81-year-old liberation theologian is an architect of the Amazon Synod
September 9, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In recent weeks, there has been much discussion among solicitous Catholics about one of the inspirers of the upcoming October 6-27 Pan-Amazon Synod, Leonardo Boff. He is one of the founders of Liberation Theology and a co-author of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmental problems.
However, on a practical level – that is to say, in the concrete preparation of the Amazon Synod’s preparatory and working documents – there needs to be another man named as a key inspirer of the Amazon Synod: the 81-year-old Father Paulo Suess.
Suess is a professor of Mission Studies in São Paulo, Brazil and a member of the group Amerindia, which is a group of defenders of Liberation Theology. Boff belongs to this group, as well. Over many years, they have been trying to influence the conferences of the Latin American bishops, and in 2007, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga even officially invited them to make direct contributions to the final document of the 2007 Aparecida meeting of Latin American Bishops. Since Suess was among those counselors, it is highly probable that Suess had already met the later Pope Francis, since then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was the head of the commission responsible for the final document.
In any event, authors of Amerindia are now writing essays in which they show how much influence they had already at Aparecida, and how then-Cardinal Bergoglio had sympathy for many of their causes, but that some of them were later deleted from Aparecida’s proposed final document – by order of Rome.
One of these Amerindia authors is Agenor Brighenti. In a 40-page long study written in 2016, entitled “The Aparecida Document: the Original Text, the Official Text, and Pope Francis,” Brighenti shows how the final 2007 document of Aparecida was censored by Rome. This was after the Latin American bishops had approved of it under Bergoglio’s guidance. The study says that the parts that were taken out or weakened (such as the enforcement of the Liberation Theologian’s Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC), their “option for the poor,” as well as some comments weakening the authority of the local bishops) were actually close to Bergoglio’s heart.
Brighenti writes: “On the other hand, no one could have imagined, much less the censors themselves, that, a few years later [after 2007], the then-President of the Drafting Commission of the ‘original [uncensored] text’ of the [Aparecida] document would come to be Pope. And more than that, that the then-Cardinal Bergoglio – now Pope Francis – would bring up again practically all those changes or suppressions that the censors had made in the ‘original text’, and that he would propose them to the Church as a whole.”
Brighenti just co-authored a book on Pope Francis with Fr. Carlos M. Galli – the Pope’s theological advisor when he was Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires – Leonardo Boff, and Paulo Suess.
Pope Francis met with Suess in 2014
As to the Amazon synod itself, Suess was already involved in its preparations when Bishop Erwin Kräutler, in April 2014, had a private audience with Pope Francis: Kräutler took Suess with him, due to the fact that these two German-speaking clergymen had been working together for the indigenous cause for decades. Part of the conversation with the Pope in 2014 was that the Pope’s guests should make “bold proposals” with regard to the lack of priests in Brazil. Pope Francis also asked Kräutler to provide him with further material for his encyclical Laudato Si. This Austrian bishop is therefore held to be among the co-authors of that encyclical.
Kräutler and Suess worked together for decades in Brazil, also in the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). Suess was for many years CIMI’s general secretary and then its theological advisor, while Kräutler was CIMI’s president for over two decades. CIMI is also a member of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network REPAM, which has been tasked by the Pope with the preparation of the Amazon Synod. (Kräutler is Vice-President of REPAM Brazil.) Professor Suess also edited a collection of texts written by Kräutler to which he added a foreword. For another of Kräutler’s books, Leonardo Boff wrote a foreword.
Kräutler is famous for his expression that “I have never in my life baptized an indigenous [person], and I also do not have the intention of ever doing so.”
Not long after that private audience with Pope Francis, Paulo Suess, still in 2014, quoted the Pope as saying that “accompaniment” of indigenous peoples is important, “to walk with them. Conversion? That is not what you should do, no. Conversion? Jesus does that.”
“It is so liberating,” Suess then continued, “that this has now been received on the highest levels [of the Church], because, for a long time, that was suspicious, that we do not really evangelize, not properly catechize, and that we do not truly bring the indigenous to the Church.”
