated to the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), How Can We Use the Gospels as a Basis for Our Action? It contains a "version" of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) written by IAF leaders (from the San Antonio IAF local, Communities Organized for Public Service), as an example of how one is "to reflect on the Gospels in order to find the proper response to our own situation" when using a see-judge-act pedagogy of conscientization. Lines include:

He stretches His powerful arms and liberates us from the clutches and snares of the power brokers — those who rob the afflicted and needy; He brings down bankers, developers, oil barons, and raises our barrios and ghettos . . . He keeps His promise to Juan Diego, Eleonor [sic] Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and will be with us forever.

Readers are instructed to rewrite the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Crucifixion in a similar vein, "to make it fit the world you know today."

Another MACC booklet promotes a "new way of being church," restructured in small "ecclesial base communities (BEC)." A BEC has special tasks. Among them, it "denounces injustices against our poor brothers and sisters, those rejected by the society of power . . . It denounces evil writings which reject and confuse the poor and simple . . . It makes denunciations at every level."

The influence of MACC extends well beyond San Antonio. MACC, and the San Antonio IAF local have a longstanding relationship with Call to Action (CTA), an organization promoting numerous dissident Catholic positions (see The Underground Call To Action, Forum Focus, Wanderer Forum Foundation, Winter, 1999) MACC was instrumental in producing CTA's 1976 working paper in "Neighborhood," and its representatives (together with those from the San Antonio IAF local) were involved in CTA's preliminary San Antonio "hearing," both as speakers and panelists, as well as having several strong supporters own its writing committee. Consequently, the CTA-ratified document on Neighborhoods included recommendations for parish support of interfaith and neighborhood coalitions and that "a budgetary item of every parish to support competent neighborhood / community action groups be considered necessary for neighborhood preservation and development; that diocesan agencies should provide resources for training current and potential leaders; that each diocese provide as a minimum, matching funds in support of any contribution to competent neighborhood/community action groups."

MACC's connections to CTA have continued over the years. To give one example, Maria Antonietta Berriozabal, a San Antonio City Councilwoman, has served on the MACC Board of Directors and has also been a keynote speaker at the Chicago call to Action Conference. To give another example, the September 2000 Call to Action News announced that Call to Action was "forging new links to Latino / Latina Catholics — which included CTA's Membership Coordinator and a CTA Board Member reaching out on behalf of CTA at a MACC symposium.

Given MACC's open support for liberationism and other Call to Action positions, MACC's presence at USCC conferences and influence in the preparation of USCC documents is problematic. Historically, MACC was involved with the preparation of the NCCB's Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs three major documents, one of which (Prophetic Voices) speaks of "a process of ecclesial participation" that includes the creation of MACC and "the methodology taking form through these Encuentros. . ." Fr. Rosendo Urrabazo, who became president of MACC in 1987, served on the National Editing Committee for Prophetic Voices, along with Sr. Dominga Zapata, the foundress of Las Hermanas.

Prophetic Voices articulated the "integral education" that the Church was expected to provide, including the liberationist pedagogy of observe, judge, act. It committed the Hispanic Catholic community to promotion of comunidades eclesiales de base — base communities. It committed the Church to "conscientization regarding the injustices that oppress our people" and it concluded: "This new style of Church is one of the richest aspects of the entire Encuentro. As part of the Church in the United States, the Hispanic Community proclaims in the Encuentro event and realizes through its process a model of Church in which the prophetic dimension stands out." (Emphasis added)

More recently, MACC, through Sr. Maria Elena Gonzalez, R.S.M. (President of MACC) served on the steering committee for the 1999 USCC "National Gathering for Jubilee Justice." MACC was a supporting organization for the conference and members of MACC conducted workshops there. MACC was also an important part of Encuentro 2000 (the United States Jubilee celebration). Sr. Maria Elena Gonzalez was one of the Encuentro 2000 moderators, served on the Bishops' subcommittee for the Encuentro and on its national steering committee. She is also one of the Regional Directors of the "Hispanic Ministry" created through the Encuentro process over the past 25 years and other MACC speakers participated in or ran seven Encuentro 2000 workshops.

MACC prepared facilitator training materials for Encuentro 2000 that were available for sale at the national Encuentro 2000. The guide was designed for local groups to prepare for local Encuentro 2000 celebrations or as a resource for ongoing evangelization and catechesis, using what is essentially the see (share) — judge (reflect) — act (action) pedagogy (with an additional "welcoming" component, an evaluation period, and a short, closing celebration).

