Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI: LA Times and Latin American Catholics

Hugh Hewitt posts today a clip from the LA Times on the new pope:

VATICAN CITY — The Peruvian priest turned his back on St. Peter's Square and walked away. He did not wait for the first words of Pope Benedict XVI. No need to, he said. The priest knew where the new pope stood on the important issues. Benedict's election, he said, was a major step backward in a church already reeling from scandal, divisions and the desertions of a wayward flock."

Yes, Latin American priests know Cardinal Ratzinger very well. In the 1980s, when Marxist priests were spreading liberation theology and Communist revolution, it was Ratzinger who checkmated the movement.

Not that he did it alone. John Paul II was engaged in a life or death battle with Communism in Eastern Europe. He was not going to allow it to triumph in Latin America. The man that John Paul II charged with winning the battle in Latin America was Joseph Ratzinger.

The confrontation here in Nicaragua was especially dramatic. The Communists had seized control of Nicaragua and were in the process of installing a classic Marxist dictatorship. When they shut down the country's leading newspaper La Prensa, the government's excuse was straight out of 1984: La Prensa said there was no freedom of press in Nicaragua--that was a lie, so we had to stop that.

Aiding the Communists were a group of Marxist priests, some of whom held positions in the Marxist government. Their plan was to replace the Catholic Church loyal to Jesus Christ with a "People's Church" that would be controlled by the Communist party--who in Nicaragua went by the name, the Sandinistas.

When John Paul II came to Nicaragua, he lowered the boom. His plane touched down in Managua airport, the pope came off, and there in the reception line was one of the Marxist priests--still holding on to his government position. This was in direct defiance of John Paul II's orders that no priest was to hold government power. With television cameras blazing, John Paul II ignored diplomatic protocol, put his finger in the priest's face and told him: you must regularize your position with the Church--now!

In the end Karl Marx fell in Nicaragua, and the cause of the Church of Jesus Christ prevailed. But the cost in Nicaragua was high, both in lives and property. Accurate figures for losses in the contra war are hard to come by, but certainly in the tens of thousands.

The economic figures are equally depressing. From 1950-1975 under the dictator Somoza (whose departure was the one good thing the Sandinistas helped achieve) economic growth was the highest in Latin America: 6.8% per year. Per capita GNP in 1977, just before the Communists took over, was $2500 per person. In 1990, when the Sandinista regime fell, per capita GNP was $500 per person. That was the great achievement of liberation theology in Nicaragua.

That is what liberation theology would have done to the rest of Latin America. That it couldn't, that it was shut down, was the work of Joseph Ratzinger.

The aging Marxist priests still left in Latin American may well be depressed: "we know where he stands." Yes, indeed. But for the rest of Catholics in Latin America, Pope Benedict XVI is a beacon of hope.

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