Some observers of the Catholic theological scene are saying that a personal meeting between Pope Francis and Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez could mark a thaw in decades of frosty relations between the church's hierarchy and liberation theologians.
Gutiérrez, a Peruvian, coined the phrase "liberation theology." The theology is marked by its concern for liberation of the world's people from unjust economic or social conditions. It was developed in Latin America during the region's military dictatorships in the 1960s and '70s.
The Vatican did not list Francis' early September meeting with Gutiérrez among the pope's official audiences, but a Vatican spokesman confirmed the meeting to NCR, describing it as "a strictly private visit."
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, published an essay on the event Sept. 3. With the election of the first pope from Latin America, liberation theology can no longer "remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe," the essay said.
A U.S. theologian with a personal connection to Gutiérrez agreed that the election of the Argentine pope may have brought a certain openness to liberation theology.
According to Michael Lee, associate professor of theology at Fordham University in New York, the reality of the Latin American experience "is present in the person of Francis and in the Vatican now in a way that it never has been before."
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