Editorial — Dirty Linen in Public: D’Escoto Comes Clean

Only a few years ago several authors warned the Maryknoll order and Orbis Press that they were publicly linking their fate to Marxism, the most cruel and oppressive ideology known to modern history. Despite the flagrant use of “Marx” and “Marxism” in Maryknoll news releases and book titles, several Maryknollers issued emotional denials.

“Liberation theology” in its early days gained in excitement when it was linked to “Marxist analysis” and “class struggle.” When these links were pointed out by the Vatican and criticized, there again followed either denial or claims of misunderstanding.

In the early days, Sandinismo was the left’s favorite example of “liberation theology.” It was described as a “Christian” revolution, on whose governing councils sat Roman Catholic priests. Those who warned that in the actual praxis of the Sandinistas Marxism-Leninism outweighed Christianity were again greeted with outraged denial.

Yet when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega went to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in November 1987, protocol assigned him a seat among the Marxist-Leninist regimes protected by the “Brezhnev doctrine” — nations once-and-for-all committed to the Communist Party USSR, never to be allowed to “retrogress.”

As if to force Americans to swallow this unpalatable fact, earlier la0pring the Communist Party USSR awarded its disgraceful “Lenin Peace Prize” to a Maryknoll priest, erstwhile champion of “liberation theology,” and the Foreign Minister of the Sandinista junta, Father Miguel d’Escoto. Son of a prominent Nicaraguan aristocrat, American-educated Miguel d’Escoto not only accepted this award but also declared again, publicly and unmistakably, where in practice his true loyalties lie. He called the Communist Party of the USSR the true conscience of our age.

The cat is out of the bag.

In the considered and publicly declared judgment of Miguel d’Escoto, to support liberation theology in practice today is to support the Communist Party USSR and the foreign policy of the USSR. Speaking to reporters in Managua after traveling to Moscow to receive the award (as reported on the Moscow television newscast, Novosti, on June 10, 1987), Father d’Escoto said:

I will say frankly that my first reaction was a feeling of a sort of embarrassment: Am I worthy of such a high award? But then I feel pride, for my people. You see, the Nicaraguan people are waging a heroic battle for peace in the most difficult conditions. This prize makes us Nicaraguans come into even closer contact with Lenin, that great personality of your state and of all mankind who is the passionate champion of peace. For this reason, I am happy to accept this high award, which is conferred on the Nicaraguan people in my person. I believe the Soviet Union is a great torch which emits hope for the preservation of peace on our planet. Always in the vanguard of the overall struggle for peace, the Soviet Union has become the personification of ethical and moral norms in international relations. I admire the revolutionary principles and consistency of the foreign policy of the Communist Party of the fraternal Soviet Union, which provides for deep thought for political and state figures and for philosophers in their struggle for the preservation of peace.

Advocates of liberation theology often say that they are not pro-Soviet, that the issue in the Third World isn’t Communism but nationalism, that all they are doing is taking the people’s side in an indigenous conflict. It’s a long way from that position to considering the Soviet Union, the world’s foremost persecutor of Christians, to be the embodiment of Christian virtue in the world today.

Crisis decided to contact some of the folks at the Maryknoll Order in upstate New York; after all, Miguel d’Escoto worked for them in the early to mid-1970s, founding Maryknoll’s Orbis Books and serving as Director of Social Communications.

Enthusiasm for d’Escoto seemed undiminished. “I have no difficulty with him,” remarked the good sister who answers the switchboard for the Maryknoll sisters. “I’m impressed because he is a moderate and a force for peace and reconciliation.” The good father who picked up the phone at the Maryknoll fathers’ office said d’Escoto was, to him, “an inspiration. . .a man who translates his Christian beliefs into practice.” Neither Maryknoll religious would give a name.

But we did reach Mike Lavery, assistant director of media for Maryknoll. “He is driven by faith,” Lavery said of d’Escoto. “It’s faith directed toward fulfilling the commands of the gospel.”

He had heard about the Lenin Prize speech, but it didn’t faze him. “It isn’t important,” he said. “I haven’t heard any complaints about it around here.”

He refused to say whether he approved of the content of the speech. “What I think of it is immaterial.” He said it hadn’t affected his opinion of d’Escoto because “I don’t know what the context of those remarks was.” Assuming they are accurate? “I’m just not prepared to say.”

Paul Joly, Maryknoll’s director of media relations, told Crisis that he has not seen a full text of Father d’Escoto’s remarks, nor, he added, did he especially want to. When asked if he “winced” when he read Father d’Escoto’s assigning of moral leadership in the world to the Soviet Union, Joly said that he did. But he stressed that people must understand that d’Escoto’s statements applied to an actual, concrete communist regime, and not to an ideal communist nation.

Now it is hard to find a more sycophantic and morally outrageous set of statements than those attributed to d’Escoto. If even these have not disturbed the waters over at the Maryknoll House, in fact if they evoke anything short of a vocal repudiation, then not only the result but also the motives of this group which claims to represent Christian justice and charity are gravely suspect. Even those who oppose the contras will feel obliged to put distance between themselves on the one hand, and d’Escoto’s statements and Maryknoll’s apparent acquiescence in them, on the other.

What do “liberation theology” and “Christian revolution” mean in practice for the watchful? What do they mean for the U.S. Catholic Conference? The very terms have now been compromised.

If in 1981 the advice of the U.S. Catholic bishops on Central America had been taken, there would today be no democratically elected Jose Napoleon Duarte in El Salvador, no Arias Peace Plan, no movement for democracy not only in Central America but throughout Latin America. In 1981, the U.S. Catholic bishops wanted democracy to wait until various “preconditions” were first fulfilled.

The U.S. Catholic Conference today no longer understands, as earlier generations of American bishops (such as Ireland and Spalding) did, that democracy is not only the end but also the way. It is the only way that citizens form governments — as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 1 — by “reflection and choice” rather than by “accident and force.”

Miguel d’Escoto has taken his pilgrimage to Moscow to place his own conscience at the service of the foreign policy of the Communist Party USSR. That is no reason why other Maryknollers or the U.S. Catholic Conference should do the same. We await with hardly bated breath a declaration of both that they do not accept the leadership of the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, who has now posed the question: Are you with me, or against me, in pledging your conscience to the foreign policy leadership of the Communist Party USSR?

Perhaps, now, many will have the decency to admit that they themselves have misread “the signs of the times.” That Miguel d’Escoto is a committed Marxist-Leninist has been clear for many years. Those who denied it earlier were deceived. They did not make it difficult for d’Escoto to deceive them.


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