Vatican Orders Controversial Priest to Be Silent

Times Staff Writer

Father Leonardo Boff, the controversial liberation theologian from Brazil who was formally warned that his teachings posed a danger to the church, has been ordered to obey a period of silence, the Vatican announced Thursday.

The Franciscan priest, whose writings have taken the church to task for “elitism,” is forbidden to write or speak in public for an unspecified time, according to a Vatican statement.

Church sources and reports from Brazil suggested that the ban would last about a year. The Vatican said Boff has accepted “with a religious spirit” what is in effect a punishment for his earlier teachings.

The decision to silence the outspoken theologian was made jointly by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Sacred Congregation for Religious Orders and Secular Institutes, according to the statement.


“Such provisions consist of a period of respectful silence, which will allow Father Boff a serious reflection,” it added.

According to a report from the Sacred Heart Convent of Petropolis, near Rio de Janeiro, where the theologian lives and teaches, Boff already has gone into a period of spiritual retreat. Before receiving the formal order of silence on May 1, however, he prepared a written statement that was read to reporters who called his office.

“By decision of Rome, I must refrain from speaking in public for a certain time,” the 46-year-old monk wrote, adding, “Before I enter this period of penitential silence, it seemed to me opportune to make clear some positions subject to error.

‘I’m Not a Marxist’


“I declare I am not a Marxist. As a Christian and a Franciscan, I am in favor of liberties, of rights, of religion and of the noble struggle for justice.”

Boff was summoned to the Vatican last September to discuss his book, “Church: Charisma and Power-Study of Militant Ecclesiology,” in which he charged the church with elitism and with failing to take a firm stand in defense of human rights. He defended the liberation theology movement that has taken hold in the last decade in Latin America and in many Third World countries.

Just a week before he was called in, the Vatican had condemned certain Marxist aspects of liberation theology as dangerous.

Unacceptable Teachings

Last March the Vatican formally advised Boff that some of his teachings, particularly his call for a church without hierarchical privilege, were unacceptable and “endanger the doctrine of the faith.”

During a pilgrimage to South America in January, Pope John Paul II pointedly rejected Boff’s view that authentic teaching can arise from the members of the church as well as be passed down from the church hierarchy.

One of the Vatican’s strongest objections to liberation theology has been the insistence by some theologians on using Marxist analysis and concepts, such as class war, in defining the role the church should take in overcoming social injustice.