The pope's mixed legacy with Latino Catholics
Pope Benedict alienated Latino Catholics because of his fierce opposition to a popular movement in Latin America, scholars say.
February 15th, 2013
11:13 AM ET

The pope's mixed legacy with Latino Catholics

By John Blake, CNN

They are the largest group in the Roman Catholic Church, and the next pope might even come from their midst. Yet few have heard how Latino Catholics regard the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

For many Latino Catholics, Benedict’s legacy is mixed. They will forever tie him to his fierce opposition to liberation theology, a controversial movement that sought to improve the impoverished lives of Latinos living under oppressive governments.

Benedict, who resigned Monday citing his advancing age, was one of the church’s most visible opponents of liberation theology, a movement that began in Latin America in the 1960s. It mingled Marxist critiques of poverty with an insistence that the church display a “preferential option” for the poor.

Benedict’s view created more distance between priests and the poor people they served, says Jennifer Hughes, a Catholic Church scholar at the University of California, Riverside.

"In Latin America, both as Cardinal Ratzinger and as the pope, Benedict devoted himself to the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of liberation theology," Hughes says. "During this process, many priests and bishops withdrew from their ministry in the poorest communities.”

Benedict’s opposition to liberation theology was ironic because he shared many of its concerns, others say. He was critical of capitalism and thought that Christian leaders should be concerned with the economic and political liberation of their followers.

Pope Benedict addresses priests of Rome

Benedict spoke out against unrestrained capitalism, income inequality and global warming. As recently as December, he said in a speech that Christians should work for a more “equitable sharing of the Earth’s resources.”

“Benedict was a vociferous advocate for the poor and strongly opposed income inequality,” says James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life."  “On that mark, he was as progressive as they come.”

Yet Benedict was suspicious of liberation theologians because some aligned themselves with political movements that sought to overthrow repressive governments in Latin America, other historians say.

The prospect of the church aligning itself with political movements alarmed Benedict because of his own upbringing, says Ramon Luzarraga, a religion professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio.  He saw such an alliance between church and state destroy his native Germany. Catholic and Protestant leaders help put Hitler in power, Luzarraga says.

“Liberation theologians are comfortable working with government and political parties on the left while Benedict is more comfortable remaining neutral,” Luzarraga says.

Benedict’s impact on Latin America is important because the region will shape much of the church’s future. Latino Catholics are the largest group in the Catholic Church. Latin America's Catholics make up 39% of the world’s Catholic population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Video: Pope's resignation is noble, historian says

Latin America is also home to the two most populous Catholic countries: Brazil and Mexico (the U.S. has the fourth-largest Catholic population), the Pew Center found.

Even without Benedict’s opposition to liberation theology, more Latino Catholics are drifting away from the Vatican, another scholar says.

Under Pope Benedict, a growing number of Latino Catholics were no longer regarding the Vatican’s teaching as an important element in their faith, says Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Latino Catholics traditionally believe the church should give more emphasis to social justice rather than issues such as abortion and contraception, Dillon says. A majority of Latino Catholics favor same-sex marriage and women’s ordination, she says.

“As Hispanic Catholics in the U.S achieve upward mobility, they may become a little more conservative on social justice and concern for the poor,” Dillon says, “but currently many of the issues that are especially important to Catholics in Latin America are also very important to Hispanic Catholics in the U.S.”

At the same time, Latino Catholics are also drifting away from liberation theology, says Carl Raschke, a religion professor at the University of Denver.

The theology is now perceived more as a Western intellectual movement that does not understand the revival of spirituality among indigenous people in Latin America, Raschke says.

“Liberation theology is for the most part out of favor in Latin America because it has been largely deemed by indigenous people as increasingly irrelevant,” Raschke says.

Pentecostal-flavored religion, not liberation theology, is now sweeping Latin America, says Daniel Ramirez, a religion professor at the University of Michigan.

“Although they [liberation theologians] talked about the option for the poor, the poor ultimately opted for Pentecostalism,” Ramirez says.

The Vatican can bridge some of the distance with Latino Catholics with one dramatic action, some scholars say.

If the next pope is Latino, the impact will be epic, says Luzarraga.

