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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Pope Francis appointee as archbishop in Peru favors liberation theology, ‘ecological’ agenda

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

February 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Less than a month after Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne tendered his resignation as Archbishop of Lima, Peru, having reached his 75th birthday, the Vatican announced his replacement as Fr. Carlos Castillo Mattasoglio, a university professor and parish priest known for his affinity with liberation theologians and his personal opposition to his doctrinally sound predecessor.

The French non-official daily of the Catholic episcopate, La Croix, spoke of the nomination as “another radical change at the head of one of the most important dioceses of Latin America.” The speed with which Thorne was deposed – oftentimes, bishops who tender their mandatory resignation when they turn 75 will stay on a few months or years before it is accepted by Rome – is reminiscent of the way in which Archbishop Hector Aguer was replaced within days by the ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, Bishop Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernandez, a close confidant of Pope Francis. Aguer was even ordered to leave the archdiocese immediately.

In both cases, staunch defenders of Catholic doctrine and defenders of life have been replaced by tenants of the “theology of the people” – in the case of Fernandez – or the indigenist “theology of regeneration” by which Mattasoglio wants to “rethink the faith” through the “desire for interior reconstruction” so that the individual can recover his or her “social force.” In what Mattasoglio’s admirers present as a “rethinking” of liberation theology, his “regeneration theology” particularly appeals to young people, according to former writings of the new Archbishop of Lima.

Regeneration, according to Mattasoglio, is a theological proposal that also aims at “regenerating obsolete” structures of the Church of today in Latin America, as well as promoting a “sustainable society” with as a priority the fight against “environmental destruction.”

Seen through the eyes of a left-leaning blogger, the new Archbishop must have been chosen for his personal “apocalyptic” emphasis on the ecological crisis, for which Cardinal Cipriani had little time. Cardinal Petro Barreto of Peru, who was given his hat by Pope Francis last June, has the same “ecological” penchant. This looks like a pattern, and it fits in neatly with the concerns of the United Nations and other internationalist bodies intent on changing hearts and minds, and society “for the Planet.”

According to the Spanish-speaking website infovaticana.com, quoting unnamed sources, Castillo had links many years back with the Communist Revolutionary Party and with the terrorist group “Shining Path” in Peru. Infovaticana columnist La Cigüeña De La Torre called his nomination “a summit of disgrace.” Pope Francis “has chosen the worst for Lima,” he wrote.

Mattasoglio was born in 1950, first studied sociology and only later joined the seminary in Lima. He graduated in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1983 and was ordained at the relatively late age of 34, having deliberately chosen to follow lay studies before preparing to become a priest.

His official biography published on the Vatican website does not underscore Mattasoglio’s early and ongoing friendship with several figureheads of the Liberation theology movement. Dominican Gustavo Gutierrez, who was considered as its “father” and gave it its name, was close to Mattasoglio in the young man’s formative years at the Peruvian National Union of Catholic Students. When Gutierrez turned 90 last year, the future Archbishop of Lima fondly recalled in an interview the lengthy debates that he and other priests and lay people had with him about Liberation theology and the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” which is still at the heart of his own thinking.

Another great friend was Cardinal Juan Landazuri Ricketts, a former archbishop of Lima who ordained him in 1984. Landazuri, a Franciscan, was also known for his support for liberation theologians. At the end of the 1960s, he left the Archbishop's Palace of Lima to live in a small house in a poor area of the city.

Mattasoglio is also close to Bishop Luis Bambarén, a 90-year-old Jesuit who will be one of the two consecrators when he is ordained Bishop on March 2 in Lima. Bambarén was formerly the auxiliary bishop of Lima where he called himself the “bishop of the young peoples,” and president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference. Bambarén was involved in socialist politics and had several spectacular public disputes with Cardinal Thorne.

Upon learning of Mattasoglio’s nomination, Bambarén presented him with the crosier Cardinal Landazuri had bequeathed him. “I never used it out of respect but it seems right that I should give it to you. He received you into seminary, he ordained you and now he’s also handing you his crosier,” he said.

Gambarén has close links with Pope Francis, whom he worked with during two former synods. He told El Comercio in Peru: “That’s why when they named him Pope in March 2013, I traveled in June to greet him. He said to me: ‘You’re the revolutionary bishop from Peru.’ I answered: ‘And you’re the revolutionary Pope.’ He took me by the arm and said to me: “Then we shall walk together.”

If this is Mattasoglio’s entourage, he himself fits in well. His doctoral thesis on Bartolomé de Las Casas, the XVIth century Dominican who painted the Spanish Conquistadors uniformly black, insists on the “innate virtue” that religious claimed to have found in all the Indians he met in the just-discovered Americas, and their supposed capacity to love the Christian enemies who came to exploit them; a goodness that made their miraculous conversion by God himself possible. Some of these themes are still running strong in the Marxist anti-colonialist and indigenist streak of thought that is so prevalent in Latin America.

