Father Enrique T. Rueda
By John Rees
An Exclusive Interview on Liberation Theology with a Distinguished Catholic Scholar and Priest
ENRIQUE T. RUEDA was a 20-year-old university student in Cuba when Fidel Castro took power. Along with thousands of other anti-Communists, he was interned by Castro's security forces in 1961 after the Bay of Pigs disaster. He was then in his last year of university studying chemical engineering and in his first year of seminary studies for the priesthood. After making his way to America he earned an amazing number of academic credits, starting with a degree in chemical engineering from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. During 1964-1968 he attended St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York, where he earned a Master of Divinity Degree in 1967 and a Masters in Theology in 1968. At the same time he earned his Masters in political science at Fordham University, specializing in the political philosophy and politics of underdeveloped countries.
Last fall, Father Rueda testified on "liberation theology" before Senator Jeremiah Denton's Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism.
Q. Father Rueda, will you define "liberation theology" for us?
A. "Liberation theology" is an attempt to reinterpret Christianity using Marxist concepts. For Christians, there are two pit-falls in discussion of this that we must avoid. There is a sense in which the world "liberation" is acceptable to all as an accurate and proper description of a genuine religious experience. In the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul proclaims that the Gospel frees mankind from the oppression of sin as manifested by the Law. Jesus described Himself as "the Truth" and indicated that knowledge of this Truth, meaning union with it, would make man free; that is, that it would liberate him. And so Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo can contrast Marxist and Christian liberations and conclude that whereas the liberation offered by Jesus Christ is genuine, the liberation of Karl Marx is spurious.
But the term "liberation theology" is not used in speaking about the sort of liberation that Christians have sought traditionally. It is, rather, an attempt to blend the false liberation of Marx with the true liberation of Jesus.
Q. You believe that Marxism is incompatible with Christianity. Why is that?
A. They are two entirely different things. Marxism is a philosophy; Christianity is a revealed religion. "Liberation theology" attempts to reinterpret the Christian message to suit Marxist polemics and make the Christian Gospel conform to them.
Q. Where did this movement originate?
A. The roots of "liberation theology" are in Germany among figures like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, Oscar Cullman and Johannes Metz. The leading figures in its origins were European Protestants, but it has taken hold among Roman Catholics also, especially in Latin America. It emerged from Germany as something called the "theology of hope" in which "hope" meant expectation of the collectivist transformation of this world. It traveled to Latin America mostly through Spanish and Dutch missionary priests. And I should point out that a number of those Spanish priests were individuals adjudged as "subversive" under General Franco. Rather than persecute them or jail them, Franco expelled them, and they went to Latin America. That was the origin of the movement there.
Among Catholics, one of the main intellectual contributors to the "liberation theology" movement was the French Jesuit philosopher and anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin, who emphasized the secular role of man as part of the evolutionary process to the detriment of his spiritual call to salvation in Christ. Chardin's works remain popular among Roman Catholic neo-Modernists. "Liberation theology" is one expression of their views.
Q. Where did the effort to reconcile Christianity with Communism originate?
A. It originated with Friedrich Engels, Marx's friend and collaborator. Near the end of the last century, Engels wrote that the "true Christians of the early Church—up to the age of Constantine the Great—had been similar to modern Communism." This false notion that true Christianity demands Communism is a central tenet of a recent book by "liberationist" priest Jose Miranda called Communism in the Bible. It was published about a year and a half ago by the Maryknoll Fathers, a Roman Catholic missionary order. But there were efforts in France and Belgium to reconcile the Christian and Marxist approaches during the period between the two world wars. In fact the Cross with the Hammer and Sickle was the logo of a French Catholic journal published during that period.
Q. What is the special appeal of "liberationists" in Latin America?
A. In Latin America, "liberation theology" attempts to interpret the reality of daily life using Marxist categories as if they were Christian terms. In practice, this involves using the Church, the religious orders, lay catechists, the charitable institutions, the schools and universities, and all the social structures of religion to support Marxist governments, groups, policies, and practices which are aligned with the Soviet Union. If you want to see "liberation theology" in action, look at the government of Nicaragua.
Q. That brings us to the substantial role of religious activists in support of the Communist insurgency in El Salvador. Is that "liberation theology" in action?
A. Obviously it is, and it provides a clear example of how "liberation theology" among both Protestants and Catholics is put into practice. The supporters of the "liberation theology" movement have become an integral part of the subversive movement through which the Soviet Union acts via Cuba and Nicaragua to destabilize and ultimately isolate and conquer the "soft underbelly" of the United States of America.
But El Salvador is not the only area of their operations in Latin America. There are elements within the Church who support revolution in Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. And this now extends upwards. It is not just a movement among priests, nuns, and lay activists with little influence. There is also some support among the bishops. For example, in Brazil, Bishops Helder Camera and Pedro Casaldaliga are well-known supporters of Marxist operations. In Mexico, Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo, the "Red Bishop" of Cuernavaca who just retired, is another such leader. When he was visiting Cuba, he declared himself to be a Marxist and a Communist.
