Here’s a little more background on the Argentinian “theology of the people” now made famous by Pope Francis from an excellent new, little book, Le pape du peuple, which is a series of interviews by Bernadette Sauvaget with the theologian Juan Carlos Scannone.
As noted previously, Scannone, who cites his participation at an important conference organised by ICMICA in Rome in 1974, is one of a trio of Argentinian theologians alongside Lucio Gera and Rafaël Tello, whose influence on Pope Francis he confirms, who were responsible for the development of the theology of the people.
Significantly, Scannone refutes any opposition between the theology of liberation and the theology of the people, noting that these developments took place “starting from Medellin”, the CELAM conference in 1968, “under the influence of Gustavo Gutiérrez”.
Scannone comments (p. 77):
The theology of the people forms part of this movement. What is certain is that from that moment the Latin American Church is a source Church and no longer a mirror Church, particularly of Europe.
Thus, just as Medellin sought to implement Vatican II, so too did the Argentinian bishops in their own country, Scannone notes, explaining the birth of the theology of the people (p. 48):
In 1966, they created a group, the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Work, COEPAL. Following the line of the Council, this involved developing an overall pastoral plan for Argentina. The theology of the people was to be born within this commission. COEPAL operated until the beginning of 1973. At that time, the bishops stopped it but the group continued to meet and to reflect together and to publish.
Sauvaget then poses another significant question: who was in that commission?
It was a group of bishops, theologians, and religious. Among the bishops, there was Bishop Enrique Angelelli, who, in 1976, was assassinated by the military. A professor of theology at the faculty of theology of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Lucio Gera was the leader of these theologians. He had studied in Europe at the Angelicum in Rome and later for his doctorate he went to Bonn. Rafaël Tello was the other theologian who formed part of this group. He also was a professor of theology at the faculty of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio had great esteem for both of them. They influenced both his thought and his pastoral work. Among the important personalities of COEPAL there was also Justino O’Farrell. This priest was also a professor of sociology at the national university of Buenos Aires. He played a key role because he was the link between COEPAL, where the theology of the people was born, and the “national chairs in sociology” of the national university of Buenos Aires. Justino O’Farrell was one of the thinkers of sociology in Argentina where the theme of the people had taken on great importance.
So once again, Scannone confirms the significance of the jocist chaplains, Lucico Gera as well as Bishop Angelelli, at the origins of the theology of the people. Moreover, Scannone also notes that Gera himself often spoke of liberation (p. 54) linking liberation and evangelisation, as one would expect from a follower of Cardijn. And as Scannone also notes, Gutierrez himself regarded the theology of the people as a branch of the theology of liberation (p. 53).
Finally, according to Scannone, the theology of the people also draws heavily on Gaudium et spes, which is itself probably the most jocist influenced of the Vatican II documents, and its analysis of culture (p. 76):
The other major contribution of the theology of the people is its reflection on the theme of history. The Medellin conference was concerned above all with the sociostructural, that of Puebla started to take an interest in the history of evangelisation. When they started to speak of evangelisation of culture, they took up the theme of history and the history of culture.
Here again, it is notable that Gaudium et Spes chapter on The proper development of culture was drafted using the see-judge-act method with a particularly important contribution from Albert Dondeyne, the Louvain philosopher was also in effect for many years Cardijn’s (and the JOC’s) closest philosophical collaborator.
Bernadette Sauvaget et Juan Carlos Scannone, Le pape du peuple, Bergoglio raconté par son confrère théologien jésuite et argentin, Cerf, Paris, 2015.