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What do Robin Hood and Pope Francis Have in Common?

pope-francis-waveRobin Hood is a legendary folk hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He is said to have revolted under a corrupt king (scholars do not agree on which king) by stealing from the rich then redistributing it to the poor.

The point of Robin Hood is less about actual history and more about what he represents. He is a symbol of the underdog winning against corruption. And isn’t that the Catholic way?  Yes.  And no.  The desire for social and economic justice is Catholic, but making the cause primarily about economics rather than rooting out the sin causing the injustice, attacks the problem from the wrong angle.

It is this very misappropriation of values that has waylaid some proponents of Liberation Theology, a Catholic social movement born in Latin America, the land of our Pope Francis’s birth.  Within this movement are traps that lead away from the Church. It is this very trap that ensnared Robin Hood—using force to even the score.  It is the same trap that was a test for Pope Francis as a young priest and it reveals much about who our new pope is.

Pope Francis and Liberation Theology

Liberation Theology was actually the first major challenge that confronted Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, according to Dr. Matthew Bunson, author of the new book, Pope Francis.  Bunson is an author of thirty books and one of America’s leading authorities on the papacy and the Church. In Pope Francis, Bunson begins with Pope Benedict’s stunning resignation, and then takes us halfway across the world into the life of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“He bought a return ticket, and his friends, aghast at the state of his battered old shoes, implored him to accept the gift of a new pair. Wearing his new shoes, he set out for the Vatican.” Bunson explains.  Then, on March 13, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced as the unexpected 265th Successor of Peter. Much of the world was left to wonder: who is this man?

Bunson introduces us to our new Pope in a personal way, detailing his early life, his priesthood as a Jesuit during a dark time in Argentina’s history, his work as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and his time as one of the most influential cardinals in Latin America.

After the announcement, it did not take long for the secular media and spin-doctors to associate Pope Francis with sinister activities, accusing him of taking part in kidnappings and Marxist associations often associated with Liberation Theology.  Bunson shows that while Pope Francis worked in the trenches, truly serving the poor, he never diverted from the path of authentic Catholic teaching.

Liberation Theology began in Latin America in the 1950s–1960s as a moral reaction to poverty caused by social injustice.  The Church has always offered the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a way to freedom and liberation. Liberation Theology expanded that to include freedom from the cultural, economic, social and political slavery that emanates ultimately from sin.

Bunson explains in his book that after the Second Vatican Council, currents of thought developed that focused not on liberation from sin and its dehumanizing effects but rather liberation that often aligned with Marxist philosophies of revolution. The theologies of liberation were difficult to define, mixing concern for the poor with Church teaching, but also sometimes becoming more worldly and less spiritual; more about materialism and less about overcoming sin.

“In its most extreme form, the language of liberation theology carried overtones of Marxism and the Marxist revolutionary ideas being promoted throughout Central America by guerrilla movements,” Bunson writes.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Caution

At this time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), issued two documents, affirming the shared values of liberation theology while cautioning that they needed to be guided so as not to slip into an earthly gospel.

Bunson states that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decline in Marxism, many practitioners of liberation theologies reformed with an authentic vision of Pope John Paul II’s own promotion of justice and peace in the poorest countries of the world.  Others segments continued to veer off course into radical leftist politics.

“Very early in his own ministry,” Bunson writes, “Fr. Bergoglio distanced himself from it as he saw it as an aberration of the Church’s authentic concern for the poor and the call to authentic justice rooted in the Gospel and nurturing an encounter with Jesus Christ.”

In Pope Francis, Bunson quotes Fr. Federico Lombardi as stating, “Regarding ‘liberation theology’: Bergoglio has always referred to the Instructions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has always rejected violence, saying that its price is always paid by the weakest.”

The strain of Liberation Theology where economic gains were primary over the spiritual element of overcoming the slavery of sin makes the difference between a Robin Hood and a Pope Francis.  Both start with the same Christian value of loving the poor and desiring the dignity everyone deserves, but it ultimately leads down different paths.

Bunson reports, “He  [Pope Francis] was concerned that liberation theology could bring about the politicization of the Church,” said Bunson, “twisting Christ into a liberator solely from social or political inequalities or from oppressive power structures instead of teaching faithfully that the Son of God brings salvation and hope of eternal life.”

Pope Francis does not accept injustice, but like his namesake he is committed to reform not leftist revolt. “He chose the name Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi,” Bunson writes, “and he did so with a deep understanding of the two most lasting legacies of il Poverello — a love for the poor and a commitment to reform.”

Like Francis of Assisi, he says Pope Francis wants the Church to be poor in spirit, humble and Christ like while serving the poor and defenseless while working toward reform.

Again, unlike Robin Hood who championed for the poor against the rich, Pope Francis is against no one but instead stands truly as the bridge builder.  “His origins, his learning, and his own years of service as a pastor over a city that has some of the wealthiest residents in South America and some of the poorest has prepared him for this role,” Bunson writes.  “He was a shepherd to them all, and he labored to help everyone in his care encounter Christ. And now he will work to do the same for the world.”


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. FacebookFamily website. Her blogTwitter. Read more: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/author/patti-maguire-armstrong#ixzz2x8GW9PlN


  • Thanks to Patti Armstrong for clarifying what is and is not, liberation theology. I love Pope Francis even more now….and can’t wait to read Mr. Bunson’s book about him!!

    • The Holy Spirit has found us a good one. Long live Pope Francis!

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    PH,

    May I echo a slightly modified version of what I read here

    “The Holy Spirit has found us a good one. Long live PH!”

    I hope you realize the encouragement and support I gain from your contributions, which are always sound, consoling and help build me up in our mutual Catholic faith.

