Liberation Theology: KGB Construct or “Real Theology”?

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Back in February, Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez was invited to speak at the Vatican by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Who is Fr. Guiterrez, you ask? He is the Peruvian priest, now in his late eighties, who is often credited with founding the liberation theology movement with the publication of his book A Theology of Liberation in 1971. Cdl. Müller spoke glowingly of liberation theology on the occasion of Fr. Gutierrez’s visit:

In interviews with press Tuesday before the event, Müller wholeheartedly backed liberation theology, saying it “is based on a theology of the word and is not a human ideology.”

“This theology is not an ideology,” he continued. “It is based on a real theology, based on the word of God. Through his word we can be saved. Only God and his words can save mankind.”

[…]

In several public statements, Pope John Paul II said Marxism unduly influenced the work of Gutierrez and others — at one point in 1979 even saying their work “does not tally with the Church’s catechisms.”

Speaking in interviews following the event, Gutierrez said he thought Raztinger “understood” liberation theology and helped explain its concepts to John Paul II. Benedict, the theologian said, even played a key role in organizing a seminal meeting of the Latin American bishops that discussed the subject in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007.

The assertion that Ratzinger “understood” is an odd one. In 1984, the CDF — then under Ratzinger’s leadership as prefect — issued an instruction highlighting the dangers of Liberation Theology. Some excerpts:

Concepts uncritically borrowed from Marxist ideology and recourse to theses of a biblical hermeneutic marked by rationalism are at the basis of the new interpretation which is corrupting whatever was authentic in the generous initial commitment on behalf of the poor.

[…]

In its positive meaning the ‘Church of the poor’ signifies the preference given to the poor, without exclusion, whatever the form of their poverty, because they are preferred by God. The expression also refers to the Church of our time, as communion and institution and on the part of her members, becoming more fully conscious of the requirement of evangelical poverty.

But the “theologies of liberation”, which reserve credit for restoring to a place of honor the great texts of the prophets and of the Gospel in defense of the poor, 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 the fight for the rights of the poor into a class fight within the ideological perspective of the class struggle. For them the ‘Church of the poor’ signifies the Church of the class which has become aware of the requirements of the revolutionary struggle as a step toward liberation and which celebrates this liberation in its liturgy.

[…]

Building on such a conception of the Church of the People, a critique of the very structures of the Church is developed. It is not simply the case of fraternal correction of pastors of the Church whose behavior does not reflect the evangelical spirit of service and is linked to old-fashioned signs of authority which scandalize the poor. It has to do with a challenge to the ‘sacramental and hierarchical structure’ of the Church, which was willed by the Lord Himself. There is a denunciation of members of the hierarchy and the magisterium as objective representatives of the ruling class which has to be opposed. Theologically, this position means that ministers take their origin from the people who therefore designate ministers of their own choice in accord with the needs of their historic revolutionary mission.

You may have noted the recurrence of words like “Marx(ist)” and “revolution(ary)”. This is not an accident. The instruction mentions some variation of the word “Marx” an astonishing 29 times; the word revolution appears in half as many instances. There’s an entire section (VII) on Marxist analysis.

This week, an interview has been making the rounds in Catholic media that helps shed even more light on the Marxist origins of Liberation Theology. The interview is with Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, an upper echelon officer in the Securitate (Communist Romania’s secret police) and the highest-ranking defector from within the Soviet apparatus.

So what does Pacepa have to say about Liberation Theology?

I learned the fine points of the KGB involvement with Liberation Theology from Soviet General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, communist Romania’s chief razvedka (foreign intelligence) adviser – and my de facto boss, until 1956, when he became head of the Soviet espionage service, the PGU1, a position he held for an unprecedented record of 15 years.

On October 26, 1959, Sakharovsky and his new boss, Nikita Khrushchev, came to Romania for what would become known as “Khrushchev’s six-day vacation.” He had never taken such a long vacation abroad, nor was his stay in Romania really a vacation. Khrushchev wanted to go down in history as the Soviet leader who had exported communism to Central and South America. Romania was the only Latin country in the Soviet bloc, and Khrushchev wanted to enroll her “Latin leaders” in his new “liberation” war.

[…]

The movement was born in the KGB, and it had a KGB-invented name: Liberation Theology. During those years, the KGB had a penchant for “liberation” movements. The National Liberation Army of Columbia (FARC), created by the KGB with help from Fidel Castro; the “National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created by the KGB with help from “Che” Guevara; and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), created by the KGB with help from Yasser Arafat are just a few additional “liberation” movements born at the Lubyanka — the headquarters of the KGB.

