Thursday, May 28, 2015

The preferential option for the poor is not an option

My friend Fran recently posted a link to an op-ed in Forbes by Steven Hayward, How Is 'Liberation Theology' Still A Thing?  The author takes exception to Pope Francis' invitation of Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, to visit the Vatican.  Gutierrez, a professor of theology at Notre Dame, wrote A Theology of Liberation in 1971.  Hayward's style is generally mocking ("Liberation theology grew out of the misbegotten 'Christian-Marxist dialogue' of the 1960s and 1970s, which must seem as quaint and laughable as promoting Esperanto."), but the line that shocked me was this one:
“Liberation theology likes to describe itself with the slogan that it represents the 'preferential option for the poor,' whatever that means.”
It's clear that Hayward thinks that Pope Francis has strayed from the path, and certainly the path laid out by the previous two Popes, he notes that both Benedict XVI and John Paul II were "harsh critics" of liberation theology and that the latter "directly rebuked" clergy in Nicaragua, but I wonder where he got the idea that the preferential option for the poor, was, well, an option for Catholics? Or that it was in any way unclear what it meant.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (published in 2004, under John Paul II's watch) devotes three full paragraphs [182-184] to the concept of the preferential option for the poor, using precisely that term.  The document clearly states "The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force. [385]"  (emphasis is mine, reference 385 is to John Paul II, again).

Whatever you think about liberation theology and how politics and the Church ought to intersect, it ought to be perfectly clear that the preferential option for the poor isn't an option.  It is, to quote the Compendium, something to"which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness" and that it affects the life of each of us.  It is "still a thing"...

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it is a thing. As long we have poor people, it will always be a thing. I might be able to grant as a concession that government may not need to be the responsible party - it would be nice not to have government types mean-spiritedly throw ridiculous obstacles in the path of the poor from getting what is offered - but from whatever source it's clearly our job.

    I have a friend who is a former Jesuit priest who commented last Christmas that he felt strongly the influence of Holy Sprit in this last papal election. I think Francis feels it, too, and is acting upon it.