From- 23 February, 1996 page 2

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Pope John Paul II, traveling to Latin America earlier this month, told journalists that liberation theology had retreated after the collapse of communism and was no longer seen as a problem.

He said, "Liberation theology was somewhat a Marxist ideology. Today, following the fall of communism, liberation theology has fallen a little, too."

Catholic News Service reported that this "was an unusually bland dismissal, coming from a pontiff who for years fought what he saw as liberation theology's Marxist bent."

Is liberation theology dead?

Brazilian Leonardo Boff, who left the active ministry after he was disciplined by the Vatican for his views, was one of several liberation theologians to react to the pope's comments, saying liberation theology is still practiced worldwide in local church communities. "I'm sure the pope would be very happy to assert that 'Liberation theology is dead, all the poor are free, they eat and live well,' but this is an illusion that the church cannot hope to peddle to the oppressed."

In El Salvador, a U.S. Jesuit said the pope's comments were "open to manipulation." Fr. Dean Brackley, a self-described liberation theology advocate who teaches at Central American University in San Salvador, said the Salvadoran press interpreted the pope's words as "condemning liberation theology." A headline in the Feb. 6 issue of the rightist Salvadoran daily, 'El Diario de Hoy,' over a half-page photo of the pope, said, "John Paul II says: liberation theology is dead."

Brackley told CNS that liberation theology was of less relevance: these days. "The fundamental insights of liberation theology are taking hold and continue to take hold at a grassroots level, at a pastoral level," he said.

On Feb. 10, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls made an effort to clarify the pope's comments. He said the pope "definitely was not saying liberation theology is dead" but that "priests in politics and a Marxist basis for analysis, these two things are over, thank God."

In Rome, Divine Word Fr. Johann Fullenbach, who teaches a class on liberation theology at Gregorian University, described liberation theology as "the only theology that is really alive, in the sense of being challenging." Liberation theologians are keeping a lower profile, he said, in part because of some recent appointments of bishops in Latin America. "Conservatives are having a heyday, and anyone who puts his head up a little bit zap!" he said.

Dead? Hardly.

Liberation theology is part of the church lexicon

and will be with us as long the masses remain poor and oppressed.