“It would be the same effect as [Pope] John Paul II had on Polish people,” Luzarraga says. “”It would be an announcement to the world that Latino Catholics have finally come into their own.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Mass • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • Pope John Paul II • Same-sex marriage • South America • Vatican

soundoff (361 Responses)
  1. vrt


    February 15, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  2. Renfro Z

    A big criminal is big from success. Crime pays very well indeed.

    February 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Renfro Z

      Dare ye to go over there and tell them that.

      February 15, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • saggyroy

      Bush (I don't remember which one) granted the pope immunity from prosecution in the U.S.

      February 16, 2013 at 7:09 am |
  3. Dark Matter

    Jeses the Christ sips on your prayers for his afternoon tea; each bleeding soul feeding his hunger but he never feels satisfied. Each pile of decomposition serves only to bend his will to feed. Christians happily peel off their skins to give Jesus his dessert.

    February 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  4. Bostontola

    This pope wrote a book debunking many beliefs that people used to swear by. If you disagreed with them you would be attacked. We should expect the trend of silly stories getting debunked to continue.

    February 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Akira

      As many Christians do not consider Catholicism to be a real Christian religion, it won't matter; they'll just dismiss his book anyway.

      February 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Bostontola

      That is another key point. With so many flavors of Christianity (never mind other religions), who decides which is right? The answer doesn't really matter. Various sects are so splintered, if one was right, only a small minority would be right and lay people have no way to objectively decide. What kind of god would create such a maze for people to navigate?

      February 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  5. Mohammad A Dar

    Ever since the Pope declare his resignation, strange things are reported like giant fireballs or meteorites are falling from the skies, is armageddon coming?

    February 15, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yes. Did you miss the memo?

      February 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      yes, I did, I heard Zombies are coming too!

      February 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nah, that one was just a prank.

      February 15, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • saggyroy

      That reminds me, I am almost out of napkins.

      February 16, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  6. Dark Matter

    Religion of any kind is an afront to the true nature of reality. Where the christ has succeeded, so will his followers slip in the gore of all previous brain-fouled sycophants.

    February 15, 2013 at 5:34 pm |


      February 15, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      The Dark Matter shall consume you, too, godless god.

      February 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Dark Matter

      Moby Schtick, indeed. However my sleep will be delicious and the christians have already sold their soul for a one-way ticket to their eternal blood baths.

      February 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  7. CNN Commentary

    Note the picture above the article. This rare and previously unpublished photo shows the pope instructing the alter boys prior to being led out to perform their duties.

    February 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  8. EX catholic

    IDOLATRY is a SIN it is NOT a religion.

    February 15, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • His panic


      February 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Salero21

      Right on bro tell it like it is an aberrant Sin.

      February 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

      AvdBerg is a TROLL on this site, they are proven liars and are only here to sell their book and website for their cult.

      Click the report abuse link to get rid of this troll

      February 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      @Ex-Catholic, ya it comes from the mouth of a person, who probably enjoyed and practiced Catholic teaching of adulatory all his life, until got caught with pants down, goon.

      February 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Akira

      Oh, for goodness sake, Catholics are not worshipping the statue, but the person it's supposed to represent.
      Just as you don't worship the cross, which is prominently dispayed in Christian Churches, but the person who died on it.
      Get a grip.

      February 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • Sorry

      Akira usually agree with you, but the RCC dumped the 2nd commandment when they realized they could make a good buck selling a zombie jew on a stick to all the faithful, not to mention a sweet madona dressed in rhinestone sitting on a pedestal of abalone shell. all about cash flow!!

      February 15, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Akira

      Sorry, yes, but that wasn't the original intention, although that is a BIG perk.
      Originally, they didn't violate the 2nd Commandment, because it pertained to their religion, and not the heathen others.

      February 15, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Akira

      Although I will say a snow-globe with the Virgin Mary inside of it is über tacky.

      February 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • EX catholic


      I DID NOT enjoyed Neither taugh catholicism, I was just baptized and confirmed as a child and a regular attendant to their cultic mass, nothing more than that. So Speak for yourself you blind follower of Mohammad the Pedophile founder of Terrorist harboring Islam.

      February 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • EX catholic


      Either you're blind to the obvious, looking the other way or burying your head in the sand. From the Pope down to the most ignorant Catholic they all do worship the Paintings and the Statues. Whether they do it daily or once a year it does not matter, they DO IT. Just go to Google Images and do a Search about and your will see IF YOU CAN SEE AT ALL. The Pope and all of the Hierarchies down to the Foolish followers doing it all over the World.