As a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Mattasoglio was in direct opposition to its then Grand Chancellor, Cardinal Cipriani, who tried to quash the unorthodox teaching that was rampant. In 2013, the Cardinal decided not to renew the canonical mandate by which Castillo and three other professors were allowed to teach theology.

At that point, the university had already lost its “Catholic and Pontifical” labels in 2012 under Pope Benedict XVI because it refused to obey the new ecclesiastical rules governing officially Catholic colleges. It also refused to implement Cipriani’s orders regarding Mattasoglio.

Mattasoglio, according to sources quoted by Infovaticana, then entered into revolt against his Archbishop, refusing to accept pastoral responsibilities in the diocese and staying away from retreats and liturgical functions where all the local priests were invited and expected to attend.

The critical situation at the Catholic University of Peru was solved through a direct intervention of Pope Francis: the “Catholic” and “Pontifical” labels were retrieved in October 2016 “ad experimentum” for five years. Cardinal Versaldi of the Congregation for Catholic Education was named interim Grand Chancellor. As the Archbishop of Lima who normally occupies this function, Mattassoglio will retrieve the function when he takes over from Cipriani in March.

In many ways, Mattasoglio speaks and thinks as Pope Francis, pleading for “discernment” rather than saying “this is allowed and that is not.”

Over the last year, Mattasoglio has been the parish priest of St. Francis the Apostle in the Rimac district of Lima. He chose to say the main Sunday Mass in the open air, in a park where he shares space with a five-a-side football terrain and a skateboard terrain.

“The Pope says we should be there where the new narratives are; we cannot evangelize by saying here are the norms. All that is beautifully present, but also the narratives of ill-treated people, or in this nice game (of five-a-side football), or in this skating, all of that is glorifying God,” he said during a Sunday homily.

In an interview with Caretas on Thursday, Mattasoglio said he wanted to distinguish himself as the new Archbishop of Lima by introducing “reflection” rather than preconceptions. He quoted Pope Francis saying the Church is “two or three centuries late.” “We haven’t accompanied man in his own quests, we are afraid of searches because they are not under our control,” he explained.

According to Mattasoglio, calling Liberation theology “left wing or Marxist is stupid” because Marxism “creates liberation in this world, without a transcendent North.” “We believe in this world and in the other,” he said.

But the Vatican condemned Liberation theology, the interviewer remarked.

Mattasoglio responded,“Never condemned it. Why? Because it is an evangelical element. It would have condemned Christ. Christ is Christ the liberator. That’s in the Bible. Obviously, there was a call to correct certain of its aspects that could be interpreted in different ways, and that besides, because of the context of the times, were revolutionary. They thought Revolution and liberation were the same thing. Revolution is an action taken by some, that in some cases has a violent note, and not in others.”

He added that Gustavo Gutierrez is today “an Orthodox theologian of the Church,” because the church never corrected his theory as such: “He was condemned by conservatives, not officially by the Church.” Mattasoglio says that for 20 years Gutierrez’ theory has been assessed by the Church and that he has corrected all that was asked of him.

The interviewer noted that Mattasoglio is taking over from someone who had as one of his pillars the right to life, the opposition to the right to abortion, sexual and reproductive rights.

Mattasoglio replied: “What I think is that the Pope Francis has opened an era in which we'll have to see how much of what we are saying has important aspects that we need to keep and what new things are presenting things that we need to clarify. Because there are many things that are more complex.”

Like abortion, for example? asked the interviewer. He did not get a clear answer:

"With abortion, in principle, there is no way of going back. Every abortion is of itself the destruction of a life. As long as there's a doubt, you can't decide. So I prefer to believe that there is a life and that it stopped. But there are many people you need to help not to live in trauma because of such a thing. This is at the moral level. At the legal level, I haven't studied the theme much, but it seems to me problematic when someone wants to make laws and the Church is trying to stop them. What is necessary is a clarifying dialogue, not to turn this into a political fight, because life is a question of education. I think people need to reflect and decide freely. If they make a mistake, we go on explaining, helping them to become aware.”

The future archbishop also has his ideas on women's priesthood. “It's an old problem in the Church. There are commissions that are studying it. The position of the Church is that the group Jesus charged with directing the faithful were all men. Until now, that has been respected. However, the modern world also has a range of elements saying other things can exist. There needs to be a debate. It's difficult, but I don't say it’s impossible.”

Given all this, it will not be surprising if Mattasoglio plays a major role at the upcoming Pan-Amazonian synod in Rome, where the issues of the environment, theology of the people, “Indian” theology and the role of women in liturgy will certainly play a large part. Thorne would have been very much out of place.

Peru — one of the most profoundly Catholic countries not only in Latin America but in the world, where 89 percent of the population are baptized Catholics and 78 percent go to church every Sunday — will be a heavyweight at the Synod. With a new Archbishop of Lima so well in tune with the Synod's objectives, as outlined in the preparatory document, things will certainly be a lot easier.

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