The following article was posted May 15 on Catholic News Agency. The author, Alejandro Bermúdez, serves as Executive Director of CNA and ACI Prensa. Mr. Bermúdez, a Peruvian journalist, received his training in Social Communications from the University of Lima. In addition to serving as head of CNA and ACI Prensa, he is also the Latin American correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and the Spanish magazine Razón y Fe.
The earthquake that devastated the city of Managua in 1972 changed the capital of Nicaragua forever. Many areas were so utterly destroyed, that they were abandoned for good. Even today, more than 40 years later, it still looks like a post-apocalyptic city, with the old colonial cathedral and entire neighborhoods abandoned and overgrown.
Managua was therefore a surprisingly small city when the Sandinistas took control in 1979 to start their liberation theology utopia in Latin America.
The Sandinista revolution, in fact, was not only the defeat of one bloody dictatorship. It was the dawn of another, this one hostile to the United States and friendly to the Soviet Union. It also represented the dream of liberation theologians, for it was their opportunity to put their theology into action.
These theologians really were in control. It is well known that the Sandinistas, against the explicit wishes of Pope John Paul II, appointed three liberationist Catholic priests – Ernesto Cardenal, Miguel D’Escoto and Fernando Cardenal – as ministers in the Sandinista government.
Less known was that la crème de la crème of liberation theology in Latin America – Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, Jon Sobrino, Pablo Richard, Ignacio Ellacuría and many others – became a de facto advisory board of the Sandinista government. Their constant presence in Nicaragua was not accidental: at the end of the day, the Sandinista Revolution was their revolution, the opportunity not only to create a new type of government and a new type of society, but also their dreamed of a new “popular church.”
The Sandinistas – followers of the alleged KGB agent “GIDROLOG” (Carlos Fonseca) (1) – quickly got into bed with the Soviets, who assigned East Germany as the country’s guardian angel. Already feared and hated in Europe, the Stasi set out to replicate itself in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua had a government run by liberation theology priests, and guided by a liberation theology braintrust. It was a government that sent all its high level – and many of its mid-level officials – to East Berlin for Communist indoctrination and other training, and allowed the Stasi to build for Nicaragua a secret police network. Totally dependent as they were on East German money, aid, and education, and on Czechoslovakian and Bulgarian bullets, guns and truncheons (8,000 of them), are we to believe the theologians didn’t know, or is it that they didn’t care what it took to build their utopia? (2)
The question is now especially relevant 25 years after the Soviet bloc lost the Cold War. Last week, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Eastern bloc, told Catholic News Agency that the KGB “created” liberation theology. (3)
Some have howled in protest, but with heated opinions – not evidence. (4) But Pacepa’s assertion has also been made by Western intelligence sources going back to 1981. (5) He is not alone in this shocking claim.
It’s abundantly clear that even the best case scenario for Pacepa’s detractors is a situation like that in Nicaragua – where KGB and Stasi “advisors” funded and supplied material support for their friends, the liberation theologians, who were all too willing to take it. [Editor’s note: the Stasi were former East Germany secret police].
If the Soviet bloc wasn’t the mother of liberation theology, it was certainly a sinister stepmother, enlisting Catholics in a geopolitical cause and inviting them to sell their souls for funding and support.
Only the naïve can disregard the mountain of evidence connecting liberation theology with Soviet action in the region.
This evidence points to two worrisome realities: one, that the disinformation about the nature of this theology still continues; and second, that the extent of the success – or one might say, damage – caused by liberation theologians could have never been accomplished without direct Soviet assistance.
But, for the ideologically motivated, the past is forgotten as a new narrative takes hold, built, as in the Cold War, on disinformation. How else is it possible for a movement long considered passé to suddenly claim not just victory and new influence, but Pope Francis as their champion?
