“The Signs of the Times”: The Changing Faces of Liberation Theology

  • Bill Katra


Introduction: Liberation theology, briefly considered, was a tendency that grew to the proportions of a movement in the 1960s and 1970s, that primarily involving the Catholic Church and primarily played itself out in Latin America, to modify liturgy, spiritual practice, and ecumenical activity toward greater social relevance and on behalf of society’s more marginalized groups. Today, an impartial observer of events over the past half-century would not be faulted for wondering, “How was it that the deliberations of the conservative, spiritual minds at the head of the Catholic Church led to the emergence of those politically potent and socially disruptive doctrines?” Subsequent church leaders must have asked themselves the same painful question, because the record is clear that, in spite of a near absence of public pronouncements, since about the middle of the 1970s, they have systematically silenced or removed from their ranks the most salient of liberation voices. The inner history of those developments —that is, the thoughts, reactions, and deliberations taking place at the highest of church levels— might never be told given the Vatican’s prohibitions against public disclosure. Yet, the external evidence is plentiful. The following paragraphs focus on events over the past 50 years in tracing the emergence, and then retrenchment, of liberation theology within the Catholic Church of Latin America.