El Pope Francis en cruzada de conquista planetaria: 20 nuevos cardenales vienen de pequeñas diócesis de Cabo Verde, Tonga, Panamá, Birmania, Mozambique o Nueva Zelanda
A forthright critic of the Vatican and the last two Popes, who forced him to give up the habit after several punishments, the Brazilian theologian and former priest Leonardo Boff is celebrating the arrival of Pope Francis in Brazil today. He believes Francis to be an exponent of the Liberation Theology, a movement he founded. From his base in Petrópolis he campaigns for human rights and the implementation of a new relationship between man and nature. He is also a perceptive observer of the changes in the Church “after the difficult winter” of Benedict XVI, as he says in this interview with Clarín. Boff, a Jesuit like Francis, also supports the recent street protests in Brazil which threatened the papal visit, because they are challenging a corrupt, “low intensity” democracy.
What is your opinion of the first four months of Francis’ government at the head of the Church?
The Pope has created an atmosphere of relief and optimism in the Church, because of his simple personality, the way he distances himself from power, his sensitivity to the plight of the poor and his criticism of a financial system that punishes entire countries. We are coming out of a difficult ecclesiastical winter on the path to a hopeful Spring.
There are those who believe that he is a Pope who is good at making headlines but who doesn’t take real action.
The Pope needs to be aware of the serious state of crisis the Church is currently in. He won’t be able to reform the Curia alone; it has existed for more than a thousand years and knows how to put up resistance, delay projects and create opposition poles of power. That’s why he has surrounded himself with 8 cardinals who will jointly preside over the Church along with the Pope and start the reforms. But he has already intervened in the Vatican Bank (IOR) sending one of its top executives, who was caught carrying 20 million euros in a small plane from Switzerland, to prison.
Can the Pope change the old structures?
Possibly the most effective reform would be to decentralize the Curia. Why does the Dicastery (ministry) for Missions have to be in Rome? It could easily be in Asia, the one for Human Rights could be in Latin America, the one for Dialogue Between Cultures could be in Africa, the one for Ecumenism in Geneva...
Do you think that the Pope will be receptive to the indignados movement in Brazil and the street protests?
The Pope has already said so: politicians must listen to the voice of the streets; young people have a good and just cause with which to Evangelize. I believe that the Pope will call upon on the politicians to be transparent, prevent corruption and favour the participation of the people. He will ask young people not just to use their energy to restore the Church’s credibility, but also to improve and transform society.
What is your opinion of the protests of the Brazilian youth?
It is a symptom of the exhaustion of conventional politics, which is corrupt and distanced from the people. The social advances of the governments of Lula and Dilma came naturally. I.e.; they were quiet triumphs. But the people want more: more rights, health, education, and quality transport. At heart they want to re-found a democracy that, due to inequalities, is a low-intensity democracy.
What is left of Liberation Theology? Is Pope Francis an acceptable proponent of Liberation Theology?
While poverty, which is a form of oppression, exists, there will always be those who will raise the liberationist banner in the name of the Evangelist and the practice of Jesus. Pope Francis, so far, has accepted the main theses of Liberation Theology. That he belongs to the Argentinian branch of Liberation Theology; the Theology of Popular Culture or Theology of the People is clear, as its main proponent Juan Carlos Sacanone was Bergoglio’s teacher.
You have linked ecology and ethics as an answer to the modern world. Is Brazil compatible with both issues?
I belong to the group which wrote the Earth Letter under the direction of Gorbachev and others. I believe that it is one of the most important documents of the 21st Century. I see the need to challenge the paradigm of civilization because our present voracious accumulation and consumerism is destroying the foundations that support life on Earth. We have all reached a new low. The world capitalist system cannot reproduce itself because nature no longer allows it. If we continue in this direction we will come to a socio-environmental catastrophe with serious consequences. The objective is to have a different relationship with the Earth, respect its limits and produce in a way that respects the rhythms of nature, consumes in solidarity with others and shares a sense of seriousness.
How would you describe Catholicism in Brazil at the moment?
Brazil continues to be the most Catholic nation in the world. But the figure has reduced from 83% to 67% due to the penetration of evangelical churches. Our Catholicism is cultural rather than doctrinal. The Brazilian people are very syncretic and can have many different religious beliefs at the same time: they feel Catholic, but attend evangelical celebrations and can be found at the heart of Afro-Brazilian cults; their spiritual centre. The premise is that they all have their good sides and that one picks up many things on the path to God.
And there is also the rise of the Evangelical movement.
To a great extent the rise of the evangelical movement is due to the institutional failure of the Catholic Church.
English version by Kit Maude.