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Leftist priests put hope in Francis

Pope Francis looks on as he leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

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By The Associated Press
Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

BUENOS AIRES — A new pope from Latin America who wants to build “a church for the poor” is stirring hopes among advocates of liberation theology, a movement of social activism that alarmed former popes by delving into leftist politics.

Pope Francis has what it takes to fix a church “in ruins” that has “lost its respect for what is sacred,” prominent liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said on Saturday.

“With this pope, a Jesuit and a pope from the Third World, we can breathe happiness,” Boff said at a book fair. “Pope Francis has both the vigor and tenderness that we need to create a new spiritual world.”

The 74-year-old Brazilian theologian was pressured to remain silent by previous popes who tried to draw a hard line between socially active priests and leftist politics.

As Argentina's leading cardinal before he became pope, Francis reinforced this line, suggesting in 2010 that reading the Gospel with a Marxist interpretation only gets priests in trouble.

Boff said the label of a closed-minded conservative simply does not fit with Francis.

“Pope Francis comes with the perspective that many of us in Latin America share,” Boff said. “Our churches work together to support universal causes ... like human rights, from the perspective of the poor.”

John Paul and his theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, drove some of the most ardent liberation theologians out of the priesthood, castigated some who remained, and ensured that the bishops and cardinals they promoted took a wary view of leftist activism.

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