John Paul Escalates His Counteroffensive Against Theology of Liberation

Times Staff Writer

Pope John Paul II escalated his counteroffensive against radical elements among the followers of liberation theology Saturday, warning a new generation of Roman Catholics in South America to steer clear of religious leaders who advocate freedom from poverty and oppression through class war and violence.

Addressing a huge, mostly teen-aged audience at a Lima horse race track, the pontiff said, "Do not follow those who affirm that social injustices can only disappear through class hatred or recourse to violence or other anti-Christian methods. Violence engenders violence and degrades man."

Some advocates of a church movement called "theology of lib eration" employ the Marxist concept of class war, condemned by the Pope and the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A few priests in Latin America and other Third World areas such as the Philippines have actually taken up arms in revolutionary groups, using the liberation theology as justification.

In Peru, home of one of the leading liberation theologians, Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the church is deeply divided on the subject. Coincidentally, the nation is suffering a prolonged and bloody insurgency by Maoist guerrillas of an organization calling itself Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

John Paul has made his warning against the extreme elements of liberation theology a major focus of his 12-day South American pilgrimage, asserting the primacy of his own teachings and those of the church hierarchy and deriding what he called the "double hierarchy" in defiance of papal authority that some of the liberationists have advocated.

He enjoined the cheering, singing youngsters at the race track to let the church guide them "to new heavens and a new earth in which justice lives. . . . Accept fully its teachings."

Repeating his own formula for a theology of liberation with its "preferential option for the poor," the pontiff said that the social action of the church, based on the Gospel, "impels constructive action much more than any ideology no matter how attractive it may appear."

He added that the action of the church "has to be projected toward the real poor, taking into account all classes and forms of poverty that exist in our world and looking also at so many rich men who are terribly poor." His reference was to the poor in spirit, regardless of class, who in his version of the theology of liberation, must be included in the preferential option for the poor.

Speaking to most of the country's 52 Roman Catholic bishops after his meeting with the young people, John Paul struck the theme again, obliquely chiding them for not being more forceful in disciplining those whom he believes to be erring theologians.

"It is never true charity to remain inactive before deviations in the faith of the faithful," he said, reminding them of the Peruvian St. Toribio who "always loved those who erred, but never ceased fighting the error."

The bishops, asked by the Vatican two years ago to examine the writings of Father Gutierrez and take appropriate action, waffled on the request in a recent document, neither upholding nor censuring the priest, but rather passing the buck to Gutierrez and other theologians whom it asked to write self-criticisms of their work.

The eighth day of the papal journey was a busy one that began before dawn for the pontiff and his entourage, who flew 400 miles south of Lima to the Spanish colonial city of Arequipa.

There, beneath the snow-covered volcanic slopes of 19,000-foot Mt. Misti, the pontiff presided over an outdoor Mass for about 200,000 at which a 17th-Century nun known for her humility and piety was beatified--a preliminary step to sainthood.

Today, in perhaps the most physically demanding stops of his pilgrimage, John Paul will visit the 11,000-feet-high Andes mountain towns of Cuzco, once the Inca capital, and Ayacucho, principal center of terrorism by the Maoist guerrillas.

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