“But for us,” added the theologian, “the principle of life was the most important: that they [the indigenous people] have life, and for that they need land and have to be strengthened in their identity.”
Is Suess one of the authors of the synod working document?
In this 2014 interview, Fr. Suess proposes to use a new understanding of Revelation: “It is also important to historicize the notion of Revelation and that we can discover God’s Revelation among these indigenous peoples.”
Here, one may clearly see Suess’ influence upon the Pan-Amazon Synod’s working document, inasmuch as it presents the Amazon region as “a particular source of God’s revelation.” This is one of the key statements of this Vatican document that provoked much criticism from faithful prelates such as Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.
Different progressivist sources say that Bishop Erwin Kräutler is the author of the synod’s working document. Knowing well how closely this bishop has been working for decades with Paulo Suess, we may better see the influence of the latter, especially since Suess is the professor and expert, whereas Kräutler himself is more prone to activism than scholarship.
In numerous additional, mostly Spanish-speaking documents, Paulo Suess is being named and interviewed as an expert for the Amazon Synod and as one of five key authors of the Amazon Synod’s preparatory and working documents.
The Secretariat never replied to multiple e-mails from LifeSiteNews, while the the Vatican press office gave LifeSiteNews a link to the Amazon Synod’s own website showing the 18 official members of the pre-synodal council as Pope Francis established it in March 2018.
But Suess’ name does not show up here, whereas his close collaborator, Kräutler, is named as an official member of the council.
The probable reason for this omission is that Suess has been called by the Vatican to be one of the experts and counselors of the pre-synodal council, but not as a member of the council which consists mostly of cardinals and bishops. Suess was, however, already present at the first meeting of the pre-synodal council in April 2018. Yet he still seldom officially appears as a person involved with the synod.
LifeSiteNews contacted Suess about this matter. He said that he prefers not to respond to such questions before the synod itself. (However, LifeSiteNews did send him one of our reports on his involvement with the synod, so that he could possibly deny the named facts, but he did not respond to that.)
Suess criticized Pope Benedict’s comments on evangelization in South America
One of the likely reasons that he is being kept in the background by the Vatican, in spite of his crucial influence on the synod, could be that he, in 2007, publicly rebuked then-Pope Benedict XVI after his speech before the assembly of Latin American bishops in Aparecida. In that speech, Pope Benedict had insisted upon the many blessings of the evangelization of the continent since its discovery by Christopher Columbus, rather than merely seeing it as an act of violence and abuse. He spoke of a “purification” of the indigenous culture that was then “longing” for God.
Suess, who was already a theological advisor of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, commented on this papal speech and used strong words.
“The Pope doesn’t understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible,” Suess told the news agency Reuters. “I too was upset.”
In an analysis of some of Pope Benedict’s earlier February 2007 remarks with regard to the evangelization of the Southern American continent, Suess wrote that “The [papal] statement that indigenous cultures [accepted] the Catholic Church and its message of faith is historically without documentary evidence, approaches, theologically, a certain fundamentalist providentialism and is anthropologically unacceptable.”
Suess – who is an important representative of Liberation Theology, as well as a developer of the concepts of inculturation, Indigenous Theology, and of the Theology of the Other – is opposed to the coming of the West into South America. He said in a 2000 interview that “the landing of the Portuguese 500 years ago is of course for the indigenous not a reason for celebration.” This event meant for the indigenous cultures, says Suess, “years of exploitation, of the destruction of their cultures and nationalities.”
‘We do not have the right to proselytize’
Suess, who was born in Cologne, Germany, but has now spent more than 40 years working in the indigenous mission in Brazil, claims that only in the 1970s and 1980s have “we in the Latin American Church started to stress the specific aspects [of the indigenous people].” This development included a new pastoral care for the indigenous people.