Of course some of the media are giddy over the prospect, running headlines like “Liberation theology finds new welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican” and “Pope declares Oscar Romero, hero to Liberation Theology, a martyr.” (4)
I personally got to know Archbishop Romero, and I nearly wrote a biography of him. So I am not anti-Romero – precisely because such headlines don’t do him justice.
But for someone like me who knew in the 1970s of this theology’s Marxist roots, it is déjà vu.
Former advocates of overt Marxist revolution now claim that liberation theology was never Marxist – and then they claim the support of Pope Francis. The wishful thinking results in these claims being reported – unquestioned – by the media.
It’s not that simple.
Writing the preface for a book in 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio wrote of Liberation Theology: “After the collapse of ‘real socialism,’ these currents of thought were plunged into confusion. Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who, anachronistically, would like to propose it again.” (6)
Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Nevertheless, liberation theologians have seized on the Pope’s concern for the poor to try to clear themselves and rise from the dustbin of history. But history is not on their side. And mercifully neither is the money and support they once had from the Eastern bloc. As for the history, Pacepa is not the only one who says that the Soviet Union saw a weapon in liberation theology that they believed would turn the tide in Latin America against the United States and the West. His version of events is supported – in whole or in part – by many other sources.
The infiltration of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and establishment and control of the Christian Peace Conference (CPC), for instance, is documented conclusively among other places in the Mitrokhin Archive, a wealth of material smuggled to the West by KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, and published by Cambridge University Professor Christopher Andrew. (7)
Memos from the archives of the Soviet Union and East Germany have also revealed clear Soviet-bloc support of liberation theology – and rage at the opposition it encountered from John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger.
This isn’t fiction, it was Soviet policy, now available for anyone interested to read for themselves.
There is a 1984 Soviet memo to this effect published by Prof. Andrew, (7) as well as similar documentation from the Stasi archives compiled by John Koehler, former AP bureau chief in both Bonn and Berlin. (7) The memos undeniably indicate a protective interest in liberation theology’s success and lay out a retaliatory campaign to do everything possible to undermine John Paul II’s Vatican for his opposition to the communist program – including liberation theology.
Western intelligence also saw this pattern. Former NSA Director Lt. Gen. William Odom wrote in his book On Internal War that “tactical approaches to religion and churches have also appeared in the Soviet pattern. Liberation theology in Latin America and the Philippines is an example.” (9)
And supporting Pacepa’s thesis is an article in the 2009 International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence by former CIA agent Robert Chapman, assigned to Latin America during the Cold War.
Like Pacepa, he says the Soviets created and disseminated liberation theology through the WCC. (10)
Pacepa’s claims about Soviet infiltration of the Medellin conference are also plausible. It was not the majority of bishops at Medellin who pushed this type of theology. It was primarily two (11) – both well-known socialists.
One was Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara of Olinda and Recife (whose process of beatification has been recently opened in his Brazilian diocese). Known as “Camara the Red,” he was a hero of the Soviet press, who famously supported socialism. (12)
The other earned his own entry in FBI’s Terrorist Photo Album. He was Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo People carry a picture of the late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero during a march ahead of the 34th anniversary of his assassination in San Salvador on March 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Orellana and his file (as quoted by a detractor of the FBI’s methods) noted:
“He runs from his diocese a network of nuns and priests and lay people that are friendly to the FDR-FMLN of El Salvador and the FLSN of Nicaragua. They collect intelligence, buy and sell guns and serve as couriers for the communist guerrillas of El Salvador. Mendez Arceo has participated in [several conferences] in which the Catholic bishops proposed the Liberation Theology option for the poor. This new theology proposes a merging of Christianity and Marxism-Leninism. CIA Mexico reports contacts between Arceo and KGB-DGI agents. … Money collected at meetings is sent to Mendez Arceo for guns for the FDR-FMLN…” (13)
Far from being non-Marxist, this theology was cozy with communism and can only be resurrected by erasing its direct connection to the violent and bloody organizations with whom it worked: the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Shining Path in Peru, or the National Liberation Army in Colombia.