The birth of Liberation Theology was the intent of a 1960 super-secret “Party-State Dezinformatsiya Program” approved by Aleksandr Shelepin, the chairman of the KGB, and by Politburo member Aleksey Kirichenko, who coordinated the Communist Party’s international policies. This program demanded that the KGB take secret control of the World Council of Churches (WCC), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and use it as cover for converting Liberation Theology into a South American revolutionary tool. The WCC was the largest international ecumenical organization after the Vatican, representing some 550 million Christians of various denominations throughout 120 countries.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Pacepa’s latest book: Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting TerrorismIn it, Pacepa makes the case that the Soviet intelligence services were always looking for ways to infiltrate or discredit the Catholic Church, including, he claims, the creation of the myth of Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope.” In the prelude to the book, Pacepa summarizes:

Since World War II, disinformation has been the Kremlin’s most effective weapon in its war on the West, especially on Western religion. Iosif Stalin invented this secret “science,” giving it a French-sounding name and pretending it was a dirty Western practice. As this book will show, the Kremlin has secretly, and successfully, calumniated leading Roman Catholic prelates, culminating in Pope Pius XII; it almost succeeded in assassinating Pope John Paul II; it invented liberation theology, a Marxist doctrine that turned many European and Latin American Catholics against the Vatican and the United States; it has promoted anti-Semitism and international terrorism; and it has inspired anti-American uprisings in the Islamic world.

Pacepa goes into more detail in his chapter specifically on the topic of Liberation Theology:

Khrushchev wanted to go down in history as the Soviet leader who exported communism to the American continent. In 1959 he was able to install the Castro brothers in Havana, and soon my foreign intelligence service became involved in helping Cuba’s new communist rulers to export revolution throughout South America. It did not work. Unlike Europe, the Latin America of those years had not yet been bitten by the Marxist bug. (In 1967, Castro’s pawn Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia, after failing to ignite a guerrilla war in that country.)

In the 1950s and 1960s, most Latin Americans were poor, religious peasants who had accepted the status quo, and Khrushchev was confident they could be converted to communism through the judicious manipulation of religion. In 1968, the KGB was able to maneuver a group of leftist South American bishops into holding a conference in Medellín, Colombia. At the KGB’s request, my DIE provided logistical assistance to the organizers. The official task of the conference was to help eliminate poverty in Latin America. Its undeclared goal was to legitimize a KGB-created religious movement dubbed “liberation theology,” the secret task of which was to incite Latin America’s poor to rebel against the “institutionalized violence of poverty” generated by the United States.

The KGB had a penchant for “liberation” movements. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the National Liberation Army of Columbia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army of Bolivia were just a few of the “liberation” movements born at the KGB. The Medellin Conference did indeed endorse liberation theology, and the delegates recommended it to the World Council of Churches (WCC) for official approval. The WCC, headquartered in Geneva and representing the Russian Orthodox Church and other smaller denominations throughout more than 120 countries, had already come under the control of Soviet foreign intelligence. It remains politically under the control of today’s Kremlin, through the many Orthodox priests who are prominent in the WCC and are at the same time Russian intelligence agents. Dissident Russian priest Gleb Yakunin, who was a member of the Russian Duma from 1990 to 1995, and was briefly given official access to KGB archives, released a great deal of information in samizdat reports identifying the Orthodox priests who were agents and describing their influence on WCC matters. For example, in 1983 the KGB dispatched forty-seven agents to attend the WCC General Assembly in Vancouver, and the following year the KGB took credit for using its agents on the WCC selection committee to arrange for the right man to be elected WCC general secretary.

World Council of Churches general secretary, Eugene Carson Blake— a former president of the National Council of Churches in the United States— endorsed liberation theology and made it part of the WCC agenda. In March 1970 and July 1971, the first South American Catholic congresses devoted to liberation theology took place in Bogotá.

Pope John Paul II, who had experienced communist treachery firsthand, denounced liberation theology at the January 1979 Conference of the Roman Catholic Bishops of South America (CELAM), held in Pueblo, Mexico: “This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church’s catechism.” Within four hours, a twenty-page rebuttal of the pope’s speech carpeted the floor of the Conference. Cardinal López Trujillo, the Conference’s organizer, explained that the rebuttal was the product of “some 80 Marxist liberationists from outside the Bishops’ Conference.” I recall that the Romanian DIE had earlier been congratulated by the KGB for having provided logistical support to such liberationists..

In the context of the larger book, this makes perfect sense. The Soviets were masters of deception, infiltration, and the ability to spread credible lies through unexpected sources.

Pacepa himself says that he suspects KGB ties to some of the leading promoters of Liberation Theology, but that he has “no evidence to prove it.” The question remains: why is the Vatican playing with fire when it comes to this potentially dangerous and clearly Marxist-inspired — and possibly Communist-designed — movement?

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