Apart from stressing how certain liberation theologians drew heavily upon Marxist concepts, the pope also described these ideas as “deceitful.” This is very strong language for a pope. But Benedict then underscored the damage that liberation theology did to the Catholic Church. “The more or less visible consequences,” he told the bishops, “of that approach - characterised by rebellion, division, dissent, offence and anarchy - still linger today, producing great suffering and a serious loss of vital energies in your diocesan communities.”
Today, even some of liberation theology’s most outspoken advocates freely admit that it has collapsed, including in Latin America. Once considered avant-garde, it is now generally confined to clergy and laity of a certain age who wield ever-decreasing influence within the Church. Nonetheless, Benedict XVI clearly believes it’s worth underscoring just how much harm it inflicted upon the Catholic Church.
For a start, there’s little question that liberation theology was a disaster for Catholic evangelization. There’s a saying in Latin America which sums this up: “The Church opted for the poor, and the poor opted for the Pentecostals.”
In short, while many Catholic clergy were preaching class-war, many of those on whose behalf the war was presumably being waged decided that they weren’t so interested in Marx or listening to a language of hate. They simply wanted to learn about Jesus Christ and his love for all people (regardless of economic status). They found this in many evangelical communities.
A second major impact was upon the formation of Catholic clergy in parts of Latin America. Instead of being immersed in the fullness of the Catholic faith’s intellectual richness, many Catholic seminarians in the 1970s and 1980s read Marx’s Das Capital and refused to peruse such “bourgeois” literature such Augustine’s City of God or Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.
Again, this undermined the Church’s ability to witness to Christ in Latin America, not least because some clergy reduced Christ to the status of a heroic-but-less-than-divine urban guerrilla and weren’t especially interested in explaining Catholicism’s tenets to their flocks.