      Do us all a Favor and Inform yourself before spreading your absolute ignorance on the subject.

      February 15, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • His panic

      Exactly and accurate to the letter as ex-catholic has said! Is useless trying to deny something so obvious and so well know. Catholics do in fact bow down and worship the paintings and the statues.

      They give them names, they sing praises to them, they point to the painting and statues and say: "That's Mary, or Peter!" Maybe in the US of A you don't see much of that happening, because Catholics there are embarra$$ed of it. But in the rest of the World, especially in Spanish speaking countries, in France, Italy and the Philippines that's what you see all the time. They do a lot of gross stuff that is beyond comprehension.

      February 15, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • Salero21


      Wow, your supine ignorance of your own religion and your failed attempt to deny something that is known the world over is appalling beyond belief!

      February 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  9. Dark Matter

    When will the christians awake from their tortured naps to see their tormenter dwells in the pages of the bible? Close the book. Burn it. Run. Perhaps there is yet time for redemption.

    February 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm |


      February 15, 2013 at 4:29 pm |

      ................ GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit) .......
      ******************** and THANK GOODNESS because ..
      .... he emanates from the EVILbible.com (please visit)

      February 16, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  10. Billy Dee Williams

    @ross: I am not going to debate you because you believe in talking snakes and a magic beard man. Perhaps you should move to Afghanistan or some other zealot country where no one can question your ridiculous mythology.

    February 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  11. hypatia

    Politics as always. No God there, just a bunch of guys in dresses.

    February 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • saggyroy

      I hear the wear Spanx underneath.

      February 16, 2013 at 7:15 am |
  12. Bill Deacon

    The church is real because I was told it is real. That is as deep as I go. Goog thing I have a brain.

    February 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  13. Reasonably

    Maybe because Latinos are grumpy the Catholic church came over a few hundred years ago and subjugated their ancestors to Catholicism-Or-Else!

    February 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Traditionally Catholicism has been seen as a liberation theology in latin american countries. Certainly that may be changing, but the relationship has not been seen in that kind of negative light. If you go back to the very early history there were power relations that were viewed as oppressive long before Christianity. Again, it certainly could change, but it really has not been the sentiment in the past.

      February 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |

      Prayer? ... It only makes the person praying feel like that have done something to help,
      when in reality they are too lazy to get up off their ass and REALLY do something to help.

      ................ GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit) .......
      ******************** and THANK GOODNESS because ..
      .... he emanates from the EVILbible.com (please visit)

      February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  15. Pope Benedict XVI

    "And God said, let my servant fondle the little boy's but for only as long as his candle may burn..."

    February 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  16. Fredrick V. James

    The antiquities in the coffers of the Catholic Church, the Art, the properties, the holdings, the manuscripts...The Vatican is truly a city of gold, if they were taxed!!!!! or if there were a partial auction....the mind reels at how many millions of people would be fed, clothed, receive medical attention, what diseases could be cured...AIDS, Cancer, MS. there's no end to the good that could be accomplished. How very sad this will never happen. People will continue to live in extreme poverty and die slowly and hideously, the very same people who love the Catholic church, they'll die not realizing their church preferred to hoard wealth, have their clergy live in places and to molest their children while they hide behind their golden veil. An abomination in every true sense of the word.

    February 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Fred is personally fast approaching the number of poor fed by the Church. He should eclipse the Church in, oh probably never

      February 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Doncha Know


      That's how they keep the "Holy Spirit" interested in them. "He" is oh so attracted to pretty, expensive, shiny things.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It seems that the greatest goal of any religion is collecting as much wealth as possible for the people at the top of the pyramid. Even if I did believe in god, I would never align myself with such corrupt organizations. Their hypocrisy is intolerable.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Hey! Bill Deacon

      Did you see the BS article printed in the Salem-News, that a warrant for the arrest of old Ratzinger was issued by the ITCCS for crimes against humanity. Damn fine story wish it was true.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Singing

      Me and julio, naked in the sacristy.

      February 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Didn't see it. I get my ration of BS from the Catholic haters here on these boards

      February 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Hey! Bill Deacon

      We aim to please and inform about your disgusting belief system, thanks for caring.

