He is the father of liberation theology, condemned for decades and now rehabilitated in the person and life of Pope Francis with whom, according to various sources, Gustavo Gutiérrez met last Tuesday before the presentation of the book Povera per i poveri. La missione della Chiesa ("Poor and for the Poor: the Mission of the Church"), written by Prefect Muller with contributions from the Peruvian theologian and a prologue by Bergoglio. The priest was the great protagonist, receiving a resounding ovation (Fr. Gutierrez's speech was translated and published by National Catholic Reporter).
Afterwards, Gutierrez spoke informally with some reporters, stating that "the liberation theologians weren't Marxists", although he did acknowledge that there were "committed people who had an ideological base." "The poor themselves must be agents of their liberation," stressed the theologian who wanted to make it clear that neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI ever condemned his theology, but rather solicited a "contextualization."
Questioned by Zenit as to who were the ones who led liberation theology astray by giving it a Marxist matrix, the Peruvian priest responded, "Not Boff, not Sobrino, not Juan Luis Segundo, not Ronaldo Muñoz, that is, I would say not the theologians" and he added that "obviously, there were people who were very committed before and had an ideological base, but they weren't the ones doing theology."
He added that "many of them were very generous people, which doesn't mean being right." And he added that "there was a political following in some countries." And by a political dimension, he specified, he meant "a misguided, incorrect political dimension, and there are always people like that."
Father Gutiérrez also thinks a more favorable climate exists today, "because some things are better known. The social sciences never appeared in theology before. Over forty years ago when liberation theology was born, these were present and not just philosophy. Nowadays, Biblical studies are full of sociology and nobody says anything because they're used to it," he said.
Answering a journalist, he indicated that "the climate and the context have changed a lot. The themes of liberation theology are more present," such as "poverty, justice." In particular, he said, "the idea that the poor themselves must be agents of their liberation, and this was a point that was there from the beginning of liberation theology."
If he could go back forty years, would he do the same things or change anything? "I never thought about it," Gutierrez answered, "because the things one experiences don't just depend on oneself. I think I wouldn't do the same thing because that would mean that the environment would have been the same." And about what was done, he concluded, "I've never regretted it."
Questioned by Angela Ambroggetti, from Korazym, about John Paul II and Ratzinger, and which one had more problems with liberation theology, the Peruvian priest characterized his meeting in Rome with Ratzinger seven years ago in 2007 as "very good."
He added that "Ratzinger was more of a theologian. He understood better and that's been very important. I can honestly say that his understanding worked because he knew what it was about from the start," because he knew "it wasn't the idea of Marxism."
"He never asked me anything about Marxism," said Father Gutierrez, "because he knew that it's nothing like that. You just have to have a little culture to know that if one says there's conflict, one isn't Marxist. One is just looking at reality." And he added that the dialogue with the cardinal who was in charge of the [Congregation for the] Doctrine of the Faith in those years "was in that category."
"With John Paul II," the Peruvian theologian said, "it was different. I saw him once in my life and he was very much a jokester. He told me he thought I was taller (Father Gutierrez is short in stature) and at the end he put his hand on my shoulder and told me, 'Go on, go on'. Although I don't know what he meant by that..."
"With Ratzinger," the father of liberation theology continued, "the dialogue began when he was a cardinal. I've had a positive experience. Then it ended with a letter he sent to my superiors indicating that the dialogue had ended satisfactorily," and he wanted to specify that "moreover it was a dialogue and not a trial."
Is this a special moment in the Church? "As a moment, we must recognize that we have not had it before. Only newspapers dealt with these issues. It also depends on what media. But a Church moment like today, that we've not had." With a pope, he said, "who criticizes single mindedness and all that."
When they pointed out to him that "you were very useful for Müller to know the problem of poverty in Peru" and they asked him "but perhaps Müller also helped you clean up liberation theology," Father Gutierrez said, "Not clean up, but very useful, yes, because he's put it in a context, changed it, because liberation theology has had a very large spirituality foundation since the beginning." And he specified that "I owe that to theologian Dominique Chenot, I received that in my initial training and it marked me a lot. Because I'm convinced that theology is born in the daily life of the Church."
He concluded by noting that today he has personal written relationships with other fathers of liberation theology and that they have taken different subjects, for example Leonardo Boff who got totally into the issue of ecology, and now he didn't need to get into it.
In conclusion, he recalled that he was a pastor for 25 years and feels such that "a pox on old age" since he's teaching in Peru and in two other places abroad.