The "actions" are not developed by the participants, but by the program. Participants are directed to "reach out to those who have not felt the love of the Church" and are to "prepare a place for inactive Catholics (session one, p. 13)." They are to recognize the "sanctifying action of the Spirit" in the "stories of each culture" (session two, p. 15): to "reconcile . . . differences" (session three, p. 17), and so forth. The facilitator is told that "all of us carry a piece of the truth" (p. 38). Beliefs and values are lumped together with myths, traditions, and the way we eat or the music to which we listen as merely a reflection of a particular culture, which may be appreciated for its diversity, but has no external, objective "truth" (p. 2-3). By session five (p. 21), the "good news" has been reduced to "actions of solidarity and social justice" with which the participant (session six, p. 23) is directed to transform his culture. But the Good News is not mere "actions of solidarity and social justice." Any program that misunderstands this cannot be Catholic.

National Pastoral Life Center and ROUNDTABLE

These are "sister" organizations. Msgr. Philip Murnion and Harry Fagan founded the National Pastoral Life Center (NPLC) in 1983. It runs a number of programs, among them ROUNDTABLE — an association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors — and produces various publications designed as "resources" for the "pastoral ministry, particularly in parishes and diocesan offices," among them the Public Disciples program described above. Murnion is director of the New York-based Center.

There has been a loose, on-going relationship between Call to Action and the NPLC's (ROUNDTABLE's) founders. Msgr. Murnion spoke at the 1975 CTA hearing on "Humankind" held in Washington, D.C. In his "testimony," Murnion challenged the Church to "examine the patterns of inequality in power, influence, resources and rewards" within itself, discussing later on the use of "women [as] a symbol of the inequality in the Church" or blacks as a symbol of that inequality.

For his part, Harry Fagan was on the Call to Action writing committee for the report on Neighborhood. Murnion and Fagan had worked together in the '70s with the Catholic Committee for Urban Ministry. ". . . [T]hrough their connection in the Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry, Msgr. Murnion . . . participated in the [1976 Call to Action] conference. Msgr. Jack Egan, founder of the Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry, was a co-presider at the 1976 conference and remains active in the Call to Action organization."

The informal CTA connection remains. The November 2000 NPLC Parish Ministry Conference in San Antonio had Msgr. Jack Egan — a founder of Call to Action and a strong CTA supporter until his death in 2001, as well as a primary promoter of the Industrial Areas Foundation — serve as the main celebrant of its Mass. Egan was present for the NPLC "Msgr. John J. Egan Parish Social Ministry Award," which was given to the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker, McAllen TX, in its capacity as a model Industrial Areas Foundation parish.

Additional connections with the NPLC and CTA can be observed in the "joint project of Call to Action and FutureChurch, an organization that calls for ordination opened to all the baptized." The project, A Call for National Dialogue on Women in Church Leadership, seeks to advance women's roles in leadership positions, short of ordination. Murnion listed as one of three project advisors of this WICL-CTA project.

Murnion has also, under the auspices of his National Pastoral Life Center, helped to draft the Common Ground statement. Murnion and the Center serve as staff for the Project, which has been criticized by Cardinals Law, Hickey, Bevilacqua, and Maida for promoting "dialogue" with dissenting Catholic opinion. Law says, "Dissent from revealed truth or the authoritative teaching of the Church cannot be dialogued away . . . Truth and dissent from truth are not equal partners in ecclesial dialogue. Dialogue as a pastoral effort to assist in a fuller appropriation of the truth is laudable. Dialogue as a way to mediate between truth and dissent is mutual deception."

The Common Ground Project has, however, received strong support from Call to Action. A careful comparison of the theological goals of CTA with the Common Ground Project and with Msgr. Murnion's writings demonstrates that there is much compatibility among them. All believe that the laity must participate in the decision-making processes of the Church; they support including women in the diaconate and ministerial priesthood; they desire to build a restructured "church" — notably through the formation of small faith communities — as a requisite for building a socially just society.

To this latter end, Murnion has collaborated in the Preaching the Just Word Project, which seeks to have the "social gospel" — social, political, and economic issues — regularly and effectively preached. An article by Walter Burghart, S.J. contrasts two relationships to the Mass, one that he terms "privatized, me-and-Jesus Catholicism," and one in which the "liturgy itself becomes a social force." The Just Word Project is intended, according to Burghart, to develop the latter.