Only the partisan or ignorant could deny that the Soviets and liberation theology were closely connected. To say that the connection is irrelevant because this theology would have developed anyway due to non-Soviet related, “endogenous” reasons; is historically irresponsible.
Whatever one may believe about the specifics, it is undeniable that the Soviets saw liberation theology as something politically useful to their cause – and that they promoted and defended it as if it were their own.
Furthermore, it is not irrelevant that prominent liberation theologians were connected to the WCC and CPC.
Nor is it impossible that the Soviet-infiltrated WCC could have been in a position to do what Pacepa and the others say it did. In fact, in the early 1960s, the Soviet-infiltrated WCC sponsored the development of “a theology of revolution” by ISAL, a Latin American Protestant group led by one of Gustavo Gutierrez’s future coauthors. Their work has been called a “trial run” for liberation theology.
In 1967 and 1968, this group changed their verbiage from theology of “revolution” to theology of “liberation.” (14)
Without overstating the case, it is a tantalizing clue that shows a direct connection between the WCC and the development of this line of thinking.
When I was taking my first steps as a Catholic journalist, I had a hard time understanding how Gutierrez, claiming to be at the forefront of the “church of the poor” could finance a month-long, all-expenses-paid training camp at the Colegio de Jesus in Lima for hundreds of militants from all over Latin America. He did this while the few vocations at the archdiocesan seminary in Lima languished in a decrepit building. Unlike most Latin American Catholic groups and dioceses in those days, liberation theologians always seemed to be able to have access to travel, large conferences, publications, and media.
True, there was money sent to liberation theologians from the West over the years. And apparently there still is some, as its theologians again take world tours.
But as in Nicaragua and Cuba, the momentum seemed to evaporate suddenly in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It probably wasn’t a coincidence.
To say that the Soviet connection was – or is – irrelevant is to ignore the evidence and the tremendous damage it caused.
And there is something worse: lionizing as heroes and saints liberation theology’s proponents, who had no qualms in making pragmatic deals with the same atheistic world powers who were murdering their brothers and sisters in the gulags. I can think of many names for those who colluded with the Soviets’ attempt to create such a system in this hemisphere, but neither saint nor hero is one of them.
Pacepa’s statements are important. So is the evidence of so many others regarding the Soviet support for and manipulation of liberation theology. All of this is a reminder of the dangers of religion subordinated to a godless, rights-trampling ideology.
The Church has spent four decades rebuilding from the divisive, failed experiment of the liberation theology earthquake. Let’s hope the Church is spared from a repeat of this destructive movement.
 Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili. The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB Battle for the Third World. 2005 (New York: Basic Books) p. 41 ff.
 For a detailed history of Soviet and East German intervention in Nicaragua, see Koehler, John, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. 1999 (New York: Westview Press) p. 298 ff. For more on Soviet involvement, see also Andrew and Mitrokhin (2005).
 Chapman, Robert D. “The Church in Revolution,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 23:1, 168.
 Carriquiry Lecour, Guzmán “Una Apuesta Por America Latina,” (Sudamericana/2005).
Religion News Service headline 9/9/2013 https://www.religionnews.com/2013/09/09/liberation-theology-finds-new-welcome-in-pope-francis-vatican/
Crux headline, 2/3/2015 https://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/02/03/pope-declares-oscar-romero-hero-to-liberation-theology-a-martyr/
 Andrew, Christoper and Mitrokhin, Vasili. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. (New York: Basic Books, 1999). p. 486 ff.
 Andrew, Christopher and Gordievsky, Oleg. More Instructions from the Centre. London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., 1992. p. 47-52.
 Koehler, John. Spies in the Vatican: The Soviet Union’s Cold War Against the Catholic Church. New York: Pegasus Books, 2009. pp. 225 ff.
 Odom, William, E. On Internal War: American and Soviet Approaches to Third World Clients and Insurgents. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992. p. 32.
 Chapman, Robert D. “The Church in Revolution,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 23:1, 166-175.
