An Interview With Gonzalo Ituarte on Maya Theology

The Church Weakened Its Social Leadership: Ituarte

Gonzalo Ituarte

Gonzalo Ituarte

** “Without the contributions of liberation theology, one cannot understand what happens today in the Vatican”

By: Blanche Petrich

Fray Gonzalo Ituarte Verduzco, provincial of the Dominican order in Mexico, assures that without the contributions liberation theology that was profiled in the 1960s and 70s –the era of the “red bishops” and persecution against the progressive clergy in Latin America– “one cannot understand what is happening today in the Vatican; one cannot understand Pope Francisco,” although the Argentine prelate comes from a current of conservative thought. He asserts this from a trajectory of almost three decades of construction of a different theology, at the side of don Samuel Ruiz, which placed the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas team in confrontation with the Vatican.

The former Vicar of the diocese that transformed the profile of Chiapas in the last century, a participant in the failed peace negotiations between the federal government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army in San Andrés Larráinzar and the parish priest of Ocosingo, at the epicenter of the conflict, Ituarte Verduzco gives the benefit of the doubt to the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now anointed as head of the Catholic Church, before the denunciations expressed about his complicity or silence in the face of the State terrorism that the Argentinian military dictatorship exercised.

–Yes, I give him the benefit of the doubt, because I give myself the same. I have lived an evolution; coming from a traditional Catholic family, with a very conservative view as student at the Latin American University. And because just like so many people in countries where there have been dictatorships, clerics had different capacities and lucidity in relation to the State and the context. The fact that Pope Francisco was not a militant opponent of the dictatorship does not necessarily make him an active accomplice. People go on changing, taking consciousness. Bergoglio was institutional and had the difficult papal role, with the obligation of protecting the Company of Jesus and the people with which he worked.

In the 90,s Ituarte lived in the headlights of the media, frequently as spokesperson for the bishop, as the port office for the denunciations and calls for attention from the communities of his diocese, since before the Zapatista Uprising until the failed dialogue in San Andrés (1995-1996). He was secretary of the National Mediation Commission (Conai, its initials in Spanish) and it fell to him, on the eve of the Acteal Massacre, to warn the deaf ears of the Chiapas government of the tragedy that was approaching (December 22, 1997). Since 2005, when he was elected the provincial for his congregation, that of the Preachers, he disappeared from the public scene. Now he returns to the arena and, in an interview, expresses optimism in the face of the change in the Vatican leadership.

Pope Francisco, seen from the rebel Church

–A Jesuit pope, Latin American, who opts for the name of Francisco as a signal for putting the vision of the poor at the center: how is he seen from the band of religious folks that, like you, lived the route of the option for the poor?

–Through the instinct of the hope that there is in Christianity we find very positive signs. We don’t want to be ingenious, because a structure like that of the Church, with its more than a billion affiliated and with all the factors that fall into it, does not change so quickly and radically. A person, although he may have a conservative formation from a doctrinal point of view, but with a beginning and a social practice like that of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, indeed generates a different possibility. We hope that he attains it, with consistency, with perseverance, with spirit and solidarity.

–What elements, beyond the image and the gestures, seem hopeful in Pope Francisco?

–Since 200 years ago there has not been a pope that has opted for the priesthood not in a diocese but in a religious congregation. Besides, the Jesuits’ order has the logic of community life, close to the reality.

–How can he be different, because of having been a cardinal not diocesan?

–There is more feeling of itinerancy, of change, of advance, of the recognition of plurality, a broader vision of the Church, because the priests in congregations have more freedom and mobility by belonging to communities, not having properties, although sometimes we get trapped. But basically we take the oath of poverty to not be tied to our goods, our territory.

–With the new papacy, what’s going to happen with liberation theology?

–The debate about liberation theology passes to a second level, because it is also evolving. Liberation theology, as we live it, took the paradigm of the class struggle, the struggle for equality and justice as a central theme. We’re not going to have a Church like don Samuel’s again; that already passed. Today there is a contextual theology with a perspective from different environments and spaces. For example: feminist theology, theologies from the African, Latin American and Indian cultures and realities. The class struggle is no longer at the center.

But without liberation theology one cannot understand what is happening now in the Vatican, one cannot understand the current pope. Even with the incomprehension that did exist, the Church was touched by that era; it was enormously enriched.

Nevertheless, theology continues evolving. For example, today there is a new evaluation of cultures, which has permitted Indian theology to evolve. It is profoundly revolutionary that from the peoples of Central America and Mexico, basically the Maya culture, a theology is being developed from their cultures, not from Western ideology; that the ones who are writing this story are indigenous theologians. It is something very new, which is escaping the Western paradigms. Faith is visualized from the Indian cosmovision, with its myths, rituals and traditions. And dimensions continue appearing that are not going to have the name liberation theology, but that come from there and are profoundly liberating.

–Where, concretely, is this being generated?

–Chiapas, definitely, Guatemala, El Salvador, Yucatán. They meet systematically, do a review of their own tradition, of the old Maya testament contrasted with Western tradition and are seeing the different dimensions. That gives them a re-affirmation to dialogue as equals. And the women’s perspective: there are very lucid theologies that are opening paths for liberation. And the theology of migration: the Bible is the book of migrations; it is the fruit of many cultures that interact and Enright each other.

Saving an enormous distance

–The Church’s base communities, the liberation theologians, the religious people that were active in the option for the poor always paddled against the current of dominant ideas in Rome. The distance has been abysmal. How can one be saved now?

–It is difficult for a person that lives in an intellectual world, so far from the reality of the Latin American poor, as the high spheres are in Rome, to understand what was gestating and developing there below. The problem is that the Church transferred so much power to the papacy that it weakened the leadership of the social church, the diocese and the local pastors.

–Are there clear signs of that about which you speak –Bible, liberating theology or whatever it may be called in the future, commitment– is the new pope interested or will we have to point it out to him?

–The fact that he has been in close proximity with the poor makes me hope that it is indeed on his horizon. Argentina, with its crisis, with the recent struggles, including the confrontation that he has had with the current government, indicates that these themes are indeed present and he will have to address them. And we must help him.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Saturday, April 6, 2013

En español:

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