Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fernando Lugo

. . . on Liberation Theology and the Changing Political Landscape of Latin America

Earlier today Democracy Now! hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed the newly-elected president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, who is currently in New York for the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Lugo, a former Roman Catholic priest, was known as the “Bishop of the Poor,” and often led anti-government protests and worked for peasant rights. After resigning his position as bishop in 2006, he campaigned and won the presidential election on a platform of land reform and anti-corruption.

In the following excerpts, Lugo talks about the history and role of liberation theology in Latin America and the wider Catholic Church; the impact of U.S. foreign policy; and the rise of progressive governments throughout Latin America.

(Note: Lugo’s responses have been translated.)


Juan Gonzalez: Liberation theology has also had a lot of controversy in Latin America. You came to political awareness as a priest and a bishop who espoused liberation theology. It’s not regarded well by the hierarchy of the [Roman] Catholic Church today. What’s the role of the Catholic Church in Latin America today? Is it part of the change for progress, or is it still holding back progress?

Fernando Lugo: Liberation theology is a theology that emerged in Latin America, and it is a pastoral theology that cannot be judged from a doctrinal or a dogmatic standpoint. There are controversies, yes, because there is freedom of thought. Theology is to develop a free way of thinking. One doesn’t necessarily need to be in agreement with all of the other thinking of the Church. It has become a philosophical and sociological tool, very important for analyzing social reality.

Moreover . . . in the letter that he wrote to the bishops of Brazil . . . John Paul II [said] that liberation theology that was born in Latin America is now part of the theological heritage of the universal church. There is recognition of that theology. There may be different tendencies, and within those tendencies, some might be called into question, others might be criticized.

Amy Goodman: [What has been] the effect of the war in Iraq on you in Paraguay, the global economic crisis, and your advice for President Bush in dealing with other countries?

Fernando Lugo: Some think that the war in Iraq is very far from Latin America, but the effects that it’s having are worldwide. I think that it would not be good for a country to provoke a war in one part of the world and try to speak of peace in another part. I think that world leaders will demand coherence in policy, both foreign policy and internal policy. So I think that those contradictions, those controversies, these spaces of dialogue and confrontation, such as the United Nations, need to be clarified and set out a line, the line of humanity, of peace, of truth, of justice, that it needs to build justice in the modern world . . . We reject all types of violence, wherever it may come from. Violence has never brought a solution to any problem that humankind has faced. And I think that [we as] leaders need to fully grasp this.

Juan Gonzalez: Did you ever expect, when you were a parish priest, that there would be so much progressive development, so many liberal and rebel leaders, really, coming to power in so many of the governments throughout Latin America?

Fernando Lugo: I think Latin America is changing. More than progressive governments or leftist governments, I think that there is a citizen consciousness that has grown and that calls into question and somehow sets the framework for the direction that national leaders need to have. I think that the major force — in our national constitution, we say that sovereignty resides with the people, and it is the people’s power, when it is organized, is to set out the direction for countries. And I think that’s what’s happening in Latin America.

To read the complete transcript of Democracy Now!’s interview with Fernando Lugo, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Bishop of the Poor” Elected as President of Paraguay
John Pilger on Resisting Empire


Anonymous said...

Lugo is wrong. Anything can be judged from any standpoint. Whether the resulting analysis is useful in practice is another matter. Pastoral theologies don't stand above or apart from doctrine and/or dogma. They stand and fall together, eh?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Actually, I think people distinguish between dogmatic and pastoral theology all the time. "Judging" something is one thing, actually living life can be something quite different.

I remember reading once the words of a mother of a young gay man who had committed suicide. This poor woman's religious convictions on the "immorality" of homosexual behavior contributed to her son's death. After a conversion experience - one that now sees her advocating for gay people - she now says: "Once my beliefs shaped my experiences. Now my experiences shape my beliefs." Powerful words.

From my perspective, doctrines should emerge (and always have emerged) from the pastoral reality, from people's lived experience via a process of discernment that is both personal and collective. It can be a very lengthy, often messy process, to be sure. Yet how can such an essential process within our living tradition continue if it's forever held in check by established doctrines and laws that are themselves the result of previous generation's experience and limited knowledge on complex realities such as sexuality?

I also think that in the final analysis experience and compassion trump doctrine and legalism.