Maike Hickson

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German bishops have been funding the Liberation Theology connected to the Amazon Synod for decades

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October 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In light of the October 6-27 Pan-Amazon Synod in Rome, LifeSiteNews reached out to Adveniat and Misereor – the two relief agencies of the German Bishops' Conference – asking whether, and to what extent, they have funded theologians or institutions of Liberation Theology, especially in Brazil. The German Bishops' Conference has provided Liberation Theology efforts with about 26 million euros over the past few decades – and during a time when Liberation Theology was censored and heavily criticized by the Vatican

The reason for concentrating on Brazil is that from thence come several key organizers or inspirers of the Amazon Synod: Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Professor Paulo Suess, and Leonardo Boff. We therefore asked specifically about Kräutler and Suess' Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI); the Latin American Bishops' Conference, CELAM (which has often been a promoter of Liberation Theology and which is part of the Amazon Synod-organizing network REPAM); Amerindia, which is a prominent group of Liberation theologians, among them Boff and Suess; and Gustavo Gutiérrez's Bartholmé de Las Casas Institut in Lima (Gutiérrez apparently invented the term Liberation Theology).

CELAM was essentially the seedbed for Liberation Theology. As the progressive-leaning journalist John Allen reported in 2007: 

“Though the phrase will probably not appear in any official document [of Aparecida], liberation theology in some ways has been the Banquo’s ghost of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, a spectral presence which has loomed over the discussions. [...] In historical perspective, one could argue that the CELAM gathering in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 amounted to liberation theology’s coming-out party; Puebla, Mexico, in 1979 its high-water mark; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1992 its Waterloo. On that continuum, Aparecida may be remembered as the moment liberation theology's wheat was separated from its chaff. Without ever declaring it as their intention, the bishops gathered at the largest Marian sanctuary in the southern hemisphere are, in effect, deciding which aspects of liberation theology will endure as permanent contributions to Catholic thought and pastoral practice.”

LifeSite has already published a detailed report on the fact that the German bishops' relief agencies greatly helped to organize and fund the Amazon Synod. 

The research has brought forth the following result: over the course of the last decades, the German bishops have spent more than 26 million euros in support of a theology that had been recurrently under critical scrutiny from the Vatican, up until Pope Francis' election in 2013. 

In the following, LifeSite shall now present the additional answers which we have received from Adveniat and Misereor.

Adveniat:

  • Gave the Conselho Ingigenista Missionário (Indigenist Missionary Council) over years each 45,000 euro, for missionary, educational, but also for political work (such as defending the indigenous's rights before the capital city Brasilía);
  • Paid 274,000 euro to CELAM for various projects in 2018 alone;
  • Supported Amerindia between 2008 and 2018 with 80,500 euro;
  • Gave, between 1982 and 1990, 52,000 euro to Leonardo Boff's theological journal Concilium;
  • Supported the Bartholomé de Las Casas Institute (founded by Gutiérrez) in Lima with 530,000 euros (for 23 different projects) since 1997

Misereor:

  • As Ralph Allgaier, Misereor's press speaker, told LifeSite: “CIMI is a long-term partner organization of Misereor.” From the 1980s on until today, Misereor gave CIMI the total sum of 22,597,494 euro in support of its projects and work, to include work in the field[s] of education, health, and development.”
  • Misereor paid over the last two decades for 39 different CELAM projects (for education, political matters) with altogether 1,879,777.51 euro. As Ralph Allgaier points out: “For decades, Misereor has been active in the Amazon, or Latin America, on the level of episcopal conferences such as Medellín (1968), Puebla (1979), Santo Domingo (1992), and Aparecida (2007). Aparecida has pointed to the special situation of the Amazon and decided that the Church should take action in this regard.”
  • Amerindia: “Misereor supports Amerindia upon request from bishops in Latin America [sic],” explains Allgaier. “Especially at the conferences in Santo Domingo (1992) and Aparecida (2007), Amerindia has received support. Last, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB, as President of CELAM, supported in 2007 Amerindia in its [accompaniment] of the conference of the Latin American bishops.” Since 2006, Misereor gave Amerindia 212,000 euro.
  • From 1998 to 2017, G. Gutiérrez’s Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas received 749,403.35 euro, part of which was used for the establishment of base communities.

Summing up this presentation, one may easily see that the German Bishops' Conference has provided Liberation Theology with about 26 million euros over the recent past.

The history of German influence on events in the Universal Church can be traced back to the Second Vatican Council. 

In one specific instance, one can even show a direct personal connection between Liberation Theology and the German relief agencies: Dr. Markus Büker, who today works for Misereor, earlier was one of the members of the group Amerindia who counseled the Latin American bishops during their Aparecida conference in 2007. As we reported above, it was Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga Rodgrigez who at the time invited this group of liberation theologians as counselors of the Aparecida gathering. Büker, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the thought of the German liberation theologian Professor Paulo Suess, thus is a direct bridge between Liberation Theology and the German Bishops' Conference.

As Father Ralph M. Wiltgen shows in his authoritative history of the Second Vatican Council – The Rhine Flows into the Tiber – the German bishops, with some other bishops' conferences such as the Austrian and the Belgian, took a leading role in pushing Vatican II in a progressivist direction. With the crucial help of Father Karl Rahner, for example, a scheme dedicated to the special role of the Blessed Mother was discarded, the promotion of the permanent diaconate was presented (something that many conservative prelates at the time saw as a danger for weakening the priesthood), and the aspect of collegiality was promoted.

Wiltgen shows that at that time, the German bishops had already been heavily funding many dioceses in Latin America and this had an influence upon the Council: “Superiors general and missionary bishops born in the countries which made up the European alliance gave it their support almost without exception. And the alliance also received the support of numerous other missionary bishops and bishops of Latin America countries who were grateful for the very generous financial assistance which they had received from Cardinal Frings [the leader of the progressive European Alliance] during the preceding years through his two fund-raising agencies, Misereor and Adveniat. Many of those who used the occasion of the Council to visit Cardinal Frings and thank him personally found themselves joining the alliance.”

Bishop Overbeck – who is, as bishop of Essen, responsible for Adveniat – admitted at a recent September 25 press conference that “we are co-responsible” for the preparations of the Amazon Synod. 

Pope Francis has invited both priests heading Adveniat and Misereor – Pirmin Spiegel and Michael Heinz – to participate in the Amazon Synod. Two other prelates, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the President of the German Bishops' Conference, and Bishop Bernardo Johannes Bahlmann, OFM, of Brazil will participate. Bahlmann collaborates closely with the German bishops' relief agencies and will be one of the speakers at an event this November, where Misereor and Adveniat, among other German institutions, will try to draw out the conclusions from the Amazon Synod for Germany. 

At that conference, Austrian Bishop Erwin Kräutler – who has worked closely with the German relief agencies for many years – and the German Professor Paulo Suess will also be speaking. The latter two have also been invited to participate at the Amazon Synod, with both being the key figures at the pre-synodal council. They are now being called the key authors of the synod's working document. 

Misereor is already presenting eight events that will take place in Germany after the Amazon Synod. Those events will involve German Synod participants, such as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Msgr. Pirmin Spiegel, Bishop Bernardo Bahlmann, and Misereor representative Dr. Markus Büker. The latter will speak on the topic: “The Amazon: A Synod that Changes the Church?”

There are many signs that the German bishops continue to influence the Universal Church in a rather disproportionate manner, thus confirming the suspicion that the Rhine still flows into the Tiber, now by way of the Amazon.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.