 González, Ondina E. and González, Justo L. Christianity in Latin America: A History. (New York: Cambridge University Press) 2008. p. 247.
 Prizel, Ilya. Latin America Through Soviet Eyes. (Cambridge Univ. Press) 1990, pp. 74-75.
 Gelbspan, Ross. Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement. (Boston: South End Press) 1991, p. 98.
 Smith, Christian. The Emergence of Liberation Theology. (Chicago: Chicago UP) 1991. p. 17 and 117 and ff.
Thou Shall NOT Steal – GOD’s Commandment.
Thou Shall NOT Covet they neighbor’s goods – GOD’S Commandment.
DOCTRINE of the FAITH:
CCC: ” 1885 The principle of Subsidiarity is opposed to ALL forms of COLLECTIVISM.
It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
To the Left, the “revolution” is god.
This is what happens when Priests (and other high ranking clergy) get involved in politics AND
focus more on the temporal (here and now),
and less on the Salvation of Souls for eternity.
Too many have forgotten their real vocation/jobs and therefore neglect them – Saving Souls.
Putting men before God is IDOLATRY, and violates God’s 1st Commandment.
The First and most important Commandment is: ” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Jesus said that we will always have the poor among us. Mk 14:7; Jn 12:8.
Why do Communists, Marxists, Socialists, which includes Liberation Theologists – not believe Jesus ?
Why do they want to call Jesus a liar ?
The Marxian dialectic distracts you – It’s not they don’t “believe” that the poor will always exist – they couldn’t care – rather their true objective is not to eradicate poverty. Poverty is useful and valuable to them as a leverage point to advance the global socialist revolution, which in the end will do nothing for poverty. That revolution is advanced everyday at the hands of the global “humanitarian” organizations such as that of Bill and Melinda Gates whose solution to third world poverty includes eradication of the poor (‘population control”) through sterilization and abortion. Marxian lack of concern for the poor (and human life in general) is preeminently exposed by the infamous “one child policy” of China whose horrific methods are well documented. The people who don’t seem to “believe” that the poor are a fact of life are the naïve Catholic laity and clergy.
I first read this news story in secular newspapers, with big photos accompanying the stories. I was so HORRIFIED at the Pope!! What could people in the secular world possibly think of such a crazy thing– as a Latin American Pope (who should know better!) welcoming Fr. Gutierrez, a founder of Liberation Theology?? And oh– what tragic injustice and insult, to the poor heroic martyr, Archbishop Romero!! Has the Holy Father gone crazy? Or– is he hoping for a confession and conversion, from the promoters of Liberation Theology??
If socialism is candy coated communism, what is liberation theology? It must be a small cross next to a large hammer and sickle on a solid red background. I recall when Pope John Paul II was pontiff, he told Archbishop Romero to get out of politics. Well, the archbishop disobeyed, and now Romero is a blessed. Stranger things have happened, but today this seems totally bizarre.
According to Jesus Delgado, the biographer and postulator of the Cause for Canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero– the good Archbishop did not accept Liberation Theology, and never read books sent to him, on that subject. He dismissed it completely, simply stating that he believed in only the “liberation” of Christ, as stated for Catholics, under Pope Paul VI, who reigned at that time. He preached against all dangerous materialistic “liberation” concepts, devoid of Christ. Of course, he daily reprimanded the evil government of El Salvador, for its horrors. He believed in following and obeying Christ, no matter what the cost. Poor Romero! His assassination was a terrible horror! Well, he died a true martyr, and is now a Blessed of our Church! Please let us know, Fr. Karl, the story of Bl. Archbishop Romero, and the reprimand for Liberation Theology, of Pope St. John Paul II! What happenned, exactly??
It is important that Catholics understand the principles behind Liberation Theology because there are Cardinals and Bishops who will lead Catholics away from Church teaching for their own political goals and beliefs.