Murnion acknowledges that his ideas concerning the parish are developed from Paulo Freire (see above). He, too, interprets the worshipful mission of a parish as indicative of "private piety," of "a privatized, pietistic religion," and a "reactionary response." In its place, Murnion seeks a community organized around "social justice" activism. "Parish development must be about the development of a people with a sense of common life, shared identity and enduring loyalty, and not just about the provision of services, whether worship services or human services. People have to become parish, as Marx talked about people becoming a class, conscious of their shared condition, of their unity, of their relationship to one another" (Murnion, "The Complex Task of Parish," Origins, 11/28/78.).

The ramifications of this perspective become apparent when Murnion speaks about parish renewal programs. "In these programs . . . it will be necessary to avoid the tendency to see the problem of parish life as essentially a question of interior renewal and not a matter of changing structures of parish action . . . there is a tendency to focus on interior and personal needs as opposed to the work of ministry and a relationship between the church and social structures" (Ibid.).

Liberationism seeks to change the meaning of "Church." Murnion addressed Catholics at a workshop called "Pastoring in Today's Parishes." He contrasted two "eccesiologies" — two views of how the Church might be structured — as if the Church structure were purely a manmade thing. "The real issue in the life of the Church is whether to build an ecclesiology that consists of individuals connected to a centralized figure [the Pope], or to build a church with relationships that are, at various levels, collegial communal, collaborative and cooperative." One view is hierarchical, the other view Murnion terms "participatory ecclesiology," which is, according to Murnion, "being faithful to what the (Vatican II) council wants us to do."

Murnion's "ecclesiology" is nurtured in "small Christian communities." One of the NPLC's thrusts is to foster these communities through various workshops, publications and training materials, and through networking. Sr. Donna Ciango, NPLC's Project Director ("responsible for small community services"), also worked with RENEW (at various times its Associate Director, its National Coordinator, and its International Coordinator. For more information about RENEW, see below) and has been on the Board of the North American Forum of Small Christian Communities and a member of its sister organization Buena Vista. (Buena Vista is a CTA-Church Renewal organization.)

Just as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the see-judge-act pedagogy, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with small faith communities — so long as both are completely rooted in the True Faith as taught infallibly by the Church. The problem both present is that both are easily abused by outsiders with an ideological agenda. A small faith community fostered by an organization that does not accept the teaching authority of the Church becomes dangerous to its members, who are cut off from the natural source of correction.

Another program of the NPLC (through ROUNDTABLE) is Public Discipleship, designed to promote its particular vision of "social justice." Tom Urlich, Vice President for Training and Mission of Catholic Charities, USA, introduced the see-judge-act pedagogy at an October 2000 retreat in Albuquerque, explaining that the process helps "us understand root causes of problems. [Observe-judge-act] is a special way Catholic people are going to be doing analysis — that lens that helps us to discern effective action."

However, this is precisely what see-judge-act pedagogy does not do — it does not "help us understand the root causes of problems." It is Catholic moral theology that teaches us the root causes of problems. See-judge-act pedagogy, rightly used, can then show us ethical actions to address those problems. The distinction is not academic. Using the see-judge-act pedagogy as a theological process is an abuse of the process, for it cannot on its own discover root causes. What will be passed off as a "root cause" is the ideological bias of the programmer.

The NPLC and ROUNDTABLE's influences on the USCC have serious consequences. The influences are many. ROUNDTABLE regularly cosponsors the annual USCC Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Dr. Stephen Colecchi and Msgr. Philip Murnion of the ROUNDTABLE were on the steering committee for the USCC "National Gathering for Jubilee Justice" in 1999. The ROUNDTABLE was also a sponsoring organization for the conference and its members conducted several conference workshops. The USCC Department of Social Development and World Peace has cosponsored "Regional Reflection and Training Conferences" with the ROUNDTABLE. Both the ROUNDTABLE and the National Pastoral Life Center are recommended as organizational "resources" in the USCC Communities of Salt and Light: Parish Resource Manual. Roger Cardinal Mahony's pastoral letter on Ministry, As I Have Done for You (see above), was distributed at the November 2000 NPLC "Parish Ministry Conference" in San Antonio, Texas. The NPLC and ROUNDTABLE have exerted substantial influence with the USCC.

