The Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, considered the first theologian to write about the controversial doctrine of liberation theology, affirmed here today that Pope John Paul II's frequent criticisms of extremist activism during a tour of Latin America will not slow church organization of the poor.
In a rare meeting with a group of reporters, Gutierrez, author of the 1971 book "A Theology of Liberation," said he agreed with John Paul and other Vatican authorities that some liberation theologians had developed theories that were "dangerous."
He said, however, that such extremist trends of liberation theology, which generally advocates the mobilization of the poor against social injustice, were "insignificant." He declared that he "cannot accept the premise" that his own work and that of other well-known Latin American theologians are contrary to church teachings.
Gutierrez spoke to reporters hours after the pope's departure from Peru Tuesday, but asked that his remarks not be quoted until today.
"I can't accept that maybe this criticism is for me," Gutierrez said, speaking with some difficulty in English. "Maybe it is , but we are not reading the Gospel from an ideological point of view. If I am not doing this, why should I think that this is directed against me?"
Throughout his 12-day trip within South America, and particularly in Peru, the pope decried what he described as the "anti-Christian practices" of activists who preach "the subordination of the Gospel to political and sociological categories," who adopt the Marxist concept of class conflict or who challenge traditional church authority by seeking to create a "double hierarchy."
Several of his statements appeared to run counter to the writings of Gutierrez and other theologians such as the Brazilian Rev. Leonardo Boff, who have defended the use of Marxism as a tool for analyzing social conditions and who argue that theology should be drawn from the practical experience of the poor, rather than handed down by higher church authorities.
Gutierrez conceded that the pope had spoken of "indications of dangers" in liberation theology and had been broadly critical of political ideology.
"He's a very doctrinaire person and very attracted to these questions," Gutierrez said. "The word ideology is taken in a very pejorative sense. I think it comes from his own experience."
"I don't know, maybe the words of the pope have a great influence," he said. "What is clear is that only the organization of the poor can change the situation."
Gutierrez's writings provoked a prolonged internal struggle in the Peruvian church after the Vatican asked Peruvian bishops to examine them for errors. The bishops were divided into three factions of almost equal size -- supporters of Gutierrez, moderates and strong conservatives. They were unable to agree on a common position for more than a year and produced a statement on liberation theology only after being called to Rome last September.
Gutierrez pointed out that the pope had mentioned the Peruvian bishops' statement five times during his visit, adding that "the document is rather positive toward liberation theology." The compromise text supports a recent Vatican statement harshly critical of some aspects of the philosophy but sympathizes with the aims of the theory.
Gutierrez argued that the most important aspect of the pope's tour was his statements on social and economic injustice in Latin America.
"What is more important here are the words about the poor, the defense of the rights of the poor," he said. "It is not very frequent here to have so relevant a person as the pope talk about the hungry and poor."