    • As a writer, reader comments mean a lot. Thanks for your comments. I actually pray daily to the Holy Spirit for those who read my words. Putting them down on paper is only the first step. May God bless you and fill you to overflowing with his grace!

      • MarioG

        Patti – Tsk, tsk, tsk! You have sadly fallen for the popular myth. Robin Hood did not “steal from the rich” – he stole from the Sheriff of Nottingham, i.e. the tax collector, and returned the money to the regular folk.

  • Ben

    The ancient Catholic faith challenges and contradicts the notions of both the Left and the Right. The Left on its assault on human life and its support for sexual immorality, and the Right on its defense of materialistic, anti-worker, anti-Earth crony capitalism.

  • MarioG

    Pope Francis has just admitted the presence of a “gay lobby within the Vatican. Good grief!

    One
    would think this metastasizing cancer of homosexuality within the priesthood, estimated by some as high as 30%, would be the new Pope’s top priority,
    but we have seen Pope Francis publicly preaching about serving the poor
    and berating some mythical “cult of wealth” and telling us that “money
    has to serve, not to rule” just when private charity is at an all time
    high – over $300 BILLION a year in the US alone?

    Where
    is this “cult of wealth” that this pope and the previous one seem to be
    losing sleep over while socialism and
    its destructive effects on poverty and oppression is on the march and
    there is still a cancer within the body of the church that has not yet
    been fully excised after well over a decade of treatment?

    We just saw Cardinal Mohony of Los Angeles, right after his diocese settled charges out of court for $10 million in which Mahony, who retired in 2011 as head of the largest U.S. archdiocese, was
    accused of helping a confessed pedophile priest evade law enforcement. But was Mohony showing any public remorse? Oh, no! He had the nerve to go to Rome and attend the recent Conclave and vote for a new pope.

    I’m
    sure Cardinal John Law was also in attendance, who was plucked out of
    retirement by Pope JP-II after bankrupting the Boston Diocese for
    mismanaging the pedophile issue in his diocese and made Archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of only four churches in Rome administered by the Vatican.

    And we are being lectured about a cult of wealth in which money rules?!

    Pope Francis must take aim at socialism and statism that are devastating every country using it by increasing poverty and oppression therein. Instead, he is wasting his time berating economies and people who give away billions of their personal wealth to help those less fortunate.

    • quisutDeusmpc

      Ummm….what planet are you living on? Bueller….knock, knock, knock….Buelller…..hellllooooo Bueller……..sub-prime mortgages, investment capital banks tied into consumer ones, the repeal of Glass-Steagall….the overweening greed of Wall Street that nearly toppled the entire, interconnected world-wide economy…..while children in third world countries die of malaria and starvation……Mother Theresa spoke of a poverty that exists where people have all of the material comforts, but lack spiritual wealth (‘what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his own soul’ – e. g. when mothers and fathers can claim as a ‘right’ the ‘choice’ to murder their own unborn child). Considering Pope Francis (Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio) is from Buenos Aires he is very familiar with the ‘villas’ (or as they are called in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the ‘favelas’) or shanty-towns where extreme poverty co-exists next to the high rises of major cities [think the recent Denzel Washington movie ‘Man on Fire’ where the kidnappers lived in ‘favelas’, or the border of Juarez, Mexico & El Paso, TX]. All right, let’s grant for a moment that giving is more generous than ten or twenty years ago (considering the high unemployment rates and the recession brought on by the 2008 crash, I find the idea that giving is at an all time high suspect, but then Bill Gates/Warren Buffet have signed on millionaire/billionaires to give away a substantial portions of their wealth prior to their deaths – although I am sure their giving doesn’t track with Catholic Social Justice doctrine) how many people give their time and effort (where it is more likely to take a sacrifice to do so) by volunteering in soup kitchens, AIDS hospices, impoverished neighborhoods as opposed to dropping a check for $15 in the mail which is nothing more than a 5 min – 1 hr equivalent of their hourly wage/salary. Millions/billions may be a collective figure that sounds impressive but may not individually represent much of a personal commitment or sacrifice. If we divide 1 million dollars by 60 million Catholics is 0.0167 cents a piece. If we divide 1 billion dollars by 60 million Catholics its only $16.67 per person (which again, may represent between 5 min to 1 hr of a person’s hourly wage/salary). Should we do less? NO. Can we do more? YES.

      • MarioG

        I live on earth. I don’t think you do. Either that or you are as ignorant as a box of rocks.

        All Glass Steagal did was allow banks and investment banks to be owned by the same corporation. It did not force them to make fundamentally flawed loans to people with low credits.

        It was the Community Reinvestment Act which was dusted off by Bill Clinton who, through threats by Janet Reno, started forcing the banks to lend more money to people with low credits so they could buy homes instead of renting. How this caused the housing bubble which finally collapsed in 2007 – 2008 is documented in a book called Reckless Endangerment, which also describes the role of the big Wall Street banks, of AIG and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. Bush and McCain actually tried to stop the madness but did not have the votes to do so.

        What Pope Francis is missing is that socialist-style statism is responsible for almost all the poverty around the world. Free enterprise capitalism creates most of the wealth and jobs for millions which leads to the charitable contributions that sustain the Catholic Church and its priests and nuns who actually help the poor without any fanfare.

        Instead of preaching to those socialist and statist regimes that are causing more poverty and oppression, the Pope is vilifying those who are already supporting the Church as well as numerous other charitable causes. Of course we can always do more, but we are not the problem, statist policies are. Look what Obama’s statist policies have done in just 4 years to put the brakes on an economy that would have recovered long since with less interference by the government and their threats of higher taxes and their tsunami of regulations..

        As Tom Sowell said, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you’ve earned, but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.”