Center of Concern

The Center of Concern also has many connections to the USCC. It was founded in 1971 as an independent organization by "a joint initiative of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) and the Society of Jesus." Over the past several decades, Center of Concern has been referenced in various materials produced by the United States Catholic Conference, the Campaign for Human Development, and in the preparation of pastoral letters. The Center describes this later function: "One special area where we have offered our analytical skills has been in the process of drafting the pastoral letters of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. This began for us with Joe Holland's involvement in the Appalachian Pastoral, This Land Is Home to Me (1975). For the Peace Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response (1983), the Center presented testimony, contributed critiques, suggested phrasing, and worked to promote and educate around the document. A similar major effort has been made with the Economics Pastoral, Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the US Economy, which will be approved in November of this year."

Center of Concern's Fr. Jim Hug, S.J., was on the steering committee for the USCC "National Gathering for Jubilee Justice" in 1999. The Center was a supporting organization and an exhibitor for the conference. There were also members of the Center conducting workshops for the conference. The Center was a supporting organization and an exhibitor for the Encuentro 2000 conference. A representative of the Center was included among the speakers of the 1996 USCC Social Justice Ministry Gathering in Washington.

Given such intimate involvement with the USCC, it is appropriate to ask if the Center promotes a Catholic perspective or some other. The Center openly describes its relationship with Call to Action. "The Center participated in the [1976] National Conference of Catholic Bishop [sic] bicentennial process, which culminated in the historic 'Call to Action' meeting in Detroit, which called the People of God to address justice in our society and world, as well as in the church." In the same material, the Center claims that it is seen as "an effective influential 'outside group' shaping the Church's important pastoral letters on nuclear arms and the economy." Elsewhere, the Center says, "We played a key role in the US Catholic Church's Bicentennial 'Call to Action' celebration (1978) [sic], and hosted our own conferences on population policy, on the Church in the Modern World, on Religion, Women and World Development, on Justice Challenges in the 1980's, on Women Moving Church."

The Center has continued the relationship. It is among Call to Action's "church renewal groups . . . which support the spirit of Call to Action's 1990 'Call for Reform in the Catholic Church.'" CTA's "Call for Reform" includes the liberationist goal of replacing a hierarchical church with a "participatory" structure. Center of Concern's James Hug, S.J. and Maria Riley, O.P., led the 1999 Call to Action National Conference workshop on "Essential Jubilee Spirituality," a "mini-retreat on empowering dynamics for healing the planet, its communities, and the human spirit."

Center of Concern (COC) has a number of projects through which it endeavors to "develop and promote" its liberationist social teachings. One, offered as a social justice resource for parishes by Call to Action, is "Women Connecting Beyond Beijing," a program designed to "keep building the global women's movement." (The Beijing Conference was pro-abortion and pro-contraception, see below.) The Participants' Workbooks and a Facilitator's Guide, developed by COC, lead local groups "through three sessions (not unlike the old observe-judge-act of the Catholic Action movement): unpacking the meaning of Beijing, then putting a local face on issues, and finally, moving toward action."

Besides its Call to Action connections, the Center is also open about its liberationist perspective. In its January 1986, newsletter, Jim Hug, S.J., of the Center's research team, writes: "Dialogue with all perspectives is essential, but it must be grounded in a shared belief that a common vision and truth are attainable and worth working for. Belief in a common vision and truth is not the only issue, however. Liberation theologians have shown clearly that our values, involvements, and commitments shape our vision and conception of the truth . . . Theology develops as reflection on experience. Liberation theologians insist not all experiences are equal. Working for God's reign in our societies is normative for Christians. This demands siding with the poor and oppressed — as Yahweh and Jesus did — in the struggle for justice. Reflection on that type of experience yields God's real revelation — the revelation that should define the church's contemporary mission."

Weekly materials prepared by the Center for "faith sharing groups" (small Christian communities) teach that participants "Don't get focused on judgment. Get focused on action and liberation. That is what God is about. That is what the Christian community is about."

Another resource offered on the Center of Concern webpage are homily helps. One, titled "Gospel Reading from Matthew" rewrites Scripture to fit the liberationist perspective:

I was hungry and you refused to admit that I had a right as God's child to eat, and you 'fed' me with empty promises; I was thirsty and you poured pollutants into the water, let our water system deteriorate and fought against the taxes needed to keep the water safe for me and my friends in poverty; I was a stranger and you passed harsher immigration laws, abused my vulnerability in sweatshop conditions, cut off access to welfare for my family and discriminated against me because of my race, my homeland, my gender, my religion; I was naked and homeless and you cut funding for programs that might clothe and house me, putting the money into block grants and warning me you would only protect me for a few years; I was sick and you hoarded 90% of the world's health care for the wealthy nations and left me and 44 million of my sisters and brothers without care in the wealthiest of those nations; I was in prison and you warned me in the U.S. that if I appeared there twice more I would stay forever, and you found money to build more and more prisons around the world.

