Friends of liberation theology:
I have to admit that I was concerned when I learned that our new Pope Francis emerged from Argentina's dictatorship. Not again, I thought, a Pope on the side of another dictator, in the spirit of the Santa Fe Declaration, come to bury liberation theology more deeply, another Ratzinger. After all, in an institution so centralized, how could the spirit of the progressive church be manifested? I still don't know the answer, but Harvey Cox's excellent perspective in The Nation is convincing. Francis is on the side of liberation theology, working from within, towards his moment. His choice is more miraculous, if you will, than the rise of Barack Obama in 2008.
I was going to say "out of nowhere", but that's wrong. Both Francis and Obama arose out of somewhere, and it is for us to explore the subaltern currents on which these unexpected leaders arose. Of all the explanations, the most important to me is the risen power of Latin America, just as the risen power of African-America lifted Obama in 2008.
Liberation theology evolved from the radical margins to the very mainstream of the Latin American church in that revolutionary year of 1968. At once the counter-movement began, gathering momentum through Reagan, Casey and the threatened Catholic fundamentalists, including Ratzinger. Their political targets were to dismantle the structures and ranks of the base communities of the poor then being sheltered by many progressive churches. They did not want a syncretic blending with Latin America's social revolution inspired by Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, even if the Marxists were becoming open to the spiritual dimension. They believed Latin America could be their new Poland. In the United States, they targeted white Catholic Democrats for conversion to the new church of Reagan, wiping away messy trace history of the Berrigans or the nuns in El Salvador.
They failed in the longer run. Latin America has stabilized as a progressive and independent continent where its many elected leaders have roots and memories anchored in the insurgent base communities and martyrs of Empire. Latin America is the reason Francis is Pope. Latin America is a ballast against the reactionaries of Europe and the United States. Latin America is the continent most aligned with the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. Latin America is the continent where diplomacy is preferred to war.
Of course Francis is far from predictable. No one knows how long he will preside, or what demonic forces are planning his demise. His views on gender and sexual orientation seem tethered to the past - until we realize how radical is his denunciation of Church conservatives who "obsess" on those agendas. To bring the Church back to the needs of the poor and the sins of the rich is enough for now ["por ahora"]. This is the greatest moment in empowering spiritual progressives in decades.