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Liberation theology: Pope Benedict offers perspectives May 09, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI commented on liberation theology, and on the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, in a question-and-answer session with reporters on the papal plane during a May 9 flight to Brazil.

(During the same exchange, the Pope said that politicians who vote to legalize abortion are subject to excommunication, affirming statements by Mexican bishops. See today's separate CWN headline story.)

Liberation theology has held considerable influence in Latin America, and particularly in Brazil. Because then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known as a strong critic of the liberation-theology movement while he served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict's trip to Brazil this week will be watched carefully for signs of his attitude toward the political interpretation of the Gospel.

Questioned by reporters about that topic, the Pope indicated that the questions involved in liberation theology deserve serious discussion. "There is room for legitimate debate," he said, "on how to create the conditions for the liberation of man, and on how to make the doctrine of the Church more effective" in applying Catholic teaching to public life.

During his tenure at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger warned against the temptation to see the Christian message exclusively in a political context, thus missing the central role of Jesus Christ in man's liberation. Under his leadership the Congregation released two documents underlining this theme: the 1984 Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation and the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation. The Congregation has also issued warnings about the work of theologians whose work was seen as endangering the central focus on Christ's Sacrifice and the mission of the Church.

During his May 9 flight to Brazil the Pope also spoke about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was an outspoken voice for social change before he was gunned down by a right-wing "death squad" during a Mass in the chapel on the grounds of San Salvador's Divine Providence hospital. Commenting on a new book about the slain archbishop, the Pope said that Archbishop Romero should not be seen simply as a political figure.

"He was killed during the consecration of the Eucharist," the Pope observed. "Therefore, his death is testimony of the faith.”