      February 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • ross

      To give away the few relics that are part of the history and rituals of the Catholic Church will not abolish poverty. One must not give the poor fish, but teach them how to fish. Latin American countries are rich in resources, the corrupt rulers of some of these countries are the ones that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. The Catholic Church is one of the most charitable churches in the world, it does not have to get rid of her patrimony to continue her mission to help the most needy, not only the ones that lack material things but those poor in spirit.

      February 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • ross

      Fredrick, please see my responses regarding your argument regarding the wealth of the Catholic Church. I am a Catholic and like all Catholics think abusing priest have no place in the Catholic church and I find your judging of Catholics regarding this point insulting and unfair. I pray for the pope and for the new pope (regardless of origin, I'm from Latin America)to continue the work already started by pope Benedict to rid this most wonderful church of "the filfth" as pope Benedict called the molesting priests.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  17. Saraswati

    Looks like we're back to All Pope All the Time belief blogging.

    February 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Wish I could say I was unhappy. Obviously CNN thinks the Catholic Church is a significant factor in society, at least as far as belief is concerned

      February 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
  18. Russ

    Why did the Church reject liberation theology? 'smacks of Marxism'
    What about the indigenous people? 'preferred Pentecostalism'

    Amazing that this article never mentions something MOST consider rather germane (if not the central issue): that liberation theology by and large departs from a classic, orthodox understanding of Christianity. From Gustavo Gutierrez on, central tenets of the Christian faith are tossed aside in favor of 'liberation' so that the Jesus of liberation theology is ultimately unrecognizable to the biblical Christian – despite the fact that Jesus said "the truth will set you free."

    But, no, I guess that's not worth mentioning. Instead, the pope doesn't care as much about doctrine as he is just down on political movements. And those silly indigenous people just prefer Pentecostalism over being set free from oppressive regimes...

    February 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Notice the slight mention of how many people now view liberation theology as irrelevant? Seems the pope called it correctly. When will people learn that humans have attention spans of about a generation, governments have attention spans of a few centuries, at best. The Church has a perspective over millenia

      February 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  19. Cannuck

    The next pope should be Canadian, It's about time we had some one with Canadian Experience!

    February 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  20. The Truth

    If the Vatican auctioned just a small portion of it's treasures (gold, renaissance art, ancient texts, tapestries, etc) world hunger would be solved in less than one day.

    February 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
    • Alias

      Um, no. It would not.
      You may be able to raise enough money to feed lots of people, but the reality is most people are hungry because of government policy/corruption, civil war, and in more advanced countries, parental failures.
      Ignoring the availability of food, the fact that prices would rise, and distribution problems, you still would not see a sudden end to world hunger.
      You seem desperate if this is the best you can do to criticize the RCC.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • voodoo

      you are correct, Truth.. All those donations that should have gone to feed hungry children, never made it. Donations became part of the vaticans wealth. How else could they own billions in assets? They stole, that's what they do.

      February 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      voodoo, do you have a link to the financial statement of the Vatican? Or are you just parroting the typical anti-church blather of others?

      February 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • Bill Deacon


      Here. Stop being ignorant

      February 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So why exactly is the vatican sitting on treasures that could help millions of people? Why shouldn't the catholic church be criticized for preaching poverty from a palace?

      February 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Billy Dee Williams

      @Bill Deacon: Stop being ignorant, as in believing in creationism? As in believeing in a young earth? As in rejecting fourth grade level logic? As in turning your back on a virtual ocean of undeniable, irrefutable evidence that proves your mythology is not real? Please enlighten everyone.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • ross

      tallulah13, The Truth. Then you should ask the same of the Anglican Church of England, The Mormon Church, The Muslim religion, the Jewish Religion, the Budhist religion just to be fair. All the different Churches within Christianity and other world religions have magnificent temples, buildings of worship, churches, mosques dating back thousands of years that are the patrimony of humanity, of history. Are you also asking for those other churches and religions to also give out their history. Go travel in Asia, and you will see the Catholic Church pales in comparison to the opulent Budhist, Hindu, etc temples, and Muslim mosques.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Billy Dee Williams

      @ ross: I impressed to see you realize other religions exist. What makes your religion/god more valid than any of the other religions/gods that exist/have existed? Please explain in a ration manner.

      February 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.