The Center writes of "the process" of two projects — its Social Analysis Project and its Empowerment Project — that begin "with an intensive (2-3 days) training in Social Analysis and Faith Reflection using the pastoral spiral." Issues of interest to the group are chosen and then "deconstructed" (analyzed) in an "attempt to discern where the Spirit is calling us to act."

Particularly pertinent was an article about the "pastoral spiral" in Asian theology written by Jim Hug, S.J., Center of Concern President. Disparaging "modern Vatican Catholic Social Teaching" as "culturally foreign to Asia . . . culturally, it unfolds through the conceptual logic characteristic of the West rather than through the logic of symbols that is characteristically Eastern. It is more abstract and rational than the Eastern religious sense, which is more cosmic and creation-centered." Therefore, Hug recommended the inductive see-judge-act methodology for social transformation.


Another liberationist organization associated with the USCC is Network, a women-led national Catholic social justice lobby founded in 1971 by Catholic Sisters. It analyzes its issues from "a feminist / womanist / mujerista perspective that," among other things, "respects the diversity of women's experiences in moving from oppression to liberation."

A number of "official" USCC documents and programs reference Network, such as the USCC Communities of Salt and Light: Parish Resource Manual and in the CCHD adult education program Poverty and Faithjustice (p. 18). There is a remarkably high correlation between the legislative issues and positions taken by both the USCC and Network, which suggests legislative networking between the two organizations. Certainly they have worked together on many conferences. Network's national coordinator, Sr. Kathy Thornton, R.S.M., was on the steering committee for the USCC "National Gathering for Jubilee Justice" in 1999. Network was a supporting organization and an exhibitor for the conference and Network members conducted conference workshops. Network participated in the Encuentro 2000 as a supporting organization, an exhibitor and with member-conducted workshops.

Network, like many of the other organizations mentioned, is listed among Call to Action's "church renewal groups . . . which support the spirit of Call to Action's 1990 'Call for Reform in the Catholic Church.'" Network has been a perennial presence at Call to Action conferences and its National Coordinator is listed as a Call to Action speaker.

Pax Christi USA

Yet another troubling USCC-connected organization is Pax Christi, an international Catholic "peace" movement, begun in Europe in 1945. It has autonomous national "sections," of which Pax Christi USA is one. It is the U.S. "section" that is of concern to this commentary.

USCC connections include Pax Christi USA's founding president, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Gumbleton was a member of the bishops committee that drafted the 1983 pastoral letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, concerning the moral acceptance of a national policy of armed deterrence. Gumbleton also served on the USCC's Social Justice Committee. Pax Christi is recommended in Of One Heart and One Mind: Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of North Carolina, in CCHD's Poverty and Faithjustice, and in the USCC Communities of Salt and Light: Parish Resource Manual. Pax Christi's national Coordinator, Nancy Small, served on the steering committee for the USCC "National Gathering for Jubilee Justice: Open Wide the Doors to Christ" Conference, Los Angeles, California, July 15-18, 1999.

Pax Christi was a supporting organization and an exhibitor for the conference, and ran member-conducted workshops. Pax Christi was a supporting organization for the USCC Encuentro 2000 conference, as well as an exhibitor. In addition, it sponsored a wrap around session at the conference.

Why is it disturbing that Pax Christi is able to exert so much influence with the USCC? Because, again like the other organizations mentioned, Pax Christi is a Call to Action organization. It is among Call to Action's "church renewal groups . . . which support the spirit of Call to Action's 1990 'Call for Reform in the Catholic Church.'" In 1997, Call to Action gave its annual award to Pax Christ USA CTA National Conference. National Coordinator Nancy Small spoke at the 1999 CTA Conference. At the 2000 Conference, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, founding president of Pax Christi USA, gave the seminar "New Paradigms for Peace Making in the 21st Century." He was a scheduled speaker at the 2001 CTA Conferences in Philadelphia (September) and Los Angeles (August).

