25th October 1991
Steady on there in the headline writing and editorial departments! I look at my Catholic Herald
(October 18) and see the headline: “Pope makes option for the poor”. Then in the editorial you imply that the radical clergy are helping the poor whilst “the coterie of ex Holy See officials who live in their palaces in the wealthy quarters of Brazil’s cities” are not.
“Option for the poor” like “Workers of the world unite” is a phrase which seems unexceptional but which has become a slogan or badge for a particular political view point – liberation theology and communism respectively. Holders of both these political views claim to be fighting for the rights of the poor.
Most ordinary folk who think about these things have come to the conclusion that communism at least has made the lot of the poor worse rather than better. It will be well into the next century before we know whether liberation theology is equally harmful to the poor. In the meantime it seems best not to associate the Pope with a political movement which might harm rather than help the poor.
And what about living in palaces? There must be few people left who believe that the poor in Russia who would not have fared much better under the Tsar in his palace than under the communists living – originally at least – amongst the poor.
I believe the same thing can be said about the freedom fighters in South and Central America and, if liberation theology gives moral support to those freedom fighters – as it seems to do – it would have been better for the poor if the liberation theologians had stayed at home as well.
The Pope is quite right to be critical. Christianity is the religion of the poor. It is also a religion which is critical of the rich and not uncritical of the learned. It’s reassuring to find the Pope warning the rich to change their ways and the learned to have another think.