Wrong to claim Pope John Paul was totally against “structural sin”

Posted By: April 15, 2020


Letters to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Published Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Davy Bustard raises some very valid points in his letter – “Spirit of God cannot be squeezed into a proletarian box” (April 3).

However, he did state something very invalid when he claimed that St Pope John Paul II was “totally against” liberation theology.

Here are the facts of the case. Under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican issued two “Instructions”: one in 1984 (Instructions on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’) and one in 1986 (Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation).

The 1984 Instruction cautioned about the dangers of reducing faith to politics, of uncritically adapting a Marxist analysis, of confusing personal sin and “structural sin,” of thinking that class war and violence are inevitable. (And what Catholic could disagree with these clarifications?)

On the other hand, the 1986 Instruction was less severe and, in fact, it reaffirmed many of the themes of liberation theology: “the special option for the poor”; structural injustice and institutionalized violence; the connection between earthly liberty and the liberty of eternal salvation.

Moreover, Pope John Paul II, himself, accepted and used key concepts from liberation theology – such as “special option for the poor” and “structural sin.” While that does not mean we can properly call the pope a liberation theologian, it does certainly mean that it is invalid to claim he was “totally against” that theology. His two Instructions say what he meant and means what they say – not what Mr. Bustard says.

For Irish readers, an example of “structural sin,” of course, would be the historic structures of injustice England constructed in Ireland: racism (anti-Irish); sectarianism (anti-Catholicism, after the English Reformation and from which The North has not fully recovered); genocide; mass starvation and ethnic cleansing, like “To Hell or to Connaught.” Oh, and stealing all the land, as England did throughout its empire.

Yeah, I know it was called the “British” Empire, but we all know that – despite individuals like Lloyd George and Lord Balfour – we cannot really blame poor Wales or Scotland. Especially since Scotland, by the looks of things, will be independent before all of Ireland will be independent.