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Exclusive Interview with Cardinal Müller: “We Are Freed In Order to Be Free”


AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Amicie Pélissié du Rausas - published on 12/22/14

What does the Gospel say about being liberated?

Aleteia met with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, on the occasion of the publication of his book, Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church, prefaced by Pope Francis.

Müller is the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the body responsible for promoting and ensuring the doctrine on faith and morals, which was long headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Ordained bishop by Pope John Paul II, appointed head of the CDF by Benedict XVI and created Cardinal by Francis, this 66-year-old German is a renowned theologian, but also a regular of the Peruvian slums and a European specialist on the "liberation theology" movement. This is an exclusive meeting with an unusual man of the Church, for whom theology is a discourse on the divine not to be disconnected from the human – for whom the poor are never the subject of a  mere theoretical reflection. 

Your Eminence, you have written extensively onliberation theology, a little known current or one that is misunderstood by Catholics.What is the Christian meaning of liberation?

Cardinal Gerhard Müller: As a current of thought, liberation theology was born in Latin America after the Second Vatican Council, the work of the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. But liberation is primarily a biblical theme, since Jesus has freed men from sin and death. It also inevitably has a social purpose. No, Jesus did not come to bring an earthly paradise but the kingdom of God. And this kingdom of God consists in loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. We live in society, we belong to human communities. This is why liberation from death and sin has social consequences. 

Thus, living together should be characterized by moral principles, both individual and social. The Church’s mission is to make present and to communicate this natural law, these moral principles. In 2000 years, the Church has gone through varying social and historical situations! Let us remember that in the sixteenth century, during the conquest of Latin America, the Church was on the weaker people’s side: the Spanish Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas is a major figure of the defense of Indians’ rights. Maybe one day he will be canonized! He was a contemporary of other intellectuals, gathered in the School of Salamanca, who denounced slavery. Several popes of that era also condemned these situations in papal documents. Under the Third Reich, another situation of extreme denial of human rights, Bartolomé de Las Casas became a symbol of resistance and freedom. In 1938, the German playwright Reinhold Schneider imagined a meeting between Las Casas and Charles V in his play Las Casas vor Karl V. Las Casas became the voice of the people of his time including the Jews. For Gutiérrez and for us, these examples are not only historical reminiscences, but events that affect us. 

This theology is therefore present-day?Can we, for example, apply it to any situation in which the Church is engaged alongside human misery?

We live in the twenty-first century, after the industrial revolution: our era is marked by colonialism, by a false Eurocentrism. The liberation theology was born in a context of great dependence of the South American countries on Europe. To that extent, yes, it can be analogically applied to countries in Africa and Asia. The liberation theology today questions the possibility of proclaiming the dignity of man in the context of a lack of freedom, oppression and disregard for basic human rights.

But beware, human liberation is not achieved by politics alone: this would mean building an ideal society through education. This is Rousseau’s model, which is, in the end, a mad dream of social technique. From where do we get this model? From the Enlightenment dialectic which asserts that man wants to do everything by himself … and that leads to great utopias and ideologies. Experience has shown that these projects have worsened the situation. 

The liberation theology was accused of appropriating the Marxist analysis. Social sciences are nowadays valuable, but only when using an anthropology that retains the transcendent and immanent dimensions. Marxist philosophy says that one class must destroy the other. For our part, we say that men must overcome these classes, through a new solidarity. In the end, what matters is to judge the whole of reality in the light of the Gospel, to implement the communion of the Church with the power of grace. 

According to liberation theology, we receive everything through the grace of God, but man is called to be actively involved in responding to this grace: we are freed in order to be free! God has freed us so that we can collaborate in the liberation of men, build a positive society. It also means overcoming selfishness in ourselves, the sin of being simply centered on oneself. The key thing is to use freedom in the love of God and for others. 

Pope Francis, who comes from Latin America, spoke of a "poor Church for the poor."He has written the preface to your book, which has the same title.In a way, is not theliberation theologyat the heart of his message?

The Pope represents the whole Church: he is not a spokesperson for just one current or group and there are other theologies in the Church. Scotist, Thomist theology … these all help the Church to have intelligence enlightened by faith, provided they develop the categories of thought needed to understand the world today, to offer concrete solutions to the challenges of our time. 

In the case of intelligence enlightened by faith, we believe that God created heaven and earth, but this truth must be articulated with modern science, so that science and faith do not remain simply juxtaposed. We need to find language able to express this truth of faith understandably. Faith’s content always remains the same because it is revealed, but the way it is expressed and the awareness that we have of it, can change and must be adapted. The same applies to the concept of liberation. At the time of the Ottoman Empire, various religious congregations, like the Trinitarians, devoted themselves to buying back captives. We are not that far from this today, at a time when Christians and non-Christians are held captive and ransomed by terrorist organizations. 

The Church involves, commits herself in this world in favor of human solidarity, democracy, dignity of persons, as being ​​"intramundane" values, that is to say, in the order of the world, the highest. This does not date from Pope Francis, but from Leo XIII, so from the end of the nineteenth century! All popes have been concerned with a commitment in the world in favor of an authentic liberation of people. In Strasbourg, Pope Francis has given this message a very broad connotation. It is not possible, he said, that we in the European Union, throw away or destroy food, while elsewhere children are starving. And what about all those unemployed teachers and nurses, while so many places lack teachers and caregivers? It is not acceptable either that due to changing technology a company or a firm relocates and that its employees are put on the street, while managers receive golden parachutes. The message is not to protect one side while destroying the other! Structural change must be made in a spirit of solidarity, and not with a winning party on the one hand and a losing party on the other.

Is not liberation theology a theology of the poor for the poor?What is the place of the rich and what liberation can they expect?

It is true that liberation theology first looks towards the millions of poor people. We cannot only ask the rich to live their religion in purely spiritual and aesthetic terms. They are really called to change their whole attitude. Think of the southern slave states of America, when the masters sang poignant songs in church, speaking of God who gave his Son to free the world, before returning to whip their slaves and sometimes destroy families. Until the 1970-1980s, I saw, in Latin America, landowners using a whip on workers. These same big landowners cashed in on everything, although work done together should benefit all. 

There is a social sin that we must not forget: it is the very existence of these populations who, although they work, do not have the means to be socially insured, send their children to school or university. The entrepreneurs and business leaders are responsible. But it is also up to politicians to shape societies in the right direction by tackling the problem of corruption in the political-legal sphere. Then comes the means, or lack thereof, that the poor have to defend their legitimate rights in court. 

Liberation theology therefore is not limited to the Third World! Christians in developed countries can learn something from this theology about a Christian social commitment in favor of a more just world, in culture, politics and modern communication.

Pope Francis
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