Q. Does "liberation theology" seek to get priests directly involved in revolutionary conflict?
A. Philosophically it does. Traditionally, theology has involved the application of reason to what the believer considers has been revealed to him by God. In "liberation theology" the process is reversed. First comes socio-political activism which its proponents call praxis. After the action comes a period of reflection on one's efforts, allegedly "in light of the Gospel." This stands real theology on its head.
The Colombia priest Camillo Torres was killed in 1966 while fighting as a member of an armed band of revolutionary Marxists. He is considered the first "martyr" of the "liberationist" movement.
Q. Aren't three revolutionary priests holding ministerial posts in the Marxist government of Nicaragua?
A. You are talking about the Cardenal brothers and Miguel D'escoto Brockman, the Sandinista Foreign Minster who is a Maryknoll Father and controlled the public relations work of the Sandinistas during the revolution. The activities of these men are consistent with "liberation theology."
Q. How is the movement structured?
A. The adherents of "liberation theology" use all the resources of religion open to them for the support of Marxism. In practice this means a rather extensive network of "centers" that specialize in the promotion of Marxism, with some of these being organizations of the religious. In Chile, for example, "Christians for Socialism" was formed in 1971 during the regime of Salvador Allende. Its first convention was held in Santiago de Chile in 1972, and Bishop Mendez Arceo participated.
Q. What is the role of these Marxist "centers"?
A. This network of well-financed "centers" and publishing houses serves politico-religious activists by furnishing training and propaganda bases and providing contact points for "liberationists" in other countries.
Some of these "centers" are the L.A.D.O.C. Center (Center for Latin American Documentation) in Lima Peru; and the Centra de Reflexion Teologal in Mexico and the Center for Inter-Cultural Communications established under the auspices of Bishop Mendez Arceo by Father Ivan Illich in Cuernavaca. Similar centros exist in Nicaragua, El Salvador and did for a time in Uruguay.
I visited one in Mexico. Ostensibly they are institutions for the study of social questions. But in reality they serve to sponsor radical activities and to spread Marxist concepts and ideas.
Q. What other institutions promote "liberation theology" and Marxism in Latin America?
A. One of the most important outlets for these views is the Latin American Press Service based in Lima, Peru. It is closely associated with the L.A.D.O.C. Center that is controlled by staff from the Maryknoll Order. This press service uses the official Cuban news agency, Prensa Latina, as well as American "alternative" press services associated with the infamous Institute for Policy Studies.
Q. What American groups play leading roles in promoting "liberationist" activities?
A. There are several "centers" operating in this country. For example, in Chicago there is the Eighth Day Center for Peace and Justice; in Washington, D.C., there are several including Network, the Center of Concern, and the Quixote Center. All are political movements that specialize in promoting ideas that on the surface seem Christian but that are really drawn from Marxism. The language is full of references to God, the Church, the Gospel, good works, concern for the poor, but if you read carefully you will see that what is being presented is Marxism.
While they do not accept dialectical materialism, because that is atheistic in its conception, the liberationists do accept "historical materialism." That is the interpretation of history according to "class struggle" and the understanding that how you think and how you act and what you believe in is a function of your social class.
Q. Who are some making that argument?
A. Oh, read the "liberation theologians" like Juan Luis Segundo. He makes this argument: If you are the poor, you think as he does; and if you disagree with him, you are for the rich and against the poor. In their eyes, religion is not for all people, but just for the poor. They make it a tool of class struggle and use class struggle as their model for interpretation of history.
Q. What has been the effect of the Pope's criticism of the "liberationist" movement?
A. The main effect has been to force the "liberationists" to be more careful to hide the nature of their movement behind traditional language. Even before the Pope's pronouncements, the previous General of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, issued a letter to the heads of Jesuit provinces throughout Latin America indicating that it was not appropriate to use Marxism to analyze Christianity. He pointed out, correctly, that by doing so you end up a Marxist, not a Christian. At that point, there was a visible change among the "liberationists," not so much in content, but in emphasis.
Q. How so?
A. The "liberationists" began to say, "Well, we're not really Marxists; we don't really use Marxist language; we don't really use Marxist ideas. This is just the modern way of understanding the Christian Gospel."
Q. In supporting the F.M.L.N. and the Sandinistas and Salvador Allende's Unidad Popular, et cetera the "liberation theology" crowd has to work with declared Marxist-Leninists who are atheists strongly opposed to religion of any sort. How is that contradiction justified?
A. I have a training manual for "base communities"—a term I'll explain in a minute. It says that Marxism has three meanings: As a "science" for understanding society; as a "program of action" for changing society; and, as a philosophy. The line is that a Christian not only can be, but must be, a Marxist to understand society and work to change it in the proper way. As for philosophy, they assert that theism is an old-fashioned part of Marxism and that it is really unnecessary to Marxist practice. I find it very significant that this particular manual also states that the function of a Marxist is to become involved in promoting violence. It says so in so many words.
