Today Catholic priests and bishops are courageously defying a Venezuelan regime that has hijacked what was once the richest nation in Latin America and driven it to poverty and despotism. At this dark hour, don’t the struggling people of Venezuela deserve some public inspiration from the first Latin American pope?
In some ways, it is but the latest reflection of a historic misunderstanding that has often led a poor and Catholic Latin America to blame its wealthy and Protestant neighbor to the north for all its woes.
For example, Pope Francis fed this trope by accusing the United States of having a “distorted view of the world.” At nearly the same time, a semiofficial Jesuit-run Vatican journal carried an article decrying an alliance between American Catholics and evangelical Protestants as an “ecumenism of hate.” On top of it all rests the old idea, still popular on the religious left, that socialism represents the Gospel ideal.
The Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg was probably closer to the mark when he recently put it this way: “Venezuela’s crisis doesn’t fit into Pope Francis’s standard way of explaining contemporary political and economic problems. It’s very hard for the pope to blame Venezuela’s problems on the tyranny of Mammon, financial speculation, free trade agreements, arms-dealers, nefarious ‘neoliberals,’ or any of his usual list of suspects.”
The ironies here are legion. In the latter half of the 20th century, Latin American liberation theologians posited a “people’s church” pitted against a “formal church” whose hierarchy was aligned to the military dictatorships that prevailed in much of the continent. Before he was elected pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio faced precisely this claim in the accusation that he did not adequately criticize the military regime that ruled his native Argentina during his time as the head of its Jesuit community.