José Miguez Bonino’s Liberal to Liberationist Moment (1955, when Perón fell)

I just read a fascinating excerpt, found in Gary J. Dorrien’s Reconstructing the Common Good: Theology and the Social Order, which I picked up from the local Oxfam Secondhand Bookshop for £3.50: a happy find!

I opened it and found something about José Bonino that I’d never read before. The passage describes a life-changing turning point for the Argentinean theologian upon the overthrow of President Juan Perón in September of 1955. He would have been 31 at the time, a year older than I am now reading his memory.


“His conversion to liberationism began in the seminary’s cafeteria, the year after his academic appointment, when Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón was overthrown in a military coup. As a Protestant professor and a produce of liberal North American schools, Míguez Bonino thought of himself as a progressive Christian in a reactionary, predominantly Catholic world. He disapproved of most Latin American military governments, as well as of the efforts of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to confer legitimacy upon them. He considered the Methodist church an enlightened segment of Argentine society, and regarded himself, by extension, as a friend of the poor, who constituted the vast majority of Argentines.

The Protestant churches in Argentina had opposed Juan Perón during his tumultuous first reign, and when Perón was overthrown in 1955 Míguez Bonino immediately joined the celebration in the streets. It seemed self-evident to him that the downfall of the demagogic military strongman was a redemptive event, since it opened at least the possibility that Argentina could become a liberalized nation. But when Míguez Bonino returned to the seminary from the celebration in the streets, he found the cooks in the cafeteria weeping over the fall of Perón.

The scene stunned him. For the first time, Míguez Bonino realized that his liberal education and professional advancement had alienated him from the very people he wanted to serve. “I asked myself at that point,” he recalls, ” ‘with whom have I been during these past years? Have I really been looking for democracy? Have I been with poor people or with an elite?’ ”

That was the turning point. “I realized then that the Protestant church, through social advancement, had lost touch with the large majority of the people.” Míguez Bonino did not become a Perónist, but he eventually accepted the fact that a progressive political movement in Argentina must come to terms with Perónism.

From Reconstructing the Common Good: Theology and the Social Order by Gary J. Dorrien (1990). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, pp. 127-128.


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