The Washington Post On Faith section came to Christmas with a political agenda. To be specific, “Catholic America” blogger Anthony Stevens-Arroyo saw Christmas as an occasion to drag out the hidebound Marxism of “liberation theology” and then pretend that Pope Benedict has favored it, when in fact he has condemned it for years.
The Christmas Eve article was headlined: “Christmas means the redistribution of wealth.” The holy day certainly should lead us to share what we have, but socialists always mistake individual giving with government taking. Stevens-Arroyo lobbed this bomb: “Christmas 2011 comes on the eve of an election year when Catholic America is confronted with an escalation in society’s class divisions and a concentration of wealth worse than under the Roman Empire.”
Stevens-Arroyo cited the Huffington Post, which talks of economic theory in between the articles on celebrity centerfolds, and unloads the usual socialist claptrap about “society’s structural sin” as if it was implicit in the New Testament:
The concept of society’s structural sin that is suggested in Pauline teaching was crystallized in the theology of liberation when it appeared among Latin American theologians after the II Vatican Council. Based on a socio-economic secular analysis of history in secular academia, theologians like Father Gustavo Gutierrez spoke of structural sin. Upholding an unjust political and economic system would only perpetuate injustice, they argued. Good people could be trapped into a web of doing bad things because society fostered a way of acting that normalized immoral behavior...
Christmas 2011 is not a call to violent revolution. But a retrospective look at the past year offers inescapable evidence that social, economic and political structures are undergoing rapid and sweeping change. Whether it is the Arab Spring abroad or the mobilization of the American middle-class at home to attack economic imbalance, such movements have exposed the instability of national and international institutions. We are being called not only to individual reform of thought and action, but concern for the structures of society that shape individuals.
Liberation theology has been in retreat for decades now. In 1986, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger denounced liberation theology in an official Vatican instruction, writing “it would be criminal to take the energies of popular piety and misdirect them toward a purely earthly plan of liberation, which would very soon be revealed as nothing more than an illusion and a cause of new forms of slavery. Those who in this way surrender to the ideologies of the world and to the alleged necessity of violence are no longer being faithful to hope, to hope's boldness and courage, as they are extolled in the hymn to the God of mercy which the Virgin teaches us.”
But Stevens-Arroyo tried to make the Pope’s New Year’s address into a socialist document:
If Benedict XVI were a candidate for the presidency of the United States, his call for “redistribution of wealth” would be controversial. Can it be dismissed as left-wing socialism? No doubt enemies of Catholic social justice will tar the pontiff in this way. But the ideal “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need,” doesn’t originate with Marx. It comes from the Acts of the Apostles (4:34-35; 1:44-45).
This Christmas 2011, then, presents Catholic America with a charge that comes directly from the Holy Father to transform the words “Prince of Peace” into an agenda for direct Catholic action. “Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all,” states the pope, adding poignantly, “no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice.”
But the Pope’s document isn’t primarily about the maldistribution of wealth, but about the necessity of educating young people into carrying out the Church’s message of peace and justice on Earth through a civilization of love, which is not the same as a Marxist utopia. He does speak of “adequate mechanisms” for the “redistribution of wealth,” but also for “the promotion of growth” and development of poorer nations.
In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution.
The Pope quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which must offend Stevens-Arroyo with its mention of safeguarding people’s goods: “Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity.”