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Pope’s departure raises hopes among Latin American critics

February 15, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation awakened hopes among Latin American supporters of liberation theology for an easing of Vatican pressure on left-leaning clerics.

“We hope that a new pope will create a more open atmosphere, and that Christians can have a dialogue about modern society without so many suspicions and criticisms,” Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff said on Venezuela’s Telesur.

Boff, a leading figure in liberation theology who studied under the pope when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said 85-year-old Benedict XVI has been a “very controversial and complicated” figure.

Benedict’s decision to resign at the end of the month, announced Monday to the astonishment of Catholics worldwide, removes a central figure in the church’s internal ideological struggles.

As Vatican doctrinal enforcer under Pope John Paul II, Ratzinger spearheaded the opposition to liberation theology, a movement with Marxist overtones that swept Latin America in the 1970s.

Boff said the pope’s style in the past six years, which he described as “bureaucratic” and “tough,” “has made a lot of people feel like the Church is not their spiritual home any more.”

This pope “has a very large negative impact on the history of Christian theology. He will go down in history as a Pope who was an enemy of the intelligence of poor people, and of their allies,” Boff said.

The Jesuit community of El Salvador, which for decades has supported liberation theology, praised the pontiff’s resignation as a “responsible act.”

But it slammed him for not moving forward during his pontificate on the beatification of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero, a tireless defender of the poor.

José María Tojeira, pastoral chief at the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericano in San Salvador, said Benedict XVI had a “debt” with local Catholics, voicing hope that Romero’s beatification will come in a few more years.

Romero was slain in March 1980 by a right-wing death squad, after pushing insistently for greater social justice and respect for human rights, openly challenging the Cold War-era local political and military oligarchy.

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