“Before that, the work with the indigenous always had the perspective of integration,” which means to integrate the indigenous people into the Brazilian culture. Suess calls this “pseudo-integration,” against which he has helped to develop a pastoral care which “recognizes the other, the specific aspects of the indigenous cultures, and [defends] them.”
“If we do not believe that the indigenous have their own future, then we do not have any faith,” he then bluntly explained. These people, he believes, have a perspective, “if not in this Brazil, then in another Brazil.”
In other interviews, Suess makes it clear that for him, indigenous missionary work is not about “conversions,” as he puts it.
“We do not have the right to proselytize, to belittle the religion of the other or to entice [others] to conversions,” he stated this year. “The people themselves must resolve which one is the best religion for this historical moment.” The Constitution Nostrae Aetate of the Second Vatican Council, Suess assertively states, insisted upon “religious self-determination.”
A Marxist perspective
It is also Suess who insists that, up until now, the Church imposed upon the Amazonians a “European face,” and that now they need to discover an “Amazonian face.”
In 2014, speaking in German, Suess explained that, for him, the indigenous are the “revolutionary agents in South America,” thus showing that he never left the ideological mentality of the Marxist perspective of the Liberation Theology movement, out of which Indigenous Theology has flowed. The revolutionary agent as a tool for implementing changes in society now is simply not anymore the worker, but the indigenous.
Still in May 2019, in an interview posted on the official Amazon Synod website, Suess claims: “In the end, we want to build a new society, because this capitalist society, this killing system, does not work, as Pope Francis says. How can we be announcers of life? We must change society. Who are we going to do it with? With Amazonian peoples, with indigenous people, with young people. Are we willing to build a less unequal society? That is why we have to strengthen the new paths.”
Suess’ work in São Paulo has been suspect to the Church hierarchy in Rome and in Brazil, so much so that, in 2001, he was sidelined and excluded from his own post-graduate program for Mission Studies at the Pontifical Theological Department of the Nossa Senhora da Assunção University in São Paulo (Brazil), where he was a founding professor. Here, too, some similarities to Leonardo Boff’s personal historymay be seen.
Fr. Suess favors female ‘priests,’ ‘deacons,’ says Pope Francis is ‘practitioner of Liberation Theology’
But now, under Pope Francis, many things have changed. Suess has now participated in all the key preparatory gatherings for the Amazon Synod in Rome, Quito, Bogotà, and elsewhere, so that he was able work the findings of these gatherings into the synod’s working document.
Suess and Kräutler have also helped build a direct bridge to the German Bishops’ Conference, which has given over the years, by way of one of its relief agencies, around 22 million euros to CIMI (this is according to Ralph Allgaier, the spokesman of Misereor), as well as supported Amerindia with 100,000 euros. They are also generous supporters of REPAM. Suess was “project partner” with the other episcopal relief agency, Adveniat. The German bishops also invited Suess to be involved in the fundraising campaigns of these relief agencies. Markus Büker, an employee of Misereor, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the work of Suess and worked with Suess in the Amerindia group preparing proposals for the discussions at the 2007 episcopal gathering in Aparecida.
It is not surprising that Paulo Suess is also in favor of women “priests” and women “deacons.” He stated in February 2019: “ Unfortunately, because of the unity of the Church, it will be difficult at this time to discuss the priesthood [sic] of women. In the perspective of a certain graduality of solutions, what could be discussed today would be the female diaconate [sic].”
Long forgotten are the earlier restrictions under former popes. Pope Francis, it is claimed, now brings a new wind, the “wind of the south.” That expression was first used by Cardinal Walter Kasper. It became part of the title of a new book on Pope Francis written by Paulo Suess, Carlos M. Galli (then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s theological adviser in Argentina), and Leonardo Boff, among others.
Speaking about Pope Francis in 2014, Suess compared the new Pope with a bird “who by his election has been freed from his prison, from his cage, and with it, he also brought to Rome the Latin American theology, and with it also the Latin American Magisterium.”
In 2013, Suess said about Pope Francis: “Bergoglio is a practitioner of Liberation Theology.”