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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The father of liberation theology, once criticized by the Vatican for its Marxist undercurrents, praised the "new climate" at the Vatican under Pope Francis that has focused the church's attention on social justice and serving the poor.
Peruvian theologian the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez made his first appearance at an official Vatican press conference Tuesday. It was a historic moment given that the Vatican spent much of the past few decades cracking down on the Marxist excesses of liberation theology, a Latin American-inspired theology advocating for the poor, and disciplining some of its most vocal supporters.
Gutierrez, who himself was never disciplined, said the upcoming beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, a hero to the movement, signaled that "the wall has fallen."
Some versions of liberation theology are at variance with church teachings because they view Christ as a mere social liberator. The Vatican objected to liberation theology's basis in Marxist analysis of society — particularly the idea of class struggle in the promotion of social, political and economic justice for the poor.
In remarks to journalists, Gutierrez stressed that the liberation theology as a whole was never condemned. But he acknowledged that the Holy See had engaged in "very critical dialogue" with its proponents and that there were "difficult moments."
"I'm happy to be here," he said wryly.
Even before the appearance, liberation theology was undergoing something of a rehabilitation under the first Latin American pope, with Gutierrez appearing at a book launch at a Vatican auditorium last year.
"I think in this moment, the climate surrounding this theology is different. That is true," Gutierrez said. But he said the rehabilitation of the theology wasn't as important as Francis' call to put the Gospel into action showing a preferential option for the poor.
"Talking about the poor, talking about the peripheries, saying we have to go forward: This is what's important," he said.
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