Q. What is the Popular Church movement in Nicaragua?
A. The Popular Church, condemned by Pope John Paul II in a letter to the bishops of Nicaragua in 1982, has as its basic unit what is called the "base community." This is a group of people who commit themselves as a group to engage in the study of society from a "biblical" point of view and then to do something about it by direct action. But "biblical" does not mean in this case what traditional Christians mean by it. Here it means the basic tenets of "liberation theology."
So in fact the "base community" is what ordinary Marxists would term a "cell," but of the so-called Popular Church rather than of the Communist Party. And the Popular Church is the alternative that the "liberation theologians" offer to the traditional Catholic Church in those cases where the bishops and priests refuse to accept the teachings and practices of "liberation theology."
Q. What is the relationship of the Popular Church to the Sandinista regime?
A. In the case of Nicaragua where the "liberation" theologians rejected the authority of Archbishop Obando y Bravo and the Church hierarchy, these "base communities" provide support for Marxism and the Sandinistas within the Catholic Church. When a bishop goes to visit a neighborhood to promote traditional Catholic teaching and practices, people from the "base communities" have been known to stone him. In one case they physically assaulted a bishop who tried to enter a church occupied by a base community. They are functioning as a political arm of the Marxists within the Catholic Church.
Q. Am I correct that "base communities" are being organized in El Salvador in support of the terrorist F.M.L.N.?
A. Absolutely. A number of priests, nuns, and lay people in El Salvador are using the badge of Christianity and Catholicism to promote violent Marxist revolution. But I want to point out that the Latin American country with the largest number of these "base communities" is Brazil. That is where you will find the greatest influence of Marxism within the Catholic Church.
Q. Why is so little said about this in the Catholic congregations of America?
A. First, for the benign reason that you are talking about two separate continents. In many cases the parishioners are uninformed and the priests may know little about it or may agree with it. In a number of areas, you now find "Justice and Peace Commissions" which basically sympathize with "liberation theology" and which you find active in support of the F.M.L.N. and the Sandinistas. But almost no one uses the old language of Marxism. They say they are for "economic and social justice"; they attack "unaccountability of multinational corporations," not capitalism; and, they demand "economic democracy" and "self-determination" rather than use the word revolution.
Q. So they wrap their real intentions in words that sound idealistic?
A. Yes, and that brings me to the second problem—the lack of education of so many Americans about what the concepts of Marxism are and how they are rephrased in "liberation theology" and other areas.
Q. What can be done about this?
A. The leadership of the Catholic Church must go back to fundamental principles. The responsibility of the Church is not to organize civil society, which is where the Marxists make use of it, but to set down moral principles which the people should apply. That takes theological discipline within the Church. It will be a very long process. The clergy must be educated as well as the laity.
In my seminary there were no courses on Marxism at all; I had to go elsewhere to study that. Yet Marxism is the greatest threat to the Christian order today. It is very sad that there are no courses exposing it and teaching how to deal with it—except in places where there is sympathy to Marxism.
Q. What about Catholic lay people?
A. The vast majority are very patriotic Americans and are unlikely to be persuaded that Marxism by any name has any place in America. My main concern is that by pursuing "liberation theology" the Church will isolate itself, and when people come to realize that the "liberation theology" is increasingly preaching calls for the destruction of our way of life in favor of an alien system, they will not abandon America but abandon the Church. I believe that the Church must remain faithful to her tradition, which is incompatible with materialism. The tradition of the Church is that salvation is for all, both rich and poor; for the working people and for the owner of a corporation.
Q. What would happen to the Church if its "liberationists" were successful in putting Marxists into power?
A. As the Marxists consolidate their power, as in Nicaragua, they will discard the Church and use it only as a front for the sake of appearances. I have a missal published by the Ministry of Culture in Nicaragua—and all the texts have been changed. The author is a Jesuit, Father Jose Ignacio Gonzales Faus. Instead of "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy," they say: "Christ Jesus, put out the oppressive class that oppresses and devours the community, but become in solidarity with the oppressed, my people." It's all that sort of garbage.
In one published in Colombia, the prophet Isaiah's words are changed so that he prophesies against the greed of the multinationals! In another the Creed has been perverted into:
"We believe in God, the Father of the people who has created a world good and rich for all and who hates the exploiter who appropriates this wealth condemning to utter misery numbers of human beings. We believe in Jesus who declared himself to be sent by the Father to announce the goodness of liberation for the oppressed, who was born of a woman of the people, assuming the condition of a worker among workers ... We believe in the suppression of the social classes ...."
What shocking trash! When they are talking about "suppression of the social classes" they are talking in code about eliminating their political opponents.
Q. And "class war" ideas are offered as an excuse for terrorist violence against noncombatants. What do you think is the best approach to take against such travesties?
A. If people can be jolted into awareness, I believe we have the basis for correcting the problem. That is why educating people and publicizing these issues is so important.
"Father Enrique T. Rueda" by John Rees first appeared in the March 1984 issue of Review of the News (Belmont, Massachusetts 02178) and is reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.