While claiming to be a "peace" movement, Pax Christi USA has consistently supported Marxist movements, even when they were violent. Pax Christi was among the groups that lobbied President Clinton for the freedom of 16 FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation) terrorists, whose bombing attacks during the 1970s and early 1980s killed six and wounded 70 others. Pax Christi's founding president, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, collaborated with the Quixotic Center to raise $27 million for the Sandinista (Marxist) regime of Nicaragua.

Keynote speaker for the Pax Christi USA national Assembly (2000) was Ched Myers, a Call to Action speaker whose topics of expertise include "Reclaiming the Bible as 'People's Book,'" and "Popular Education."

Pax Christi is also liberationist in its convictions about Church structure. Upon being told that Cardinal Obando of Nicaragua did not share his views about the situation in Nicaragua, Pax Christi founding president, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, was recorded in a televised broadcast as saying: "You don't have to tell me who is the Church of Nicaragua. It's not Cardinal Obando. The Church are (sic) the people. That's who the Church is."

Additional Organizations And Programs

RENEW International and the Catholic Family Movement also have Call to Action as their common denominator. Liberationists are frequent speakers at Call to Action Conferences. Rosemary Radford Ruether, for example, addressing the May 1998 CTA Wisconsin meeting, said: "With the Vatican attack on liberation theology, it becomes evident that class conflict divides the Church as well, separating a Church of the poor from a Church who wants to extend condolences to the poor from the side of the powerful, while concealing and denying their own political option." Ruether added: "The present Vatican leadership basically thinks of truth as single, unitary, and verbally definable. It also seems to believe it has a charisma to define such truth that makes it immune from the ordinary human processes of verification through experience."


Without rejecting or retreating from the Church's proper commitment to justice and to service of the poor, but in the light of the above, it is apparent that errors of liberationism are deeply entrenched in many materials and the programs supported by the USCC.

Of concern is the misuse of see-judge-act pedagogy. In the discernment of authentic Catholic Action, practitioners who are well-informed in the Faith can find this methodology fruitful. The danger lies in its liberationist abuse. Liberationists have, in some cases, misapplied the see-judge-act pedagogy, attempting either to use it to "do" theological work or, in other cases, using it to "guide" participants into actions that are not grounded in Catholic social justice principles but in liberationism. The liberationist uses the same language and form of Catholic Action pedagogy, so Catholics are either unaware that they have been manipulated into compromised positions or, if aware, may in their resentment of coercive methodology, reject legitimate and reasonable calls to justice.

Genuine Catholic Action always operates through the knowledge of the Faith. It is only through the Faith that we may glimpse God's completely selfless perspective. In the words of Fr. Guillermo Steckling:

I agree that we should use the classical method of see-judge-act. I personally think that, before taking those three steps, we need a prior reflection to clearly define the word 'see.' We must ask ourselves: who is that person who sees, who looks? With what eyes do we look at the world? A doctor will have a different perception than a sociologist, an economist will have a different one than an unemployed person. The sciences are necessary for a good analysis, but even if we use them fully, we as missionaries have a special point of view. I quote again our Rule: 'Through the eyes of our crucified Savior we see the world which He redeemed with His blood, desiring that those in whom he continues to suffer will know also the power of His resurrection.' We then look at the world from the height of Golgotha, from the perspective of the crucified, of the Apostle John and of Mary, mother of Jesus and mother of all apostles. This conditions our 'see.' From this perspective of the cross, we do not remain in mere analysis, in cold statistics. Ours will be an outlook of compassion, solidarity, commitment.

One must also appreciate the limitations of the pedagogy, even when rightly applied. The social analysis of genuine Catholic Action, intended for individuals committed to particular, just social actions, is ill-suited to theological inquiry.

A Call to Action "Foundation Document" written by Charles Curran describes the problem:

There has been a shift from classicism to historical consciousness. Classicism tends to understand reality in terms of the eternal, the universal, and the unchanging; historical consciousness gives more importance to the particular, the contingent, the historical and the changing . . . The shift from classicism to historical consciousness also involves a change in theological and ethical methodology, a change from the deductive to the inductive. Most of us were brought up on the old deductive Catholic ethics. You always started with a definition, one which was always and everywhere true, 'per omnia saecula saeculorum.' . . . Classicism is connected with this deductive method. Historical consciousness is associated more with an inductive method.

This inductive method is preferred by liberationists because it is flexible. Edward Cleary writes: "Gutierrez and other liberation theologians contrast their theology with traditional (largely deductive) theology."

