"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From the CDF: what we, like, really needed to know

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just issued a notification on the work of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, who has been at it for quite a long time. The document identifies certain "errors" in Sobrino's writings and warns the faithful against them. I would have preferred the term "heresies"; it's more specific and makes better copy. But that term has, among other senses, a specific canonical sense; Sobrino is not on trial for heresy in the canonical sense; and Vatican dicasteries must observe the legal niceties.

Accompanying the notification is an explanatory note anticipating and answering the usual objections. It is noted that, despite the CDF's haved rejected "certain aspects" of liberation theology a generation ago—under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, I note—the Church really is concerned for the poor. The procedures followed in CDF investigations of this kind are briefly summarized so as to make them seem straightforwardly motivated and well established. The main points against Sobrino are also summarized. And the whole thing was done for the good of the faithful. Of course.

A great deal of work obviously went into this. But I don't quite get why. All the theological concerns the notification addresses have been well addressed in the past by the man who now happens to be pope. As in many other such cases, nobody with the education to understand Sobrino and the inclination to like his work is going to have their mind changed by this notification. And those with the requisite education who dislike his work dislike it for essentially the same reasons the CDF gives. So why bother belaboring Sobrino's case?

I can think of only two reasons. With the Chavez era in full swing, Sobrino is as popular as ever in Latin America, where Catholicism is still the majority religion. And merely denouncing errors in general terms allows their proponents to deny that they in particular commit those errors. We learned that during the Modernist controversy of a century ago. Fair enough. But with all due respect to Cardinal Levada, Fr. DiNoia, and the Pope himself, the resources available to orthodox theologians working for the Vatican are limited and could well be put to more pressing uses. (One might even say the resources are more limited than the manpower: when asked how many people work at the Vatican, Pope John XXIII replied: "About half of them.") So, in an era when the Church in the so-called "developed" countries is beset by relativism and hedonism, going after liberation theology yet again seems like a waste of energy.
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