I have always been a conservative Catholic, and I was brought up also to be a staunch Republican. My parents as well as my siblings all voted for Ronald Reagan, who fought the Sandinistas by supporting the conservative government. I had read in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, as well as in THE WANDERER, and THE TIDINGS that Pope John Paul II had told Archbishop Romero that he should stay out of politics, etc. I do not have those articles available to me, but I do remember reading them in the 1980’s. That is all I can say regarding what I wrote. I did not hear Pope John Paul II utter those words, but I take it that both the Catholic and secular press did not lie to their readers.
Thanks, Fr. Karl! I am sure your sources were correct! I, too, am of a conservative Catholic family background, and my family supported Reagan. I think the situation in Latin America, is very deceptive, for the Church!
Pure CIA propaganda and slander. This entire article is based on the claim of a former KGB propagandist that they “invented” liberation theology. Why would you believe the word of a professional liar? Unless perhaps you still have an axe to grind with those in the Catholic Church who believe their primary mission should be helping the poor? The authors of this article clear are the type of Catholics who for many decades chose to side with brutal dictators throughout Latin America, who were puppets of U.S. corporations and the CIA. Thank God that era is over in Latin America! Thank God that we now have a Jesuit from Latin America as Pope, rather than those who continually cozy up to the wealthy elite and murderous oppressors! The authors…
The authors of this article clearly want to turn the clock back to that dark era in which most of Latin America was ruled by brutal dictators and death squads with tacit approval from the Vatican for their oppression of the poor, so long as the position and authority of none of their bishops was ever challenged and the wealthy land-owning elite kept contributing to the Church. So, the authors are engaging in propaganda and revisionist history on their behalf. The true author of the “Theology of Liberation” was Father Gustavo Gutierrez in 1971, not Karl Marx nor some Soviet KGB agent. And, Father Gutierrez cited his inspirations in his text from the examples set by Jesus Christ and St. Peter! I suggest your read your Bibles and Father…
To destroy the Church’s influence with the Mexican people, anti-clerical laws were instituted, beginning a 10-year persecution of Catholics which resulted in the death of thousands, including many Priests.
The Pope himself issued Iniquis afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico), denouncing the violent anti-clerical persecution in Mexico.
I suggest your read your Bibles and Father Gutierrez’s “Liberation Theology” (and then study the record of the Sandanista’s efforts to help the poor in Nicaraugua) rather than parroting in the lies of former KGB, current CIA, multinational corporations who want to revise the history of their atrocities, and the many wealthy of Latin America who used to cozy up with dictators and death squad commanders and now long for those times to return. Shame on you all!
ALL forms of “COLLECTIVISM” are against the Catholic Faith.
In the Bible GOD said: Thou shall not steal; and Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
Jesus never told us to use any government to help the poor.
Jesus never told us to brush our teeth, either.
Our Lady of Good Success
Bravo, Alejandro Bermudez, for lighting an additional candle to illuminate Liberation Theology’s cursed darkness.
Ion Mihai Pacepa is again featured, and again, sadly, his seminal book “Disinformation” is never mentioned.
The Mitrokhin Archive in book form is titled “The Sword and the Shield.” The subtile is “The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.”
The Sandinistas did not replace one bloody dictatorship with another, but rather an authoritarian one with a totalitarian one–a world of difference.
Pacepa’s assertion is no “thesis.” He lived it at ground zero.
For a little insight into East Germany’s Stasi, I highly recommend the movie “Das Leben der Anderen,” English title “The Lives of Others.” German with English subtitles.
Marxist and Community Organizer – SAUL ALINSKY also taught “infiltrating” Churches.
This is included in his book “RULES for RADICALS”.
“True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism, Alinsky taught. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.
Alinsky viewed revolution as a slow, patient process.
The trick was to penetrate existing institutions such as churches, unions and political parties…. ”
All Catholics must remember that ALL forms of COLLECTIVISM violate the Doctrine of the Faith.
CCC # 1885.