Inductively reasoned theology, however, based on personal experiences, feelings, and or narrowly chosen data is no guarantor of truth. Observation is necessarily limited by perspective, time, and space. Therefore, such theology, by its very nature, is inclined toward misleading conclusions.

Inductively produced theology, rooted in the moment, also has a strong tendency to become politicized. "Participation in popular struggles tended to produce a 'leftist' or 'liberationist' interpretation of the conciliar theology. Partly this resulted from the application of historical materialist sociology in the social-analytic stage of the 'see/judge/act' process. Increasingly, leaders and participants in the base communities alike began to understand that realization of the historic aims of Social Catholicism were impossible within the context of a market driven global economy. The political aims of Catholic organizers began to drift leftward until they were indistinguishable from those of secular socialists.

There were important changes at the more specifically theological level as well. Interpretation of the Scriptures and the tradition in the light of the experience of the base communities, sometimes with the assistance of analytic tools derived from historical materialism, produced a new reading of the conciliar theology, one which gave not only the human civilizational project generally, but the struggle for social justice in particular, a central place, even the central place, in the emerging theological problematic. Unlike Christian Democratic theory, liberation theology stresses that there is only one history, in which the salvation proclaimed by the Gospel, and the struggle for a just society are integrally bound up together (Segundo 1985, Boff 1986, Anthony Mansueto, "The Current Crisis in the Catholic Church", Dialectic, Cosmos, and Society, Issue 9).

The errors of liberationism are so ubiquitous in United States Catholic programs, so "mainstreamed" into the fabric of Catholic thought, that it will take a heroic effort on the part of many thoughtful people to extricate themselves from its clutches. To whatever extent, however, we Catholics are genuinely committed to justice, the work will have to be undertaken — or justice abandoned. There's no third way.

Gustavo Gutierrez

Gutierrez is a Peruvian, called by some the Father of Liberation Theology. He came under investigation by the Vatican during the 1990s and has allegedly moved away from his earlier, more radical articulations. Nevertheless, it is those earlier writings and teachings that have been spread throughout North America.

Gutierrez' seminal work is Teologia de la Liberacion (A Theology of Liberation). Among many Marxist friendly tributes (e.g. "These groups and individuals who have raised the banner of Latin American liberation are most frequently of the socialist inspiration; socialism, moreover, represents the most fruitful and far-reaching approach" p. 55.), Gutierrez found the Catholic Action model had validity only in a stable society: "This model presupposes and facilitates . . . a theoretical dialogue with Marxism in a way which holds little interest for Latin America. On this continent, the oppressed and those who seek to identify with them face ever more resolutely a common adversary, and therefore the relationship between Christians and Marxists takes on characteristics different from those in other places." Gutierrez identifies Freire's "pedagogy of the oppressed" as among the most "creative and fruitful efforts implemented in Latin America" to bring about a "true cultural revolution" that moves "naive awareness — which does not deal with problems . . . to critical awareness" (p.57).

Gutierrez develops three points that he considers basic to liberation theology, developing a viewpoint of the poor, doing "theological" work, and proclamation of "the kingdom of life," by which Gutierrez means a utopia (his word), that is, "a denunciation of the existing order . . . [and] an annunciation of what is not yet, but will be" in an historical, earthly, social context.

Significantly, Gutierrez has taught liberation theology in the United States through the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX. The notes of his June 1974 course given there, Praxis de Liberacion y Fe Cristiana / Praxis of Liberation and Christian Faith, state that in a free society, "private ownership of the means of production will be eliminated" (p. 2), calls for the "deprivatization" of religious faith (p. 12), and interprets the "preferential option for the poor" in terms of class struggle: "It means taking a revolutionary socialist choice and thus assuming a political task in an all encompassing perspective, a task more scientific and conflictive that it seemed to be in the first stages of political commitment" (pp. 13-16).

STEPHANIE BLOCK is the Director of Special Research Projects for the Wanderer Forum Foundation. Her research for the Foundation has included studies about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Industrial Areas Foundation. Mrs. Block has contributed articles to The Wanderer newspaper and has written Change Agent: The Industrial Areas Foundation in the Catholic Church. She has made presentations at Regional Wanderer Forums in Albany, NY, and Chicago, IL, and at the Annual International Wanderer Forums in 1997 and 1998. Mrs. Block is the home-schooling mother of seven children.

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